Little hope for Talk City users

People whose sites were hosted by Talk City have a thin chance of recovering them from the defunct company, the trust of the company's bankruptcy case said.

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Talk City users have little hope of recovering their Web sites from the defunct Web hosting company, the trust of the company's bankruptcy case said this week.

Talk City's assets will be liquidated as part of its Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. As the trustee in the case, attorney Mark DeGiacomo said his role is to sell off the assets for the benefit of Talk City's creditors, not resurrect Web sites.

"I do not operate the business. If somebody were to buy the assets and start up a new Web site, that would be one thing," said DeGiacomo, an attorney with Boston's Murtha, Cullina, Roche, Carens & DeGiacomo. "For bankruptcy estate to spend money on that type of situation would be unusual."

Talk City, which at one point hosted some 2.5 million free Web pages on its site, including pages for users of corporate clients such as Microsoft's MSN, shuttered its site earlier this month and ceased operations. The shut down surprised and upset many of Talk City's customers, who used the site for its free Web-page hosting or discussion groups. Many were frustrated that they were unable to back up their Web pages because the company didn't warn them beforehand of its impending closure.

Talk City customers are only the latest Net users to lose their data as a result of a site shutdown. Customers of Internet access company Excite@Home and online photo site PhotoPoint also lost e-mail or photographs when those companies closed shop earlier this year.

PhotoPoint later gave customers the opportunity to order CDs of their photographs that were on the site, but for a fee. DeGiacomo said he hadn't yet considered offering the service for Talk City customers.

"No one has approached and made that request of me. Whether we could or would, I don't know," DeGiacomo said.

DeGiacomo advised Talk City users to hire an attorney if they wanted to try recovering their lost sites through the bankruptcy process. But one legal expert said Talk City users have little hope of a legal remedy.

"You (would) have rights if they gave your content to someone else because of copyright law," said Neil Smith, an intellectual-property lawyer with Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin in San Francisco. "But if it just disappears, the legal system does not provide a mechanism for preservation or recovery."

Peter Rimar, a broadcast journalist in Vicenza, Italy, was among those whose Web sites were wiped out when Talk City shut down. Rimar's site was devoted to the stories and photographs he had taken while covering stories in places such as Somalia, Suriname and Bosnia.

Rimar established his Web site on Talk City through MSN, and he called on the online portal to help those who lost their Web sites.

"It would be nice if MSN said, 'As a service to the folks out there, we will bring the servers up,' just to do the right thing," he said.

MSN representatives did not immediately return calls seeking comment.