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Netscape feels White House lash

Battle flag of electronic freedom barely obscures naked flesh

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The smart browsing features of Netscape Communicator have taken the company straight into a minefield - 'adult' site whitehouse.com has taken grave umbrage at having its trade redirected to the, er, White House. The feature seems like a good idea, as indeed was whitehouse.com. The White House itself is of course whitehouse.gov, but one could see reason why the entrepreneur responsible for whitehouse.com (which a cursory Register survey confirms contains acres of naked flesh of all descriptions) might have reckoned the slight difference as being pretty useful for catching and keeping passing trade. Lots of sites do profit from typos and general errors, so it's a plausible approach. Conversely, a browser company trying to make life easier for users might reckon it was a good idea to try to anticipate, trap and correct those errors. It gets more complex too - whitehouse.org seems to be another strange site sponsored by something called bondage.com. We made an excuse and left. But it's a bit of a cowpat, isn't it? In the case of whitehouse.com the original jape (if indeed that's what it was) has been long since superseded. Many people (we hear) want to go to whitehouse.com in the first place, and will be somewhat perplexed to wind up at the Pennsylvania Avenue variety - where we understand the pictures are a lot fuzzier. And if the browser company decides what the user meant to type, then it has a measure of control of the Web that perhaps it should not have. What if it accepted money from companies to redirect in cases where the request was ambiguous? What, indeed, if the browser company was the one we all reckon is far less trustworthy than Netscape? Netscape this week found itself on the receiving end of a letter from the lawyers of Dan Parisi, owner of whitehouse.com and the somewhat more specialist site netscapesucks.com, where the text of the letter can be found. "We fear that in your current use of your 'keyword system' you may, knowingly or unwittingly, be facilitating an infringement of our client's rights," it says. "This includes sending people who intended to go to our client's site to another site, and/or diluting (if not eliminating) the name recognition of his mark that our client has painstakingly built up over the last several years." Tricky one, eh? If Netscape gets whacked by even a tenth of the sites it ends up helping its users avoid, it could wind up having to fund a Microsoft-sized legal department. And if it wants to pursue the approach, it'll probably have to have every single entry put through the lawyers before it gets into the browser. Loser, basically. We should, incidentally, thank CMP reporter Malcolm Mclachlan for drawing this matter to our attention. We at The Register lead sheltered lives, and thus would never have happened by whitehouse.com in the ordinary course of events. ® Click for more stories

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