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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

5,000 Domains Held Hostage

A local Internet company has taken advantage of a gap in legislation by registering more than 5,000 domain names that are identical to the surnames of famous people -- and now it is looking to sell them.

Internet-Bureau Well has printed the full list of "name" domains -- taken from politicians, businessmen, scientists, artists and other public figures -- at the web address names.well.ru.

Well spokesman Dmitry Shishkanov said the company was simply carrying out the orders of its client -- the mysterious Latural company. He declined to name the owners of Latural or give a telephone number.

Latural allocated $100,000 for registering the addresses, Shishkanov said. A single address in the dot.ru zone costs $20.

The site has an alphabetical list of the famous people. When visitors click on one of the 5,000 names, the following text appears: "The project proposes the construction of a site based on a list of links to the web pages of famous people who have the same name as that of the web site address as well as a block of short biographical information about individuals that do not have their own web page on the Internet. ... If you have other ideas about the use of this domain name ... you should contact the project contractor OOO Latural with suggestions or queries."

Visitors are asked to reply by e-mail.

Any name can be taken off the list for $1,000 to $7,000 -- the more famous the name, the higher the price. The company is ready to talk business with the famous people themselves -- or their enemies.

For domains that do not find buyers, Well intends to set up forums at the addresses in which anyone can say whatever they like about the individual.

The company already has received applications from potential buyers, Shishkanov said, and several deals are under way. There have been no legal complaints so far.

Well says the names were registered for a "noncommercial project" called "Velikiye Sovremenniki," or Great Contemporaries, which is due to be launched in January 2003. The list is the largest collection of registered domain names.

Many of the Great Contemporaries are unaware of the project and are surprised that their surnames have been registered.

Yevgeny Bushmin, a State Duma deputy from the Nizhny Novgorod region, said he intended to take the owners of bushmin.ru to court if he is unhappy with the contents of the site.

"My name and surname are my trademark," he said.

Sishkanov, however, said his company's legal position is airtight.

Yelena Gertseva, a lawyer with the Scientific Institute for the Development of Social Communication Networks, said there is no precedent for resolving disputes concerning the use of surnames in domain names.

It is a different matter if information is posted on the site that is of a compromising nature, she said. In this case, claims against the domain's owner can be filed.

A name only becomes a trademark one once it has been registered. By registering their names as trademarks, Madonna and Julia Roberts were able to win back their domain names in court.

"I won't give in to blackmail," said Sergei Alexashenko, the director of the Center for Growth, who was involved in web projects for the Interros group.

"If I decide to set up my own site, I will find a way to resolve the problem without the help of blackmailers," he said. "If people have extra money and are involved in this business, then what can you do? The law doesn't forbid it.

"Unfortunately, there are no means of protecting one's name on the Internet, and you simply have to live with this."

Other government officials and Duma deputies said gaps in legislation that allow such conduct need to be filled.

"How can a person's name be registered when he may be opposed to this?" said Labor Minister Alexander Pochinok, whose name is included on the list as the domain name pochinok.ru.

He said that normative regulations were required that would permit the registration of a "name" domain name only upon consent of the individual.

A Duma subcommittee is set to work on such laws and is to be headed by a Communist deputy, Leonid Mayevsky. Well also has registered the names Maevsky.ru and Maevski.ru.

"I don't plan to buy my name from some passer-by," said Mayevsky. "It was given to me by my parents and I live with this name."