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Court cracks down on URL copycat

An anti-abortion activist could face jail time for persisting in registering domain names similar to those owned by The Washington Post.

An anti-abortion activist will face contempt of court charges Wednesday for registering domain names similar to those owned by the Washington Post Co.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery has ordered activist Bill Purdy to show up in court in Minnesota on Wednesday and face possible criminal sanctions, which could carry a jail sentence, for continuing to register scores of domain names after the newspaper won a preliminary injunction against him in July.

In a four-page order dated last week, Montgomery ordered Purdy to turn over WPNI.org, which is similar to the WPNI.com domain name that many Washington Post-Newsweek employees have as part of their e-mail addresses. Purdy claims to have intercepted e-mail messages intended for Washington Post staffers.

Last week, attorneys representing the Post filed a motion saying Purdy had "flouted" the July 23 injunction, which barred him from using any domain name that "incorporates and is identical or confusingly similar to...The Washington Post." Coca-Cola and Pepsi also sued Purdy at the same time for trademark infringements and were included in the order.

Purdy insists his other domain names--including NoCokePepsi.com and TheWashingtonPostSpin.com--should remain his. "What I'm trying to do is point out to the world and the judge that they're all not lumped in together," Purdy said. "This shows the ridiculousness of the order.

"It started out because I just wanted to criticize their pro-abortion editorial agenda," Purdy said about The Washington Post. "I'm really more interested in The New York Times...As soon as I get established what I can and can't do then I have every intention of going after The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. I also have USATodaySays.com."

Purdy, who claimed WPNI stood for William Purdy's Novel Insights, says he's transferred ownership of the domain to a Mexican man named Pablo Rubio Sanchez and could no longer comply with The Washington Post's demands even if he wanted to. Montgomery's order from last week said Purdy and "all persons in active concert or participation with him" are prohibited from using WPNI.org.

Purdy has been representing himself since the lawsuit began in July, but will be represented by a public defender on Wednesday because criminal charges are now possible.

A Washington Post spokesman said: "I don't have any comment. This is a legal matter. We're taking it up in the courts. The court papers speak for themselves."

In a stiffly worded letter sent last month, attorneys for The Washington Post had demanded that Purdy turn over the WPNI.org domain and any e-mail sent to him by mistake. "It clearly constitutes a separate infringement of The Washington Post Entities' trademark rights and other violations of unfair competition laws," wrote Patrick Carome, an attorney at Wilmer Cutler and Pickering who represents the paper. "Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive has made substantial use of the term 'WPNI' in commerce and has unquestionable trademark rights in the name and mark."

Paul Levy, an attorney at the nonprofit group Public Citizen who frequently represents people accused of domain-name misuse, said Purdy may be in trouble.

"It seems like a very complicated situation," Levy said. "There may be a germ of reason on his side, but it seems to me that he's done so much that's unreasonable. The question is whether the judge will see through the forest of unreason to whatever limited proper activities may be going on here."