June 2, 1997 7:15 AM PDT

Dirty domain spree no joke

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It wasn't a prank and it wasn't a publicity stunt, says the 21-year-old college student who has been registering naughty domain names to the The Microsoft Network. He says he's just casting his net as widely as possible to draw Web surfers to his site.

His techniques may work, but they may also land him in a trademark dispute with the Redmond, Washington, software giant.

Over the last few days, Danny Khoshnood has registered as many as 60 different domain names. Many of them hint at pornography, but others relate to Microsoft products, or use slight misspellings of other well-known sites.

That's hardly unusual. It's common practice to register misspellings and alternate spellings of popular site names to capitalize on the typos of Web surfers. These "near-miss" sites often sell advertising but usually take great pains to distinguish themselves from the "real" site and the company behind it.

What draws attention in this case is whom Khoshnood listed in the InterNIC's public records as the owner of the new names.

In April, the Cal State Northridge student started calling his three-year-old Web design firm The Microsoft Network and registered the unclaimed domain name "microsoftnetwork.com" as his firm's home page. Khoshnood's firm had previously gone by Globalnet 2000, he said.

That means that names like "dirtybirds" and "freehooker" are now registered to a company called "The Microsoft Network." Microsoft doesn't like that. A company spokesman said the company is investigating and "taking steps to try to remedy the situation," a situation that raises potential trademark infringement issues.

But Khoshnood, who said he owns the 15-employee firm with his father Ira Khoshnood, claimed he wasn't looking for trouble. He figured Microsoft would come looking for him sooner or later, he was just hoping it would be later.

"This is going to turn out to be a big war between Microsoft and me, isn't it?" Khoshnood said. "I'm sure I'll be getting a letter from them soon." So far, he's heard nothing from the software and media giant.

If he does, he doesn't seem to think Microsoft would have a case. "If they don't want [microsoftnetwork.com], I'm going to take it," said Khoshnood. "I'm not doing anything illegal; at least I don't think I am. I've consulted with lawyers."

The business administration major is at least partially right, according to one legal expert. "At present, nobody--not even what you might think are the 'appropriate' parties--can lay legal claim to domain names just by virtue of who they are," said Michael H. Davis, law professor at Cleveland State University, currently visiting at Hofstra Law School. "Therefore, anyone else can arguably claim [any domain name]. What they do with them, and how they do it, however, may be unlawful."

But Microsoft could argue that "microsoftnetwork.com" commits the No. 1 no-no of intellectual property rules: causing confusion in consumer's minds between Khoshnood's site and the real MSN.

Microsoft could simply pull the plug on Khoshnood by disputing his registration of "microsoftnetwork.com".

Although the InterNIC registers domain names on a first-come-first-served basis, it will temporarily deactivate names when they become involved in a trademark dispute. Companies that can prove they are the registered trademark holders usually prevail in domain name disputes.

The agency--which is run by Network Solutions under agreement with the National Science Foundation--put dispute policies favoring trademark holders in place to help curb the practice of registering high-profile trademarks in the ".com" domain and then attempting to sell them at extortionate prices.

Khoshnood said he planned to use the 60-odd names he has registered to funnel more traffic into his main site, where he would publish general information about "family oriented-stuff about health care and things." He says he's working with a project to place disadvantaged children in private schools and that this project would have some connection with the site. He adds that he never planned to sell advertising, although he posted ad rates on his site.

"I'm sure if they wanted, they could stop me in a minute," Khoshnood said of Microsoft. "I'm just a college kid trying to do good."

The junior said he hopes to study law after finishing college. He's taking a minor in biology because he wants to specialize in personal injury litigation.

 

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