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Lucasfilm fights for the rights to Tatooine.com

The makers of "Star Wars" are trying to claim an Internet domain name held by a 31-year-old Web designer and programmer.

A Web designer from Vermont may need more than the Force to fight off a challenge for an Internet domain name.

Lucasfilm, the production company responsible for the phenomenally successful "Star Wars" series, is trying to claim an Internet domain name held by Steve Mount, a 31-year-old Web designer and programmer.

Mount, from Williston, Vt., received a letter this week from Lucasfilm lawyers asking that he relinquish the domain Tatooine.com. Tatooine was the fictional desert planet where "Star Wars" character Luke Skywalker was raised.

Lucasfilm today confirmed it is trying to gain ownership of the domain name from Mount.

"This is not at all unusual…We send many cease-and-desist letters to people using domain names that are our registered trademark properties," company spokeswoman Jeanne Cole said. "We vigorously protect our trademarks."

The letter, which Mount gave to CNET News.com, explains that Mount's use of the domain name "dilutes the distinctive quality" of the "Star Wars" trademark. The company goes on to demand that Mount "immediately abandon use of the domain name…and transfer the domain name to Lucasfilm."

Mount registered the domain Tatooine.com in 1997, and he uses the page to post photographs and advertisements for his programming and Web design services. He said that he does not sell and does not plan to sell any "Star Wars"-related material on his site.

"When the letter came, my heart started pounding," Mount said. "This is the kind of thing I expected the first couple of months after I registered the domain name in 1997."

Recent laws have made it harder for cybersquatters to benefit from buying trademarked or other domain names and selling them for profit.

Yet Mount said the issue isn't about cybersquatting. "I am not parked on a domain name just waiting for Lucasfilm to come along to offer me money," said Mount. "I have been actively using the site since I registered it."

Last November, Barry Diller, chief executive of USA Networks, won a judgment against a company that was trying sell Barrydiller.com for $10 million.

One case still pending in California pits Nissan Computer against Nissan Motor. The car manufacturer has filed action against the computer firm to gain control of the domains "Nissan.com" and "Nissan.net." This case has an interesting twist, however, as North Carolina-based Nissan Computer has held a registered trademark for its name since 1991.

"It is well established that only the owner of a trademark may use that mark as a domain name," David Anderman, Lucasfilm's associate director of business affairs, wrote in the letter to Mount.

Mount said he has yet to decide whether to challenge Lucasfilm or ask them to simply reimburse him for fees paid for the domain over the past three years, plus the cost to establish a new domain for his business. Not including a new domain registration, Mount estimated it would cost Lucasfilm about $2,500--about 50 hours of work at $50 per hour---Mount's typical design and programming rate.

"With the resources they have, I anticipate that I will get the short end of the stick at some point," said Mount. "I am under no illusion that I will be able to fight them if it came to that."