Writers seek dot-com ownership of their names

NEW YORK - R.L. Stine has told some scary stories over the years, but this one is a little odd: The author who has sold millions of children's books does not entirely possess his own name.

A British company, Old Barn Studios Ltd., has claimed dot-com ownership of Stine's and many other authors' names. Should Stine want to start his own Web site, he could not call it rlstine.com.

Acting on behalf of Stine and eight other best-selling authors, the Authors Guild Inc. is seeking to make Old Barn transfer rights back to the writers.

''For authors, whose names and reputations are their most valued stock-in-trade, bringing this proceeding was absolutely necessary,'' Guild president Letty Cottin Pogrebin said Wednesday.

''We hope to establish the precedent that in cyberspace, as in traditional venues of trade, authors' names belong to them, not to the first outfit that registers a famous name as a domain name.''

Phone and e-mail messages to Old Barn, based in Birmingham, England, were not immediately returned.

So-called cybersquatting - the registration of names by speculators who hope to resell them for hundreds or thousands of dollars - is nothing new. There is even a United Nations organization that handles complaints over domain names.

The Guild filed papers last month with a dispute resolution body authorized by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which governs domain ownership. A decision is expected within three weeks.

Other writers seeking rights to their names include John Berendt (''Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil''), Charles Frazier (''Cold Mountain'') and Thomas L. Friedman (''The Lexus and the Olive Tree'').

Earlier this year, British author Jeanette Winterson successfully won domain rights from the scholar Mark Hogarth, who had registered more than 100 names of well-known authors and reportedly tried to sell ownership back to the writers.

Hogarth has said he wanted to design Web sites about each of the authors and that he would make clear the sites were unofficial.


On the Net:

Guild: http://www.authorsguild.com

Old Barn: http://www.oldbarnstudios.com

UN group: http://www.wipo.int

Domain name freedom group: http://www.tldlobby.com


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