Sites gone wild: Cybersquatters push porn locally

Vic Bradshaw was doing research on Charlottesville's top television station, WVIR Channel 29. Not knowing the station's website, he typed in wvir.com and suddenly found himself facing supersluts.com.

"It was a whiplash kind of thing," says Bradshaw. "I went, whoa, and looked over my shoulder to make sure no one in my office saw it. I reduced the screen and covered it up. I didn't want management to think I was visiting porn sites."

WVIR isn't the only local business that's had its name appended to a porno site or that's being held by cybersquatters. Unlike some of the others, though, WVIR's case was the result of revenge.

WVIR is owned by Waterman Broadcasting in Fort Myers, Florida. Waterman also owns WBBH there, where James Parish says he was a dedicated employee for 13 years, working as a broadcast engineer, even creating WBBH's information systems department.

One day, he came to work and found a new guy sitting at his desk, using his computer. His belongings had been moved to a cart. "They get a lot of resumes from people who work at half my salary," Parish speculates about the treatment that led him to quit.

"I was run out of town on a rail," is how he describes his departure. "On my way out, I thought I'd register WBBH.com and WVIR," he says. He registered both names in 1997.

So how did supersluts.com come into the picture? Parish claims he was unaware of what was on the site because he turned over operation of the domain names to "a guy in Canada to get it out of the country." He says he thought the site would be used for e-commerce, and indeed, by last week, following Parish's chat with The Hook, wvir.com was directing visitors to www.nukezone.com which promises "high speed hosting at affordable prices."

As for how Parish could end up owning WVIR and WBBH's call letters, he says FCC call letters aren't a registered trademark, as, for example, Nike is.

Intellectual property lawyer Chris Keeney disagrees. He thinks WVIR and WBBH would have a good argument for a cause of action under the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act. "There's bad faith all over the place here," Keeney adds.

WVIR general manager Harold Wright did not return The Hook's phone call. Down in Florida, WBBH doesn't seem too concerned about the station's former connection with supersluts.com, and station management offers no plans to try to wrest the wbbh.com domain name back.

"I don't think they want to dignify the man who owns it with a response," says Matt Bernaldo, executive producer of online news. Besides that, Bernaldo says, the station is better known as NBC-2 than WBBH, so the station's website is nbc-2.com.

 But what if hapless viewers stumble onto supersluts.com? "It comes up about once a year," says Bernaldo. "We're in good company. The White House is also a porn site."

Indeed, whitehouse.com is the classic example of a well-known, non-trademarked name co-opted by porn purveyors.

WVIR isn't the only local business with a domain name that leads to an unsavory location. Cvilletimes.com was a short-lived e-zine in 2000. Today, visitors are directed to a site that warns, "The domain you were looking for has expired from the previous owners, [and] now has been purchased by an adult company."

"It's not technically a porn site; it's an entrance to one," says Toby Reiter, a web developer for Breezing Internet Communications, which had owned the domain name. "We're upset about it, but there's nothing we could do."

Reiter says cvilletimes.com was registered to an employee who is no longer with the company. "We couldn't renew it because it had to be renewed through the email address it was registered through."

There are companies out there just waiting for a registration to lapse, or that register thousands of well-known names or phrases at a time. "A porn site wants all the traffic it can get," explains Reiter.

For those who have been squatted upon, there may be some recourse. The University of North Carolina just won back the domain name UNCGirls.com, which had been– you guessed it– a porn site. A federal court ruled that ordered the pornographers to pay the University $325,521 in damages and legal fees.

Another option is the World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, which was founded to resolve disputes over domain names.

One local example of cybersquatting is shannonworrell.com, in which the name of a well-known musician is owned by DomainStrategy.com. One local web developer calls it extortion, as in, "You can buy this site back."

Another is charlottesville.com. It leads to "fine gifts from BroderickCom," which doesn't offer a shred of information about Charlottesville– but does offer a sterling silver bracelet with an engravable heart for $49.95.

The site's owner, John Broderick, registered a bunch of city names, like topeka.com, northdallas.com, and grandrapids.com, in early 1998 to sell his so-called "fine gifts." (Disclosure: The Hook editor has twice offered to buy Charlottesville.com.)

Cavalier.com is under development, and the site hints its name could be for sale. Meanwhile, it offers insurance quotes and an entrance to adult content.

Want to see if Dave Matthews Band manager Coran Capshaw's Redlight companies have a website? Visitors who type in redlight.com find themselves on a site boasting "absolute filth since 1996," and promising "every perversion imaginable." No apparent connection to Capshaw.

And suppose you want to know who's playing at the local sushi bar/nightclub tonight. Don't try the obvious tokyorose.com, which goes to an Asian porn site with "uncensored Japanese hardcore."

One likely domain name for a porn site would be, well, thehook.com. But no such luck. That site is under development, and doesn't link to juicy porno sites or even juicy weekly newspapers with articles about porno websites.