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Amazon.com Sues Alleged Cybersquatter

Alleging extortion, mail fraud, wire fraud, and other racketeering activities, online bookstore Amazon.com Inc. Wednesday filed a lawsuit against an alleged cybersquatter running a copycat Web site in Greece.

Greg Lloyd Smith and his wife, Aikaterini Theochari, who live in Greece, are among the defendants, as are Smith's companies, CITI Services Inc., a Delaware-based holding corporation and CITI Services Ltd., operated out the U.K. The suit was filed in a Delaware federal court.

Amazon.com claims that Smith and his companies violate federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes, trademark infringement, trademark dilution and copyright infringement. The defendant operates a Web site from Greece, Amazon.gr, and calls itself "Greece's Biggest Bookstore." The site sells Greek-language books, movies and software, as well as has a similar design to Amazon.com's Web site.

A similar lawsuit, in which Amazon.com claims unfair competition, has already been filed in Greece and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.

"We take it seriously when someone engages in unfair business practices and tries to pass himself off as connected to Amazon.com, because consumers around the globe have come to trust our name and the service we provide," said Amazon.com spokesman Bill Curry.

In its 11-count complaint, Amazon.com is seeking treble damages and an injunction preventing Smith and his affiliates from using the infringing domain names and Web site.

According to the suit, Smith contacted Amazon.com in May and offered to sell a controlling interest in CITI to Amazon.com for $1.6 million. Calling it a "thinly veiled shakedown," Amazon.com refused to comply and said it then learned that "the defendants were using the term Amazon.gr as part of a Web site to encourage consumers to purchase books and other products from CITI."

The allegation of a "thinly veiled shakedown" was vehemently denied by Smith.

"The idea that we would be committing extortion is absolutely ludicrous," Smith told InternetNews.com. He also denied ever offering ownership of Amazon.gr to Amazon.com.

"I've never offered the site for sale," he said. "I own 51 percent of (the company) and would not ever offer controlling interest to anyone."

Amazon.com also claims the defendants intentionally copied its design and have committed multiple violations of mail and wire fraud statutes in order to connect itself with the Amazon.com name. No specifics of the fraud charges were disclosed.

"With this lawsuit, we're putting other Amazon.com copycats and cybersquatters on notice: You can run, but you can't hide," Curry said in a statement.

Smith argued that Amazon.com's trademark does not extend to Greece, and that he operates his site from Greece within the jurisdiction of Greek law.

"I have no doubt that what we're doing in Greece is perfectly legal," said Smith. "It's going to be a long fight, but we're not going to give up. [Amazon.com] can file any frivolous lawsuits they want, but we're not going to back down."

On a related note, Amazon.com is defending itself in another lawsuit filed by Amazon Bookstore Co-operative, Inc., a brick-and-mortar store in Minnesota in operation since the 1970s.