Someone--not me--had registered "CourtneyMacavinta.com."
I had a flash of a "10 Things I Hate About Courtney" Web site displayed under the banner of my sacred family name. Or worse yet, seeing my face posted on Pamela Anderson Lee's body in a pre-surgery Playboy photo shoot along with "my" likes and dislikes. Was this the work of a disgruntled ex-boyfriend who skipped Jerry Springer to instead take his gripes to the world via the Net? (Don't get any ideas, anyone.)
I knew if the site contained any of the above features, my compassionate officemates would no doubt torment me about the irony of my being the designated domain-name geek and Net "sexpert" while they solicited blind dates on my behalf and posted my most embarrassing moments on the "CourtneyMacavinta.com" bulletin board. In the name of fun, I'm sure they would also take to the time to spam the Net's most degenerate newsgroups to publicize my site's debut.
How could I, of all people, have let this happen?
At least I wasn't alone. Another reporter who also has spent many long days covering dominant ".com" registrar Network Solutions (NSI) had his identity staked out at "DanGoodin.com" by the same party.
But we're in good company. The same folks who reserved our names recently registered the names of former Netscape chief Jim Barksdale, eBay and iVillage CEOs Meg Whitman and Candice Carpenter, respectively, and the guy who signs our paychecks here, CNET chief executive Halsey Minor.
Dan and I gloated for a moment that we had finally made the majors. With our new Net presence, maybe we could give up this reporting stuff and ride the crazy Net IPO wave by taking ourselves public.
Still, jokes aside, I did feel sort of violated.
I've covered stories about "cybersquatters" who hold a domain name for the 60-day grace period allowed by NSI in hopes of selling it to the top bidder and listened to many complaints about NSI's dispute-resolution process when it comes to challenging the ownership of a name. But not until I saw the "coming soon" banner on CourtneyMacavinta.com did the concept truly sink in.
My name is uncommon and my work is published on the Net, so any future statements on the site could be attributed to me and have professional ramifications. And that is what really got me worried about not having sole control over "MyName.com."
Moreover, I could see no motive for a third party to hold my name or Dan's. When it comes to making cash on the Net, our names don't seem worth the $70 per two-year registration fee we'd have to pay to get them back.
On the other hand, the guy who registered our little-known identities says he didn't register the names for their resale value. Rather, he was looking for some priceless face time.
Dave Davidson, an aspiring Netrepreneur in Iowa, is trying to attract venture capital and press for his upcoming service, DailyOnline.com, by registering the names of online industry heavyweights and tech reporters alike. Once subjects find out about their sites, Davidson gives his pitch and graciously offers to relinquish their names. In my case, his ploy worked.
Although Davidson didn't inform me himself--a reader alerted me first--immediately after I learned my name was scooped up I did feverishly call the administrative contact listed under the registration record on NSI's Whois site.
"Do you know me?" I asked. Davidson quickly explained that he wasn't trying to hijack my identity, and that he'd give it back with no strings attached.
Barksdale has bitten, too. In an email message provided to CNET News.com, a representative for Barksdale asked Davidson, "What would it take to put 'JimBarksdale.com' in the hands of its namesake?" Davidson said the new investor group also agreed to review his business plan.
"The Barksdale Group would review all business plans submitted to it," said Chris Holton, a spokeswoman for the group. "Jim is interested in obtaining the domain name for his personal use, and we have asked Mr. Davidson if he would be willing to give up the domain name. That is where we are now."
Explained Davidson: "In no way is it blackmail. Of all the things we could give you to get your attention--we can give you your domain name. It's like a virtual fruit basket."
Well, not exactly. Unlike a press release or gimmick gift, a domain name is not easily recycled. In order for Mr. Barksdale or even little ol' me to get my name back, a few complicated steps need to be taken.
"As the registrant, he has to submit a modification and give permission to change the contact information and turn over the rights of the name to you," said NSI spokeswoman Cheryl Regan.
If the issue involved a trademark dispute, NSI's process could result in a name being taken offline and put on hold until a court decided how to proceed. But when it comes to surnames, even household names, NSI doesn't get involved.
"We don't condone abuses or misuses of names, but the only recourse we have is to monitor excessive registrations and poor payment history," Regan said.
So if I want the name, I'm essentially forced into a business relationship with someone I have never met.
That aside, if Davidson hasn't paid for the name, which is the case with my name, he can agree to let it go in 60 days and then I can try to register it. If he had paid for the name, he first would have to agree to give it up to me (which he has) and then I would have to pay a $70 fee to take it over for the next two years and keep renewing it thereafter.
He could pay the fee, but CNET News.com reporters don't accept "gifts" valued at more than $25. He also may want his $70 back from the initial registration, although others have asked for much more. AltaVista paid $3 million to buy "altavista.com," for example. Of course, I'm original, but I'm no AltaVista.
Davidson, who wouldn't name his newborn son, who arrived April 20, until he found out whether "JoshuaDavidson.com" was available, contends that he is no cybersquatter. "You work hard to make a name for yourself; you should own your name. I'm trying to do people a favor," he said.
Friend or foe, Davidson has helped me see the light. When it comes down to it, I want to be the master of my domain.