A provision in the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects domain name registrars and Web hosting providers from being held legally liable in most cases for the content that clients post on their Web sites. But that hasn't stopped some companies from trying to pressure Internet intermediaries into disabling Web sites that contain what they consider to be objectionable material.
The most recent example involves South Africa-based diamond conglomerate De Beers, which is trying to get domain name registrar Joker.com to take down a spoof of the Web site of The New York Times. The spoof site includes a fake De Beers ad that takes a satirical shot at the company, saying that diamond purchases would enable De Beers "to donate a prosthetic for an African whose hand was lost in diamond conflicts."
The Web site includes an online version of a 14-page knockoff of the Times that was published on Nov. 12 and distributed for free to commuters in New York. The paper, which is datelined July 4, 2009, includes made-up stories about the end of the Iraq war, the indictment of President Bush on war crimes charges and the passing of a maximum wage law by Congress, along with other satirical ads in addition to the De Beers one.
The spoof is believed to have been the work of a group called the The Yes Men, which is known for such satirical work. However, the nytimes-se.com domain name is registered with Switzerland-based Joker.com under an apparent pseudonym: Harold Schweppes, who is listed as living in a fictitious town called Son of Triumph, Pa.
In a letter that was sent Nov. 19 to EIS AG, which owns Joker.com, Brian McGinley, a Kansas City, Mo.-based attorney at Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal LLP who is representing De Beers, demanded that the registrar "immediately disable" the spoof site.
McGinley wrote that his firm's attempts to locate Schweppes had proved futile and that both Schweppes and the address listed for him appear "to be entirely made up." Because whoever registered the domain name had provided false information to Joker.com, it was the registrar's duty to disable the site, the lawyer added. Computerworld obtained a copy of his letter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which says it is representing the person behind the Schweppes name.
McGinley contended that the fake De Beers ad wasn't a parody and instead contained "offensive, disparaging, damaging and inaccurate statements" about the company. He warned that if Joker.com didn't disable the spoofed site, the registrar itself would be considered a primary infringer by De Beers and would be subject to any legal action that the company decided to take to protect its "valuable name and goodwill."
Neither De Beers officials nor McGinley have responded to requests for comment on the matter. Officials at Joker.com also couldn't be reached for comment, but the fake Times site hadn't been taken down as of this afternoon.