Purple haze

Well, there is some justice in the world. You probably read with interest (as I did) the news that the domain name jimihendrix.com has been awarded to the family of the late guitar chewer and flame enthusiast, after it had been unethically registered by that most modern of pirates, a cybersquatter. Now Jimi can rest easy, knowing his place in cyberspace is secure.

Hendrix, of course, died in 1970 - well before even the basic roots of the World Wide Web were operational. Quite what he would make of the battle over his status as an information superhighway child is anyone's guess. His family, through the company Experience Hendrix, has operated an official site in his name at jimi-hendrix.com for some years, presumably with little fresh input from him. Given the notorious lack of support the family gave his career during his brief lifetime, he may well regard them as equally illegitimate owners of his legacy. Or he may be just too damn cool to care.

The non-hyphenated version of the domain had been registered to a company calling itself "The Jimi Hendrix International Fan Club". However, no fan-related information had ever been posted to the site, nor had it been used for any particularly Hendrix-like content. Mostly, it carried information about the $US1 million that the "club" wanted for it. The person named as leader of the "club" had also registered domains such as eltonjohn.com, mickjagger.com, paulmccartney.com and lindamccartney.com, all for sale. Now that's a dedicated fan.

The interesting thing is that, because the illegitimate owner of the domain was not a US citizen, he was not subject to American laws against cybersquatting. The decision was handed down by a United Nations committee, and is enforceable by American authorities. It comforts me to know that the UN has time, in between fighting famine, funding the global economy, keeping peace where it's got it and negotiating peace where it hasn't, to decide whether or not Jimi Hendrix's family can have his domain name or not. Is there anything the UN can't do?

Of course, cybersquatting is less of a problem in this part of the world, where the hoops one must jump through to get a domain are considerable. If you weren't the legitimate owner of a .com.au domain, you probably wouldn't bother going through the rigmarole to pretend you were. In the US, anyone can register a domain if it isn't already taken. If someone else demonstrates that they have a right to it, you lose it - but that doesn't stop you registering it in the first place.

Witness the case of Toysmart, a retailer of educational toys and software. Some years ago, it was offered the domain toysmart.com by a person who would now be considered a cybersquatter for $US5000. The laws against such a thing didn't exist then, and the proprietors thought the asking price too high, so they didn't pay.

The cybersquatter then sold the domain name to another company, which set itself up as an online-only toy business called Toysmart.com, selling - you guessed it - an almost identical line of educational toys and software. It should come as little surprise that Toysmart.com was majority-owned by the notoriously litigious Disney Corporation (currently being sued by a company which claims it owned the trademark "Tinkerbelle" before Disney started marketing Peter Pan merchandise in 1955, but I digress).

For several years, customers were confused and the bricks-and-mortar business was frustrated by the activities of the unrelated online merchant. Now, the online company is in bankruptcy court. The bricks-and-mortar store is still doing fine business, but is copping a great deal of bad press from journos just as confused as the customers. In an attempt to secure some cash to pay its creditors, Toysmart.com offered its customer database for sale.

When the dust settles, Toysmart says it wants the Toysmart.com domain, to use as a referral page to its own site, at worldsbesttoys.com (free plug). Personally, I wouldn't bother. Clearly, Toysmart.com has some unhappy customers, and I'm not sure I'd want them knocking on my door.

As grateful as I am that there are measures in place to stop such incidents in Australian cyberspace, I have to admit that the only domain that I own (the Web site for an annual film festival) is an American one. I just wasn't prepared to go through the rigmarole to demonstrate that I have a legitimate right to a .com.au domain. Of course, I didn't get quite the domain I wanted. My first preference was for a .com that is already owned, by a company that sells chicken feed. Don't ask.

Matthew JC. Powell is hoping not to get sued by another retailer of chicken feed. Serve papers to mjcpowell@ozemail.com.auEnds this one

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