(WOMENSENEWS)–A graphic picture of a decapitated fetus greets users at a Web site for James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. Another site, purportedly promoting Republican Senator Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania, instead bashes the senator’s position on abortion rights and provides Internet links to Web sites operated by anti-choice groups.
Across the Internet, anti-choice groups are engaging in so-called cybersquatting: takingover companies’ or individuals’ Web sites or registering Internet addresses that include versions of well-known trademarked names.
One of the most well-known cybersquatters is William Purdy, a resident of St. Paul, Minn. He has been in a year-long battle with The Washington Post, McDonalds, Pepsico, Inc. and The Coca-Cola Company after he registered Internet sites with variations of all these companies’ names and then linked the sites to either Abortionismurder.com, which shows graphic photos of dead fetuses, or Baby Butcher Cams, the site run by anti-choice extreme activist Neal Horsely, creator of the “Nuremberg Files” Web site. That site featured photographs of 12 abortion providers targeted by anti-choice groups, including the image of Dr. Barnett Slepian–which was grayed out almost immediately after the physician was murdered in Buffalo.
The Washington Post filed a lawsuit on behalf of all the companies; the case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals 8th Circuit in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In a more recent example, John Barry, a Bronx resident, registered the site of JamesMadisonUniversity.com and then linked to the site to Abortionismurder.org. Barry, who has a long history of buying domain names of trademarked companies or businesses, not only registers the names, he often tries to sell the name to the school or business for between $500 to $1000.
“John Barry’s practice is to extort money,” says attorney Gary H. Lau, a Portland, Ore.-based lawyer, who represented Reed College when the school wrested ownership of the ReedCollege.com from Barry after he registered the site and linked it to the site to an anti-choice site. Barry also tried to sell the Web site address back to the school.
The legal fees companies are forced to pay to get the name back in court can be costly, says James L. Bikoff, chairman of the Intellectual Property and Internet practice group at the law firm Silverberg, Goldman and Bikoff, who represented the American National Red Cross in a complaint against Barry.
“It is unfortunate that nonprofit organizations, which have little money, would have to spend money on something that is clearly a fraud,” says Bikoff, reflecting the ire aroused by the cybersquatters.
Defending his practice of buying domain names and linking them to anti-choice sites, Barry says he is just trying to bring attention to the issue of abortion. In a phone interview, he justifies targeting universities, saying it is a way of reaching both young women, as well as professors, who he deems as “liberals.”
“Most people live in a fantasy and they don’t know there are little babies being killed,” says Barry.
Meanwhile, Barry and Purdy directing users to Murderisabortion.org draws no complaints from the site’s owner, Thomas PA Fitch.
“They are his names, he can point them wherever he wants,” says Fitch, who lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “Anything that gets more attentions to the issues, I can’t argue with that.”
Politicians Become Targets
With the election year approaching, cybersquatters are targeting voters by going after Web sites trademarked by politicians.
Internet users typing in the web address ArlenSpecter2004.com won’t find a site run by Senator Arlen Specter, running for reelection next year.
Andrew Jaspers, head of anti-choice group Saint Gerard Productions, has registered the domain name, and built a site that serves to blast the pro-choice senator, calling him the “Senate’s doctor of death.”
The site endorses anti-choice U.S. Representative Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, and provides links to the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-choice organization.
Jaspers declined to comment for the story, and a spokesman for Specter, who has been forced to rely during his reelection campaign on a “dot.org” version–ArlenSpecter2004.org–said the election campaign is in the middle of legal proceedings against the site and cannot comment.
Paul Alan Levy, an attorney for Public Citizens, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization, which has represented a number of so-called squatters, i.e., clients accused of domain-name infringement, believes Jaspers’ site may be in violation of laws protecting trademarks.
Often, if users build a deflamatory or “mock” Web site, they must also provide a link to the approved site, as a way to clear up any confusion and prevent readers from thinking they are actually looking at a site connected to the well-known company, institution or person. Nowhere does Jasper link to the official site for Spector’s campaign.
“If I were advising him, I’d tell him that the abscene of a disclaimer is likely to kill his defense,” says Levy.
Businesses Have Recourse against Cybersquatters
In most cases, persons or organizations have two ways of dealing with cybersquatters. They can sue under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act that makes it illegal for a person to register or to use in bad faith a domain name that is “identical or confusingly similar” to a well-known trademark owned by another person or company.
Or they can argue their case under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy instituted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in an arbitration process that is faster and cheaper than a lawsuit.
Some legal experts believe that the laws are fair enough to protect businesses as they stand.
“Businesses get their names back in a couple of months,” says Michael Geist, a professor director of e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa Law School. “It’s a hassle, but they eventually get their names back.”
Indeed, the process may be a temporary hassle for businesses, which, in most cases, do get their sites back, but for Barry, registering new domain names is a life’s work. And proceeds from reselling the domain names are just an element of his business plan.
“I’ll just use the money to buy more domain names,” he explains.
Dakota Smith is a freelance writer in New York.
For more information:
Also see Women’s eNews, July 29, 2003:
“Women’s eNews Wins Four Journalism Prizes”:
Also see Women’s eNews, April 25, 2003:
“Sex-Spam Becomes More Prevalent, Pornographic”:
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers–
“Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy”: