In October 1994, Joshua Quittner, a writer for Wired, called up Jane Hulbert, a media-relations employee of McDonald's. After briefly explaining the Internet to her, Quittner noted that McDonald's had not yet re gistered the domain name mcdonalds.com and said, "I could register McDonald's right now."
"You could?" Hulbert asked. She then answered her question. "You could."
"So could Burger King," Quittner said, and Hulbert then decided to consult McDonald's MIS staff.
A few weeks later, after talking with Hulbert again and learning that nobody in MIS at McDonald's was going to act, Quittner sent a note off to Internic. Two weeks passed before he received an email message from email@example.com:
"Registration for the domain MCDONALDS.COM has been completed. The InterNIC database has been updated....The new information will not be visible via WHOIS until the next business day...."
Quittner published an article about his new domain in Wired shortly after, alerting companies nationwide that their domains were not necessarily safe. The article also served notice to the public that there were a plethora of domains avaible -- for free at the time -- that companies would want, and for which those same companies might be willing to pay. Quittner himself refused to turn the domain over until McDonald's agreed to provide high-speed Internet access for a public school in Brooklyn, but other cases have proven to be far more complicated.
Most students have heard of both The Princeton Review and Kaplan. In 1994, though, neither company had any presence online when The Princeton Review decided to put up a web site. The company quickly reserved the names review.com and princeton.com, but its executives realized that Kaplan's domain was still available, so they registered kaplan.com as well. The review.com site grew into the home for The Princeton Review, and the com pany decided to make kaplan.com a useful resource as well...for those looking for disparaging comments about Kaplan's products and services.
Kaplan's attorneys soon took notice and strongly requested that The Princeton Review relinquish its right to the domain. The Princeton Review offered to do so in exchange for a case of beer, but Kaplan turned that down and went to court, where an arbitra tor eventually decided to give the name to Kaplan, settling the best-known case of a company grabbing its competitor's domain.
Non-commercial domains often provide very interesting cases. Whereas a name like kaplan.com distinctly belongs to Kaplan by trademark law, what of personal names, or other concepts that cannot be trademarked? One company, Adega LLC, is attempting to profit off of exactly that. Adega currently owns the rights to dozens of domains for political candidates, such as Ashcroft2000.org for Senator John Ashcroft, and forbes2000.com for Steve Forbes, that it is willing to sell to the highest bidder.
The trend towards registering personal names extends well beyond the political sphere. Recently, Jim Salmon, a California resident who wanted to "see if I couldn't do my part in changing the world," spent $40,000 to register domains named for a number of country music stars and sports figures, from LeAnn Rimes to Yogi Berra. For a while, Salmon posted a page on his site listing prices for the domains -- $10,000 for VictoriaShaw.com, for example, and $50,000 for GarthBrooks.org. A number of the individuals affected have discussed filing a class action lawsuit against Salmon, prompting him to take down the page of prices, but he still retains the rights to the names for now.