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Culture

Danish sites get Google's goat

The search site is trying to pull the plug on a pair of similarly named sites that run their own search engines powered by none other than Google rival Overture Services.

Grandma DuBaud called me last week, hopping mad. "Are you saying I need to lose weight?" she demanded.

I racked my brains, but I couldn't think of anything she could be referring to. "Your Daily Skinny newsletter at Skinny.com," she told me, before I could ask. "I'm glad you're thinking about losing weight, but I'm unsubscribing. And don't think you'll be getting that shipment of sirop d'erable this Christmas."

I finally understood. Nearly two years ago, the company that owned the Skinny.com domain name offered to sell it to me, but I balked at their $50,000 price. Instead, it was purchased by The Fountain of Youth Group, which is now using it to sell diet pills. Worse, the "Edita's Skinny" site had a "Daily Skinny" newsletter, and people were getting it mixed up with me.

I immediately called my attorney, Sue Ferfunanpraffit, and asked her what we could do. She told me to wait for the outcome of Google's latest domain-name cases, which happen to be the hottest topic in cyberlaw circles in her homeland of Denmark. "Honey, if dey vin dis, den maybe you got a shot," she said.

Google is trying to pull the plug on a pair of Danish sites that clearly pose a threat to its growing dominance of the online search business. The sites in question, gogle.dk and guugle.dk, run their own search engines powered by Overture Services, the pay-for-placement search company formerly known as GoTo.com.

The folks at Google clearly think something's rotten in the state of you know where. They've filed an official complaint with the Dansk Internet Forum, and a representative there said a decision is expected in four to five weeks.

The man behind the two sites is fighting, however. He says he's been an affiliate for Overture--one of the many site owners that sends Overture traffic in return for a small fee--for more than a year, and everything is on the up-and-up.

"The case is pretty weird as Google.com (doesn't) even own google.dk," Danish entrepreneur Frank Vang wrote in an e-mail. That "domain is owned by a Danish bookshop."

The bookshop in question, The Google Bookstore, doesn't look much like a search engine, however. Vang, whom Google says owns more than 220 other domain names, may have trouble convincing trademark authorities he's not trading on Google's guud name.

Google does own gogle.com. Guugle.com, however, points to another entrepreneurial company called Commfind, based in Los Angeles, which also offers a Web search.

Mergers on hold
When I wasn't fending off Grandmother DuBaud's angry French-Canadian curses, I spent much of the week tracking whispers that AT&T Wireless is looking to merge with Cingular Wireless.

Wall Street was abuzz with rumors that the rival cell phone companies were playing footsie, the latest in a speculative on-again off-again dalliance dating back about a year. Apparently, their technology is a good fit, or something.

As luck would have it, I drove out of my cell phone service area in mid-denial from the companies. I immediately pulled a U-turn to reconnect, but found myself chatting instead with a traffic cop. Fortunately, I was able to expense the infraction after a failed bid to drum up sympathy as dot-com hack--an impecunious business these days, as everyone knows--turned up an interesting tidbit.

The wired-in officer informed me that prospects might be looking up for Internet journalists. Just look at APBNews.com, the all-crime, all-the-time Web site that expired last year--it's getting a new lease on life, she said.

I shot CEO Yovette Munford a quick e-mail, and she confirmed the story. The site will be doing a "soft launch" in May and will be offering a daily crime news column, a crime humor column, and a wanted column that will focus on missing people and wanted criminals. Later, the site plans to publish more ambitious audio and video features, she wrote.

I, for one, am glad. We're overdue for another low-speed chase down the Los Angles freeways, and I want someplace to get the straight, unvarnished story.

Spare me the criminal charges, but keep sending your rumors.