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Holding the Tag

The dot-com name game sure seemed like a good idea.


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By Anthony DeBartolo

On behalf of the seven other men in this country who share my name (and who happen to have listed telephone numbers), sincere thanks to the Zelexian Republic for valuing it so highly. They want $20,000 for anthonydebartolo.com, the Internet domain name.

Zelexia is "a private republic based near the island of Niue in the South Pacific," about 1,500 miles northeast of New Zealand, says N. Buranie, the person who answers its E-mail. A photo posted on its Web site (zelexia.com) suggests it also has a missile-laden jet fighter to defend itself.

According to Whois.net, the on-line reverse directory of domain names, this cybersquatting republic isn't just picking on us. They also own the dot-com creations of mickeymouseonline, timewarnernews, and kelloggscereal. Even hormoneoutlet and penisenlargementpills. All grabbed during the Net name gold rush.

But with the bursting of the dot-com bubble, last November's passage of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, and the creation of several international organizations to arbitrate domain-name disputes, plenty of speculators got stuck with real estate along the information superhighway.

Consider Michael Jordan, a name registered at least eight times--from michaeljordan.dk in Denmark to michaeljordan.co.uk in Great Britain. The dot-com version--considered the choicest of the lot, in part because if the domain's extension is left out most Internet browsers will default to dot com, as opposed to dot net or dot org--was claimed in 1997 by one James S. Ginn of Marmora, New Jersey. The address remains unused.

Under the anticybersquatting act, it's not a crime to own someone else's name but it is if you attempt to sell the name to that person (or a third party) for a profit.

That's what California attorney Franklin Radoff tells me, but not because he's an expert. When asked how much he wants for his oprahwinfreyfanclub.com, he replies: "It is currently illegal to buy or sell names of others. I purchased the name because I was not aware of the current law on the subject. Be careful what you buy or sell!"

Investment tip: cookcountyjail.com is still available for registration.

Making a profit, says Eric Wulkowkz, operations manager for a local Web design firm, was not the objective when registering the dot-com versions of the chicagohistoricalsociety, the artinstituteofchicago, the museumofscienceandindustry, and the chicagopolicedepartment.

"We thought having a group of them together was useful," says Wulkowkz. "It was a project we started that we thought was good, but we got distracted." If any of these groups ask, he adds, "any one of them is welcome to the name at no charge."

Ditto for Web site developer John Scaletta, a south-sider who owns shedd-aquarium.com. "I just wanted to grab it before someone else did," he says. "If they want the name, all they have to do is call me and I'll give it to them. There's no way I'd ask for money. Well, maybe a ticket to see the fish."

Crete's Jerome Williams, owner of midwayairport.com and ohareairport.com, also proved magnanimous when asked about his registrations. "If they called and said they wanted them, and I decided to sell to them, I would hand them over for what I paid," he says. Nathan Chappell, a resident of Anaheim, California, by the way, owns the official name for the world's busiest--ohareinternationalairport.com.

When contacted at his Wheaton home and asked about his drakehotel.com, James Jones only offered a question of his own: "How did you get my number?"

Investment tip: billygoattavern.com is still available.

As one might expect, several politicians have already been bought. Mayordaley.com was reportedly purchased in May 1999 by Amtec Products, a Tinley Park company.

South-sider Kevin Thomas registered haroldwashington.com just a few months ago. "I heard on the news guys were selling names for big money. I don't have any money, so I jumped in," he says. "I couldn't believe it was still there.

"If Harold's family ever wanted it, I'd just give it to them. He was a great man," Thomas says. "But if some big company wanted it, I don't know. I'd have to think about it."

Investment tip: janebyrne.com is still available.

The dot-com political boss richardjdaley is being held hostage in South America. But Victor Alonso of Colombia says he only wants a "fair price": $25,000.

The owner of both dillenger.com and johndillenger.com--Arzu Copur of Ankara, Turkey--says he's willing to sell cheap: $900 apiece. Perhaps that price reflects his misspelling the outlaw's name. Properly spelled johndillinger.com is owned by the bank robber's grandnephew, Jeff Scalf of Mooresville, Indiana. "We just bought it to avoid any abuse," he says. "Eventually we'll put up a Web site to tell the family's side of the story."

Surprisingly, Al Capone's place in cyberspace lay unclaimed until June of this year. The law firm representing the Switzerland-based alcapone.com's owner writes, "Al Capone is a European trademark for cigars and the owners of the domain alcapone.com are cigar manufacturers. There is no connection to the historical person Al Capone." Other than, presumably, the name.

Investment tip: tonyaccardo.com and franknitti.com are both still available.

The Texas owner of mikeroyko.com reports "big plans." Daron Gorham, who runs a Web hosting company, bought the domain a year ago. "I'm going to put some of his best work on there," he says. "Then everybody can read it and leave each other messages." Asked how he was handling the copyrights to Royko's work, Gorham replied, "I haven't looked into that yet."

Colorado's Larry Collins has a single line posted on his Web site: "chicagoillinois.com is for sale." What California computer engineer Karl Swartz is up to, though, is less clear. His chicago.com site is loaded with local links, and he has a rather detailed autobiographical narrative attempting to explain why--it seems Chicago was the name of his first computer.

Investment tip: mrsolearysbarn.com remains open, but mrsolearyscow.com is gone.

Jeff Walker of Sacramento, who operates thedomainseller.com, a domain name brokerage site, was contacted to hear of his plans for thechicagocubs.com, which he claimed last year. His fiancee, Kristin, called back to say Jeff was basically a "very nice guy" and "loved the team." Apparently so. She called back a second time to say he wanted to "donate" the name to the ball club.

While the dot-com versions of lakeshoredrive, rushstreet, and oakstreet are owned by a Lincoln Park resident, lincolnpark.com is registered to a guy in Champaign. The owner of ashlandavenue.com lives on it.

Investment tip: pulaskiroad.com is still available.

The registered owner of searstower.com and tasteofchicago.com lives in Munster. Buckinghamfoun-tain.com's owner is in Morton Grove. But the domain name for the city's signature waterway, chicagoriver.com, now resides in Florida. Yet Rick Katz, the cyber-river's owner, doesn't think he's squatting. "Just being creative," he says. "Anticipating a need."

Who does he think might buy the name? "I don't know," Katz says. "Maybe some tour boat operator. I ran an ad in Crain's but didn't get any response."

Investment tip: zelexianrepublic.com is still available.

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