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TheStreet.com: Sex-stocks site is foul

WallStreetSex.com, which mixes steamy photos with stock quotes, looks like the well-known investment site and could be hit with an infringement lawsuit.

    Mixing sex and money doesn't always lead to an arrest.

    But the idea could create a legal scrap for WallStreetSex.com, a little-known adult entertainment site that mixes steamy photos with stock quotes and happens to look an awful lot like investment publication TheStreet.com.

    Registered with the InterNIC in April by Alphabit Media of San Francisco, WallStreetSex.com combines real-time financial information with erotic chat rooms, sex videos, and a "trading pit" that really is a store filled with adult toys and lingerie. Some services cost $9.95 per month.

    The adult site's logo, graphics, and colors--basically its entire design--resemble TheStreet.com. That hasn't gone unnoticed by the latter, which launched in November of 1996 and charges $6.95 to $9.95 per month for access to news and commentary about investing.

    TheStreet.com is giving WallStreetSex.com until tomorrow to remove the site design or face a lawsuit.

    "TheStreet.com treats any and all activity which may harm its goodwill and reputation or its distinctive name and service marks, as well as any allegations of improper or unlawful conduct, very seriously," Sean McLaughlin, TheStreet.com's spokesman, told CNET News.com.

    "We have referred this particular matter to our attorneys and we do not feel it is appropriate to discuss any specifics, other than to note that we have asked them to take whatever measures are necessary to protect our interests," he added.

    A representative from Alphabit Media confirmed that TheStreet.com sent it a "cease and desist" letter on Tuesday, but would not comment further except to say that the site would continue operating with or without the current design. The representative, who asked that his name not be used, also said that another company actually owned the site.

    In the cease-and-desist letter TheStreet.com also accused WallStreetSex.com of stealing its stock ticker design and hurting its image.

    "Both the denotation of your company's Web pages and their manner of presentation constitute obvious and egregious infringements of our client's copyright and trademark rights," TheStreet.com's lawyers stated in the letter. "Moreover, your Web site's admixture of legitimate financial information with pornography virtually assures the tarnishment of our client's trademarks and trade dress."

    TheStreet.com is not the first Web site to go after another site for copying its design.

    Many of the growing e-commerce and contents sites use their design to distinguish their businesses from the rest of the noise on the Net. Sites such as Yahoo have fueded with others over its site coding and graphics.

    More frequently, Net site operators tangle over domain names. As previously reported, the White House fired off a letter to the operator of the adult site White House.com in an attempt to pull down the site--but it's still live.

    A site's code, as well as its "look and feel," can be protected from theft, legal experts say. But TheStreet.com could have a hard time making a case that Net users confused its site with WallStreetSex.com.

    "When somebody has essentially ripped off the look and feel of a Web site, that clearly may be a copyright issue, but they may not be able to prove [consumer confusion] here," said Michael Overly, special counsel to the information technology group at the firm Foley & Lardner.

    "The more creative something is, the stronger the copyright will be," he added. "You can certainly claim copyright in the HTML code behind a Web site."