The Name Game

December 4, 2006
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Concerning last week's discussion on the importance of domain names in creating an Internet identity, it is worth noting that there are remarkably few successful Internet brands with obvious URLs — Amazon, Google, eBay and Expedia could be practically anything, but the names are instantly recognizable. Meanwhile, Labatt has since divested in beer.com.

In the local market, portals such as GRNow and RapidGrowthMedia have survived without a grandrapids.com address, and similar attempts, including the grandrapidsmagazine.com and grandrapids.net portals, have failed.

Although it owns the rights to several hundred domain names, ranging from wmbride.com to grrestaurants.com, Gemini Publications, the parent company of the Business Journal, does not own the rights to grandrapidsmagazine.com, the domain associated with its flagship publication, Grand Rapids Magazine. That domain was registered to North Carolina squatter LuigiBozzo in 1999. (What a Bozo!)

Much like the situation faced by local ad shop Hanon McKendry, Gemini could likely have pursued legal action against Bozzo under the federal Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 or standard trademark protection laws, but also chose to leave it alone.

The 2001 creation of the World Intellectual Property Organization, which settles such disputes, offers further protection. Yet, these occurrences still happen, particularly when trademarks are not involved. The Democratic Party failed to grab kerryedwards.com in 2004; the Tom Cruise camp failed to register the name of his and Katie Holmes' child, Suri

"People are still doing bad things with domain names," said Structure Interactive's Charlie McGrath said. "But all this demonstrates is that people still haven't gotten as smart as they should have. Someone in the organization should have grabbed those names well before they were ever announced."

Worse yet, it is still commonplace for squatters to snatch a domain if it is allowed to lapse. Oakgrove Computer Group's Paul Emery, who owns lansing.com, saw this happen to a small client, whose site bore the name of his self-published book. Despite having no conceivable use for the domain, the squatter, based in Argentina, requested $900 to sell it back. The client registered a .net domain instead.

Local

Internet marketing consultant Laura Bergells has seen this happen many times, including one situation which saw a corporate site suddenly switched to pornography.

"The lawyers say not to give in to extortion, but what is the company to do?" she said. "They can't have their brand associated with that."

In other cases, squatters and scam artists will set up similar sites to established brands, altering the name by a letter or some other detail. She suggests to clients that they register several names, as Gemini Publications has, to avoid such situations.

Sometimes, domains are appropriated without any form of maliciousness. Bergells has seen the mistaken use of trademarks in domains, particularly "Realtor." McGrath vividly recalls his firm's attempt to register si.com as a replacement for the wordy structureinteractive.com. It had been taken years earlier by another Grand Rapids firm, Smiths Industries.

"They told me there was no way I could outbid Sports Illustrated," McGrath said.

After years of negotiation, Smiths eventually parted with the domain. A representative of the company did confirm that, but was not able to divulge details of the transaction.

Smiths reportedly had an unforgettable Christmas party that year, however.

  • Retired optometrist Hugh Campbell has completed a tour as an unpaid volunteer onboard a Mercy Ships floating hospital off the shore of Ghana in western Africa. This was the Holland resident's 16th overseas assignment, part of a mobile eye team on the Anastasis, which arrived on the continent in June.

"I've been so blessed," said Campbell, who also works with the homeless in Grand Rapids. "I had a great practice. I'm involved in a lot of things like hospice and the work with the homeless and Mercy Ships. I keep active. As long as I'm in good health and can carry on, I'll go ahead. The time will come when I'll need to stop, but I enjoy working with people."

  • In a unique fallout from last year's bankruptcy reform legislation, a federal court in New York has ruled that those going through bankruptcy may not tithe to their church or make other charitable donations until after they have paid off credit card companies and other creditors.

In the case, debtors Frank and Patricia Diagostino, filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in March, listing a $100 monthly expense for "continued charitable donations," an expense that would have reduced the disposable income available to pay unsecured creditors from $80,351.25 to $74,351.25. The trustee in the case objected to the expense.

According to the court's opinion, "Until Congress amends (the act), the court's hands are tied and the tithing principles that this court once applied pre-BAPCPA (the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005) have been effectively mooted."

  • Best-selling author and syndicated columnist Mitch Albom will be in town today as part of a benefit for the DeVos Children's Hospital, One More Day for Kids, at the DeVos Performance Hall.

The "Tuesdays With Morrie" author will be reading selections from his new book, "For One More Day," and talk about his experiences and inspirations. All ticket holders for the event receive a signed copy of the book.

He will be joined by Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Brian VanderArk and indie-folk artist LuxLand

The program was organized by Brian and Kathleen Kelly as a way to repay the hospital for its support through 18 months of serious and separate medical conditions involving two of their three daughters. Albom has twice written about the Kellys.

  • The Grand Rapids Griffins will face the Grand Rapids Sled Wings, a team of physically challenged youth, in an exhibition sled hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Griff's Icehouse at BelknapPark

All proceeds from the game, a silent auction and a 50/50 raffle will go to the Sled Wings program, which is supported by the Grand Rapids Griffins Youth Foundation and MaryFreeBedRehabilitationHospital. Game time is Admission is $3 and tickets will be available at the door. For a $1 donation, fans can take a test ride in an ice sled beginning at The icehouse is at 30 Coldbrook NE.          

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