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White House in porn domain dispute

The proprietor of the X-rated "whitehouse.com" site gets a letter challenging his right to use the president and first lady as "marketing devices."

The X-rated "whitehouse.com" Web site has drawn the ire of the real White House, which has sent a letter challenging the owner's right to use the president and the first lady as a "marketing device."

The case raises legal and ethical issues related to domain name registration, where an errant keystroke could send a user to an adult site instead of the intended one--in this case, that of the official White House site at "www.whitehouse.gov." Examples abound on the Net, such as "yahhoo.com" (adult-oriented) instead of "yahoo.com," the search engine. (See related story)

The one-man operation behind "whitehouse.com," Web page designer Dan Parisi of Secaucus, New Jersey, said today he was surprised to get the letter, which was signed by the counsel to the president, Charles F.C. Ruff, and sent on White House stationery to the post office box listed on his InterNIC domain name registration. So he called the White House, and sure enough, the legal staff confirmed it was for real. (So did associate counsel Lisa Hertzer Schertler, for CNET's NEWS.COM.)

"However distasteful your business may be, we do not challenge your right to pursue it or to exercise your First Amendment rights, but we do challenge your right to use the White House, the president, and the first lady as a marketing device," stated the letter, dated December 8.

It went on to say: "As your own online disclaimer implicitly acknowledges, the foreseeable result of your use of the White House domain name is that children will access your Web site inadvertently. Your customers will understand that such a result is unconscionable, and so, we submit, should you."

Hertzer Schertler declined comment beyond what was stated in Ruff's letter. She did note that the White House routinely sends out letters warning of its policy against using the president's name or likeness to market products. For example, one such letter recently was sent to Internet directory Excite for using the president's signature in an advertisement, and linking it to activities such as white-water rafting and buying lingerie.

This case is a bit more racy.

As reported earlier, Parisi's site features a likeness of Hillary Clinton (decked out in leather and holding a whip) leading around a likeness of the president (wearing a leather collar). Another picture shows Hillary Clinton's head "morphed" onto someone else's topless torso. The caption reads: "I had to do something to keep your wandering eye at bay." The site also offers links to pornographic sites, along with some sexually explicit photos. Parisi claims the photos are strategically "covered up" with stars.

It also carries this disclaimer: "We are not affiliated or endorsed by the U.S. government. The following links may contain pornography. If you are under 21 or in a jurisdiction that prohibits pornography, do not continue. If you want the U.S. White House type 'www.whitehouse.gov.'"

Until last summer, Parisi's site offered parody and political commentary such as unflattering photos of "Bubba," the president. But he switched to an adult-rated theme when traffic stagnated; now business is booming, he contends.

Parisi said he sent a letter back to the White House offering his own defense. He pointed out that the site has a disclaimer and that "there are also several U.S. trademarks for the words 'whitehouse' or 'white house,' none of which are owned by the U.S. government."

He conceded that some schools have sent him correspondence to complain that the address between his site and the official White House site is too close for comfort. Parisi's solution: "We are allowing any K-12 institution to give us their IP address and we will block their access to this site."

In addition, Parisi said his site is listed as off-limits by major blocking software companies. He also said rating-enabled browsers will warn Netizens about the sexual context of the site.

"I personally like President Clinton and am happy with the way he is running the country," Parisi said. He has not yet heard back from the White House.