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Cyberserk Awards


A Plethora of Candidates

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tiburon, CA (January 6, 2000) - The authors of The Domain Name Handbook are pleased to announce their selection for the 1999 Cyberserk Award. This award is bestowed annually upon a company, organization, institution or individual deemed unclear on the concept of the domain name system. The winner is picked by a two-person jury--siblings Ellen Rony of Tiburon, California and Peter Rony of Blacksburg, Virginia--who approach the task with special seriousness. It is their belief that highlighting the activities of cyberserkers will provide an educational reality check. The prior award winners were the Prema Toy Company (1998) and Procter and Gamble (1997).

In 1999, the jurors found no dearth of candidates qualifying for the dubious distinction. With Internet traffic doubling every 100 days, domain names took on greater ubiquity in 1999. Dot COM addresses were plastered brazenly across billboards, store fronts, bus panels, t-shirts and even individual fruit. They were featured in television commercials, magazine ads, packaging labels and an increasing number of syndicated cartoons.

Domain names became valuable corporate assets and the shorthand to an unprecedented repository of information. The surging demand for .COM names, coupled with the uniqueness requirement, raised the price bar on stellar dot COMs. A few near-million dollar milestones were reported during the year: $1.035 million for WALLSTREET.COM at auction in April, $0.5 million-plus for COMPUTER.COM in May, and $0.823456 million for DRUGS.COM auctioned in August. But these daunting sums paled next to the new record price paid late in November for BUSINESS.COM. eCompanies, a venture led by EarthLink Network founder Sky Dayton and former Disney Internet executive Jake Winebaum, bought the domain name for a staggering $7.5 million, up from $150,000 in June of 1997, when the BUSINESS.COM domain last changed hands. The high-priced resales did not go unnoticed by cyberspeculators and fed a domain name profiteering frenzy. Registrations were running about 10,000 per day by year's end. A bowl of sour cherries to all those who warehouse an inventory of domain names solely for the stunning return on investment.

Concern that domain names would become a battle cry for customer and employee complaints, corporations preemptively added ridiculing registrations to their own holdings. Procter & Gamble, our original Cyberserk Award winner, began marketing a new product, Febreze, that neutralizes pet odor. The corporation was so worried that it would become the target of animal rights activists who believe the product is dangerous to pets, that it registered: FEBREZEKILLSPETS.COM, FEBREZEKILLSDOGS.COM, FEBREZEKILLSBIRDS.COM, FEBREZESUCKS.COM, and IHATEPROCTERANDGAMBLE.COM. While we weren't ready to declare P&G a two-time winner, the corporation earned a scent-free pewter pelt for sniffing out potential criticism in this manner.

Registration paranoia also struck the campaign of Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush. Unhappy with the satirical and potentially damaging profile posted at GWBUSH.COM, his campaign advisor registered 260 Bush-related domains, including some decidedly denigrating ones--BUSHSUCKS.NET, BUSHSUX.ORG, and BUSHBLOWS.COM--suggesting that he thought his job was to silence both satire and criticism. A Texas-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution goes to those on the Bush team who rallied for "limits to freedom" because of the website brouhaha.

"Domania" grabbed headlines throughout the year. A market enthralled by the Internet racked up huge gains for IPOs with .COM appended to their business name. MARKETWATCH.COM increased 509% in value from the issue price and the first day's close while THESTREET.COM, a financial news Internet site, soared from $19 to $60 on its first day of trading. At least 100 Internet-related companies announced name changes in 1999, and more than half of these included the addition of .COM to the corporate moniker. After the on-line technical book retailer Computer Literacy switched to the off-beat name, FATBRAIN.COM, its stock jumped 36 percent in one day, adding more than $100 million to the company's market cap. A set of rose colored glasses to all the optimistic investors who redefined market fundamentals in 1999.


A GPS chip goes to Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) for acts which reveal more hubris than cyberserkery. On the eve of the introduction of competition into the domain name registrar business, NSI folded the InterNIC website into its own "to help customers more easily find the information, services and tools they need." In this streamlining process, the world's largest registry rendered thousands of links stranded in cyberspace.

Both DOT and COM were prominent imagemakers in 1999. NSI branded itself as "the dot com people", and Sun Systems advertised itself as "the dot in dot COM". An Oregon hamlet whose economy needed a boost was the first to append .COM to its name. Halfway, founded in the early 1880s near the Idaho border, adopted the name HALF.COM, hoping the newfound attention would bring the town of 365 residents out of its slump. Equally waggish, Mitch Maddox, 26, also traded in his name in an effort to prove how wired the world has become, Now legally called DotComGuy, he moved into an empty Dallas home at the end of 1999, equipped only with a laptop computer. For the next twelve months, he plans to rely solely on the Internet for his survival, ordering food, furniture and clothing online. The stunt seems strangely reminiscent of the movie dud, Bio-dome, and rates high on our in-house cyberserk meter. We believe the experience will be its own reward.

Many notable domain name disputes grabbed headlines and navigated through the court system. An applicant for SHITAKEMUSHROOMS.COM was denied the registration because it contained four letters that NSI considered obscene. Archie Comic Publications, with a cartoon character called Veronica and a domain at VERONICA.COM, sent a cease and desist letter to a man who established a non-commercial site at VERONICA.ORG in honor of his infant daughter. Did these attorneys learn nothing from our 1998 Cyberserk winner, the Prema Toy Company, which tried the same maneuver with POKEY.ORG?

In a lawsuit over the addition of an "s" to a trademark owner's domain name, a U.S. District Judge ordered NSI to de-register WORLDSPORTS.COM and barred it from permitting the registration of any similar word, name or term by any party other than plaintiff. We award a gallon of glue to the magistrate to make the slope of his opinion less slippery. At least his ruling was reversed on appeal.

Policy wonks and lawmakers also hammered away at the ongoing trademark/domain name battles.The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), led by ten unelected and unaccountable individuals, adopted a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy for its new .COM, .NET and .ORG registrars. It would be hard to overlook this document when considering candidates for the 1999 Cyberserk Award. While the ICANN Board resolved to define and minimize reverse domain name hijacking, it sidestepped any meaningful sanctions against trademark owners who drag legitimate domain name registrants through ICANN's mandatory administrative proceedings. Yes, there are some bad actors in the domain name game, but ICANN's one-sided, anti-competitive and intrusive UDRP earns it the 1999 title as First Runner-Up. We award that body, whose authority and legitimacy remain questionable, a moral compass to help ICANN find its way through the intellectual property thicket.

In our opinion, the most significant event of the year in the area of domain names occurred not in the courts and not even within ICANN but in the U.S. Congress. The Trademark Cyberpiracy Prevention Act, a.k.a. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, was signed into law by President Clinton on November 29. It protects businesses from those who register company trademarks and "confusingly similar" names as Internet addresses in bad faith and then later try to sell them for a profit. This contentious piece of legislation won passage by attaching it as a rider to an omnibus bill on federal spending.

Adoption of the Anticybersquatting Act followed fierce lobbying by political figures and celebrities, who complained that their names were being used by unaffiliated parties to direct people to pornography online. However, the legislation permits a civil action by trademark holders against a domain registrant on the basis of the name registration alone, without regard to the goods or services offered by the party. Trademark holders support the law as a response to the piracy of business, product and celebrity names that have significant commercial value. The new "confusingly similar" standard offers a much broader protective umbrella over such names.

Another view--ours and that of many others--is that the legislation is an attempt to structure law to favor a particular business model, while setting aside many consumer and civil rights concerns. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, despite all the fashionable buzzwords in its title, codifies a trademark agenda in cyberspace. It grants all trademark holders vast new rights at the expense of fair use and free expression. We, therefore, bestow the 1999 Cyberserk Award upon the 106th U.S. Congress, who gave us this controversial piece of legislation. In their celebrated collective wisdom, these Congresscritters furthered the notion that the Internet's primary purpose is as a commercial medium and trademark owner's playground, rather than a global communication commons.

It would be premature to claim the domain name industry came of age in 1999. Cyberserkery was in evidence throughout the year, and progress seemed a series of fits and starts. This, of course, is in the nature of any new medium or activity. We encourage the Internet community to collect nominations for the next Cyberserk Awards throughout the year. But 1999's awardees may be a hard act to follow.

Copyright © 2000 Ellen Rony













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 The Domain Name Handbook: High Stakes and Strategies in Cyberspace
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