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Friday, 21 July, 2000, 22:12 GMT 23:12 UK
Stopping the cybersquatters

Celebrity domain names are popular with cybersquatters
By Claire Doole in Geneva

The United Nations has entered into the cyber age.

Since the start of the year the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has resolved more than 400 cases of cybersquatting - where victims can lose control of their domain name site on the internet.

WIPO has set up a dispute settlement service and successfully handed back websites linked to companies like Microsoft, and celebrities such as the Hollywood actress Julia Roberts.

Julia Roberts
Julia Roberts has won her cyber identity
But WIPO is planning to broaden its offensive. It is considering whether names of generic drug such as penicillin, names of international organisations or geographical indicators such as Bordeaux for wine, should also be protected.

The assistant director-general, Francis Gurry, says the aim is to match up the real and virtual world.

"In the virtual world identity is fundamental because it is the means of connecting a consumer, or any other user of the internet, with the producer or seller of a good or product, or indeed the source, they are looking for," he says.

Squatters' 'new target'

But some cybersquatting victims adopt other means of attack. The International Olympic Committee has just filed a lawsuit in the US against 1,800 internet sites abusing the Olympic name.

Deputy vice-president Richard Pound, says the committee wanted its day in court.

Salt Lake City
The Winter Olympics is a target
"That is misleading to the public. It is a misappropriation of our intellectual property rights and the public should not have to worry about whether such sites are official or not," he said.

Whatever the route taken to combat cybersquatting, WIPO fears the criminals will always be one step ahead. Squatters are now including comments about the trademarks or celebrity sites they steal.

The UN and the courts are finding it increasingly difficult to rule against domain names such as 'Netscape sucks' lest they infringe freedom of speech.

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See also:

13 Jul 00 | Americas
Olympics evict cybersquatters
15 Nov 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cybersquatting: Get off my URL
02 Dec 99 | Business
The $7.5m net address
26 Jan 00 | Scotland
Firm accused of net name piracy
05 Jun 00 | UK
The battle for cyberspace
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