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Oreos domain in dispute

Nabisco threatens to sue a Canadian man who registered "oreos.com" for his home page with adult links.

"Oreos.com" sat quietly on the Net for more than a year--however, it wasn't a hub to debate whether the cookie's crunchy chocolate outside is better than its creamy filling.

On the contrary, until today, "Oreos.com" was an Ontario man's personal Web page featuring links to some adult entertainment sites. While this may have been a treat for some, it is not exactly the one most people affiliate with Nabisco's famous sandwich cookie.

And so it was that Paul Figueiredo found himself in a legal dispute with one of the biggest food companies in the United States and Canada. Nabisco threatened a lawsuit if he didn't surrender the domain name by noon today.

Figueiredo is not the first private person to tangle with a corporation over a Net domain name, and he certainly won't be the last. For now, the nation's major domain name registry, Network Solutions, hands out Net site addresses on a first-come, first-served basis. So it is easy to get a name, but it can be hard to keep.

At first, "Oreos.com" was registered to be the site for the Ontario Real Estate Online Services, for advertising homes on the market, Figueiredo says. But his business idea never took off. He had already spent $100 to register the site name, so he turned it into a home page. When he got the letter from Nabisco's lawyers earlier this month, he knew the site's days were numbered.

"I don't want to fight these people. I would sell it to anybody else for $5 because I don't like being bullied," he said today.

He tried unsuccessfully to cut a deal that would have allowed him to point people to Nabisco's official site, if he took the adult links off the front page. But because the company markets its sweets to kids, Nabisco wouldn't go for it, he said.

"If it was my kid, I wouldn't want them to see adult banners when they type in 'Oreos,'" he admitted. "I had until noon today to take it off the Web or else, so I did."

Sprint, Microsoft, the White House, the New Yorker magazine, and religious groups all have disputed domain names. (See related story)

Network Solutions has been criticized for giving an unfair advantage to prominent brick-and-mortar companies that flash well-known trademarks as proof that they should get a certain name. Sometimes this leads to a name being suspended until it can be fought over in court. For small enterprises that have built business around Net names, the process seems unfair. Many hope the issue will be addressed in a Clinton administration domain name policy paper expected to be released tomorrow. (See related story)

Until then, cases such as the Oreo dispute will keep surfacing, because large companies will keep fighting for the limited name plates on the Net. And most won't take "no" for an answer. "He has faxed back the letter agreeing to cease all use of the Oreos trademark and domain name," Jonathan Colombo, an attorney for Nabisco, said today.