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AOL Accused Of Stealing Web Address For New Search Site

A Web developer in New York claims she's the victim of reverse domain-name hijacking by America Online Inc.

Cybele Emanuelle, owner of WebmasterFX Digital Systems said she registered the domain aolsearch.com back in September of 1998 and subsequently built a site at that address called African-American OnLine Search. According to Emanuelle, aolsearch.com was a guide to "the best of black pride & empowerment on the net" and got positive reviews from many visitors.

Unfortunately for Emanuelle, her site stood in the way of plans by AOL to launch a new search engine covering both the Web and its proprietary content. The big online service is currently previewing AOL Search to its subscribers, and recently announced plans to launch it officially later this fall, using technology from Inktomi Corp.

Last April, Emanuelle received a notice by e-mail from an attorney representing America Online, accusing her of violating AOL's trademark rights and demanding that she transfer the aolsearch.com domain to AOL.

After she refused, Emanuelle heard little else on the matter, until receiving an automatically generated e-mail template from Network Solutions last May 13th asking her approval for a request to transfer her domain to America Online. Emanuelle immediately contacted NSI to stop the transfer and to ask for an explanation.

"I talked with people there, including the legal department, who pulled up my account and assured me I had nothing to worry about. (They said) 'You didn't give your approval, so everything's fine.'"

One week later, however, the URL aolsearch.com stopped working, and Emanuelle's site went dark. According to internic records, the domain had become the property of America Online Inc.

Emanuelle has since gone looking for answers from Network Solutions and the Department of Commerce, which oversees NSI's contract with the government. NSI has said that it properly followed its domain dispute policy but was unable to notify Emanuelle of the transfer because hard copy documents sent to the mailing address in her registration record were returned as undeliverable . Emanuelle disputes that explanation, saying she has successfully received other NSI correspondence, including invoices, at that address, and is considering a legal challenge.

" I invested a lot of time and energy into this. I wasn't cybersquatting. And to have this done and have an arrogant, indifferent attitude from Network Solutions makes my blood boil."

In related news, Jim Rutt the new chief executive officer of Network Solutions, said Tuesday the company will soon establish an Office of Internet Ombudsman. Rutt announced the plan in an open letter to the Internet community. In the e-mail, Rutt said the Ombudsman will "work with the various constituencies of the Net, to make sure that wherever possible we are doing right by Net values."

Last week, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate designed to make cybersquatting a crime. Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham's Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act would bring fines of up to $300,000 against individuals who register someone else's trademarked domain name with the intent of selling it later.



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