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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
The battle for cyberspace

The BBC's Clive Myrie goes undercover in Hard Cash
By Hard Cash producer Susan O'Keeffe

When it was announced that Leo Blair's name had been registered in cyberspace, the debate about domain names on the internet and the law surrounding it suddenly took on a new lease of life.

Of course people have been registering names on the internet since its inception. Some have done it for fun; more have done it to make money. And anyone's name is up for grabs - from the Queen and Bill Gates to David Beckham and Alan Shearer.



Leo Blair's cyber name was sold within hours of his birth
Buying and holding names in this way is called cybersquatting. It usually implies that the person who registered the name intends to sell it on at a profit - either back to the person whose name they have taken or to someone else who thinks there is money to be made.

Registering names is completely legal. The law in this country only protects names which are trademarks - normally the preserve of big business.

But in the US last November, President Bill Clinton passed powerful anticybersquatting legislation which makes the practice of buying up either trademarks or personal names unlawful.

In Hard Cash, undercover reporter Clive Myrie exposes how easy it is to register a name and how easy it is to hide the identity of the person who has registered it.



David Beckham.com is a big moneyspinner
He used a false name Gus Barry to register the names of three world class athletes, Dean Macey, Jamie Baulch and Dwain Chambers, all hopefuls for this year's Olympic Games.

He used these names to build an alias of a businessman keen to invest in big Internet sports' names.

First, Myrie tried to buy the name of David Beckham.com but the owner was not too keen to part with it, making clear that the name is valuable and will be more valuable next year.

Then he visited Derek Sutcliffe, the man who was taken to court by financial institution The Halifax earlier this year and forced to give back their domain names.

Sutcliffe owns nine Manchester United players' domain names, including Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke and was willing to sell them on, either to Manchester United or to our reporter.

Sutcliffe points out that he's "not running a charity" and that he will consider a good offer.



Age Concern has been targeted by cybersquatters
The programme also reveals that a number of charities have had domain names registered by people with no connection to the charities.

These include Oxfam, RSPCA and Age Concern. The man who owns the Ageconcern.com name, Mr Callan, is using the name Ageconcern.com to bring people to a holding page for a leisure site called British Cities.com.

When asked why he was doing this, Mr Callan told the programme that his site will offer leisure information for the elderly, although it is not connected in any way to the work of the charity.



Legislation to protect aganst cybersquatting could be on the horizon
Ten days ago, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) made a significant ruling in relation to the purchase of personal domain names in this country.

Author Jeannette Winterson appealed to the organisation's arbitration committee to rule on the purchase of her name by Mark Hogarth. The decision of the committee was that her name be returned to her.

Intellectual property lawyers believe that this step is the first on the road to the introduction of legislation which will afford real protection to anybody whose name may be bought up on the information superhighway.


You can watch BBC One's Hard Cash programme on Monday 5 June at at 1930 BST (1830 GMT).

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See also:

01 Jun 00 | Business
US fashion portal buys Boo name
26 May 00 | Northern Ireland
First 'cybersquatter' case in NI
26 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Winterson wins on web
01 Oct 98 | Sci/Tech
Domain name row heads for overtime
15 Nov 99 | e-cyclopedia
Cybersquatting: Get off my URL
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