Jun 20 2008

“Narnia.mobi”; cybersquatting in Edinburgh?

Cybersquatting, or domain squatting, is “a means of making money by registering and holding, at very low cost, a potentially useful or valuable URL. Nothing is done to develop the URL or to create value, but when a business or entrepreneur comes along who needs the domain name to run their business, the domain-squatter extorts as much money as possible in return for freeing up the URL”1. It was distressing to read that a respectable Edinburgh couple had not only been accused of such a practice but had received a ‘weighty 128-page legal document‘ from the supposed victim when, as appeared from their own account, “we’ve done nothing wrong.”

I hope no reader of mine would imagine that members of the Edinbourgeoisie might economise with, or embellish, the truth2, and far be it from me to suggest that such practices might occur in this fine city. Nevertheless… nevertheless there are dissonances between these reports of this family’s travails on the one hand and easily-discoverable materials on the other.

Compare ‘Mr Saville-Smith said he has done nothing at all with the site and has not made a cent’ and ‘”We’ve never made any money out of this domain and have no interest in doing so,” Mr. Saville-Smith, who is an accountant, told Reuters in an interview‘ with the website itself. Narnia.mobi is a page of advertisements relative to ‘The Chronicles of Narnia‘. Until recently, indeed, it was actually titled ‘Narnia.mobi – Narnia Resources and Information’. It is parked on Sedo.com, which on its home page states “Domain Parking is a simple way to earn money from your domains’ natural traffic. If you have registered domain names, but they are not currently being used, then domain parking is a great way to put those domains to work, earning you revenue. You can make money without even lifting a finger! The idle domain is used to display relevant advertisements -every time a consumer clicks on one of the advertisements, you earn money.”

Sedo.com is described on its aboutus page as “one of the top marketplaces for buying and selling domain names and websites… Sedo is a system that democratizes so-called domain-squatting“.

Compare, again, Mrs Saville-Smith’s wife Gillian, who can be heard telling the BBC on 15 June 2008I think we’ve got about four [domain names]” with Whois, which tells us that Richard Saville-Smith owns “about another thirty domain names” and lists them. Some, at least, are also parked at sedo.com.

Who, however, could fail to sympathise with ‘Mr Saville-Smith’s wife Gillian, who is a poet‘, when she said in that interview “We thought it would make a terrific present for a little boy… we were saving it as a surprise for our little boy’s birthday“‘? Sadly for the little boy, although “he’s just turned eleven- it was supposed to be for this past birthday” she says “we haven’t given it to him“. Whois informs us the domain name was bought two birthdays ago, on 29 September 2006.

Behind this is a serious story: the technological illiteracy of journalists. It may illustrate the truth of the other, and legitimate, Saville-Smith website, which advertises their media consultancy. There they are quoted as saying of themselves “we’re pretty darn brainy – no need to question our ability then, as ‘media’ people, to deal with complex issues or research…“. What may be in question is the ability of those reporters quoted above, and others, to do so. Nothing in this article is hard to uncover.

  1. Quotation taken from this page. [back]
  2. Although the unkind might think the claim the dispute echoes the “good against evil” themes of Lewis’s novels to be such. [back]
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