September 5, 1997 3:30 PM PDT
Whitehouse.com goes to porn
These suspicions can now be confirmed on an adult-rated Web site at "www.whitehouse.com," which mocks America's first family in a parody that raises legal and ethical issues while proving once more that sex and politics sell better than just politics alone.
The White House, however, is not amused and said today that it is currently looking into the matter.
In May, Web page designer Dan Parisi bought the rights to the "whitehouse.com" domain name, strikingly similar to the official Web address for the Clinton White House at "www.whitehouse.gov."
At first, Parisi played pure politics with his site's editorial content. It described itself as a "parody and commentary site of the White House and U.S. politics." Sure, it displayed unflattering photos of "Bubba," the president, and "Big Al," the vice president, but it also linked to political news and information in the Washington Post, USA Today, and Detroit Free Press, among other papers, and included a chat area.
But traffic to the site stagnated, so Parisi changed course. "I tried to set up a first-class parody news site, and it just didn't work," said the Secaucus, New Jersey, designer. "Then I saw where people were making money with these adult sites."
That persuaded him to join them. As of last week, Whitehouse.com features a likeness of Hillary Clinton (decked out in leather and brandishing a whip) leading around a likeness of the president (sporting a leather collar). Another picture shows Hillary's head "morphed" onto someone else's topless torso, bearing the caption: "This site is a heckuva lot more fun that the real White House." Below, it lists links to dozens of X-rated sites. ("Aaah, sexy wild girls," one reads.)
"Our traffic has gone through the roof," Parisi crowed. "I guess that's what people want on the Internet."
He said he's now looking for "extra bandwidth" to handle the new traffic, which has tripled to 30,000 visitors per day from 10,000. He explains his action by saying: "It's an economic decision. I had to justify the costs." Parisi noted he spent $40,000 getting the other Web site up and running. Now, he plans to offer an X-rated subscription based service called "SexChannel" on his new site.
His enterprise may hit a snag as the White House may want to do something about the site. "The images and wording contained in [Whitehouse.com] violate longstanding White House policy against unauthorized use of the name or image of the White House, the president, and the first family," it said in a statement. "We are reviewing the matter to take appropriate action."
Parisi said his Manhattan attorney told him that legal precedent supports his activities. The White House is not a trademarked name and the Clintons are public figures, making the S&M parody legal, he argued.
He also points to a disclaimer at the top of Web page: "This site is owned and operated by WhiteHouse.com and is not affiliated with or endorsed by the U.S. government or any other entity. The following links will contain pornographic material. If you are under 21 or in a jurisdiction that prohibits such material, do not continue."
Last month, the White House protested the use of President Clinton's likeness (through technology and editing) in the film Contact, although it conceded that it had no legal case against the moviemakers.
This summer, NASA successfully lobbied the InterNIC, which registers domain names, to block the domain name "nasa.com." That came after Netizens confused "nasa.com" with the official NASA site at "www.nasa.gov" when surfing for news about the Mars voyage. "Nasa.com" linked to some objectionable material, some Net surfers complained. An InterNIC spokesman said he wan't aware of the content on the Whitehouse.com site.
Trademark lawyers weren't sure that the White House could receive the same protections afforded NASA, Coke, or Kodak, for example. "White House is not unique; there's a White House in Moscow," said Carl Oppedahl, a partner with the patent law firm of Oppedahl & Larson in Colorado.
Added Eric Schlachter, an attorney with the law firm Cooley Godward: "The Net is a reasonably self-regulating machine. My guess is that there will be moral persuasion or encouragement of Whitehouse.com to clean up its act. I just think that's too much of an abuse."
This is not the first time that an inadvertent typo could lead a Netizen to an adult site. Users who type the Web address "www.yahhoo.com" instead of "www.yahoo.com," the search engine, end up at an X-rated site, for example.
These cases are becoming more common and will come under more scrutiny now that the Supreme Court has struck down the Communications Decency Act. That puts more responsibility in the hands of parents and users in protecting children from online smut, experts say.
Some think legislation is the answer. "This is more proof that there needs to be a law that protects children who use the Internet," said Cristen Hansen, a spokeswoman for the Family Research Council in Fairfax, Virginia. "Parents can't be there 100 percent of the time."
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