Wired Watch: Because I'm Julia Roberts and you're NOT

Friday, June 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Your name is your name.

That seems to be the bottom line in scores of decisions by a United Nations tribunal, which must come as great relief for Julia Roberts and others trying to secure rights to use of their monikers in cyberspace.

A panel of the World Intellectual Property Organization recently ruled that the domain name www.juliaroberts.com belongs to the actress, even though Russell Boyd of Princeton, N.J., had registered it. "The rising number of alleged cybersquatting cases shows the growing premium placed on domain names by companies and individuals operating in the wired environment," Francis Gurry, assistant director general of the organization and director of the Arbitration and Mediation Center, says in a release at www.wipo.org.

Arbiters for the Geneva-based organization found in favor of Ms. Roberts on the basis of common law rather than on registered trademark rights. Mr. Boyd, they said, had "no rights or legitimate interest in the domain name." He was ordered to turn it over but can appeal.

Mr. Boyd has registered more than 50 domain names, including www.madeleinestowe.com and www.alpacino.com He had also posted www.juliaroberts.com for sale on eBay.com, the auction Web site, according to documents filed in the case.

In part of his response to Ms. Roberts' complaint, Mr. Boyd said: "If Julia Roberts had picked up a phone and said, 'Hi Russ, can we talk about the domain name juliaroberts.com?' she would own it by now." The World Intellectual Property Organization has more than 569 cybersquatting cases from 53 nations, many of them concerning celebrities and well-known organizations.

Microsoft, CBS Broadcasting, Compaq Computer, Christian Dior, the World Wrestling Federation, Alcoholics Anonymous and Nike are among the companies that have prevailed in naming disputes. Cases pending involve the Green Bay Packers, Tina Turner, the World Cup, the rock band Jethro Tull and the late Jimi Hendrix.

Wired Watch is compiled by Mike Finn / The Dallas Morning News, from Knight Ridder News Service, ZD Net, Cnet.com, Associated Press, Bloomberg News, New York Times News Service, Los Angeles Times and staff reports.