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Penguin sticks head in the sand

Publisher muscles in on katie.com

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The US publishers of a harrowing real-life tale about Net-related child abuse are refusing to admit they cocked up after naming the book after a Web site owned by a British woman.

Ever since Katie.com - Katherine Tarbox's personal account of being seduced online by a paedophile - was published earlier this year, Katie Jones' Web site (katie.com) has been flooded with emails.

Some are from victims who think they are sharing their experiences of child abuse with Tarbox. Others are from people who get enjoyment from sending abusive emails to someone they think has been assaulted by a paedophile.

Kate Jones took down her site in May to stem the flood of misdirected correspondence.

"The book was published using my domain name in the title," said Londoner, Kate Jones.

"I was getting unpleasant email from people and it upset me on a personal and professional level," she said.

Kate Jones wants the book's publishers, Dutton (a division of the massive Penguin empire) to change the title of the book so she can regain control of her domain.

"I want them to admit they got it wrong and for them to put it right. I want them to admit they've made a mistake," she said.

No one at Dutton in New York was available for comment. The book's publicist, Kathleen, slammed the phone down twice when The Register called. Her PA hung up once.

In between slams, this is what we got.

"I can't talk about it...I've got instructions not to talk to any of the London press," said Kathleen before hanging up.

Asked later whether she would be issuing any statement she said, "No!"

"Any response will come through our legal department," she said, before hanging up. Again.

There is little doubt that this is a sad and disturbing episode that does not reflect well on Dutton or Penguin.

Kate Jones' personal Web site - a domain she registered for her own use four years ago - has effectively been hijacked. Dutton's action in naming the book katie.com (the author's own Web site is katiet.com, surely they could have used that?) was thoughtless and clumsy with little understanding of the repercussions.

Any legal challenge against the publisher to seek redress is unlikely to be forthcoming not least because Penguin is a gazillion-dollar business and Kate Jones isn't. Also, this is a legal grey area with no case law to draw upon.

Despite this, I can't help but think that there is a case of natural justice that needs to be answered. To my mind, this is corporate cyberterrorism, corporate cybertheft if you like, and it's as repugnant as an any malicious attack on a Web site.

My sympathy goes to Kate Jones and what she's gone through. She's been put in the unenviable position of being a focus for child sex abuse victims and the warped individuals who get a kick out of paedophile activity.

But if it's distressing for her, just think what it must be like for those kids who thought they could turn to katie.com for help? Haven't they been let down? And all because some literary types thought it would make a good book title. ®

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