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Got a dispute? Take it to the Web

New service will mediate conflicts on the Web.

Online Ombuds Office, a Web-based mediation service, is offering $100 each to the first disputants who use the procedure to settle a disagreement.

The idea, according to report in the New York Times, is to demonstrate n the concept of online mediation and to show the project's sponsors how alternatives to the traditional courts can function in cyberspace.

"Offering $100, from our point of view, makes sense, because we hope to learn something from these disputes," said M. Ethan Katsh, a professor of legal studies at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts, and co-director of the project. "Some people think it is rather strange, and we certainly are not going to do it all the time, but if this helps us get some interesting or meaty disputes, it will be money worth it."

The Online Ombuds Office site was launched with the help of a $50,000 grant from the National Center for Automated Information Research, a not-for-profit New York City-based group that promotes research on how to apply computer technology in law and accounting.

The six categories of complaint that are eligible for the $100 reward are: copyright or intellectual property disputes; domain name disputes; First Amendment issues; harassment disputes, and user/service provider disputes. There is also a miscellaneous category.