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The lawless internet

by Giles Turnbull -- 2000/08/15

What are webmasters to do about lawlessness online? With the recent media exposure of the katie.com row, who can be sure that their domain is safe from the interests of big business?

Much has been written about the dispute between katie.com owner Katie Jones, author Katie Tarbox, and publisher Penguin, over use of the domain name katie.com both online and offline.

The publishers seemed to be of the opinion that they were perfectly entitled to use the domain as the title of a book, even though they registered a completely different domain (katiet.com) to publicise it.

Writer and Need to Know editor Danny O'Brien, writing about the problem some months ago before the rest of the media picked up on it, came up with a simple analogy: domain names are like houses.

You can buy as many as you can afford, and speculation is fine - but possession should always be nine-tenths of the law.

This is a nice idea but getting it to work across international boundaries is a bigger challenge. With the Saudi Arabian government banning access to Yahoo Clubs, and French courts demanding that that nation's citizens be prevented from accessing Yahoo auctions (it's a shame poor old Yahoo is getting into a lot of this trouble), there's a growing need for clarity of law for the net.

That's not to say we need net regulation. But people are going to go to court about things that happen online. The courts are going to make decisions - some of which could set legal precedents - based on each judge's interpretation of what he/she is allowed to do under the law in his/her nation.

And it's fair to assume that, as usual, it'll be the little guys who suffer.