Position:Brief Article

BACK WHEN I LIVED IN RIO DE JANEIRO, I OFTEN HEARD frustrated Cariocas lamenting over the city's "bagunca"--mess--of crime, corruption and everyday chaos. This would usually be followed by rueful praise of the United States as an organized society with effective laws.

These Yankee-philes hadn't yet discovered the "bagunca" of U.S. cyberspace, where the "nation of laws" has become snarled in Internet lawsuits over patent, trademark and trade-secret infringement and unfair competition.

Yet they may soon come to know it first hand according to several harbingers I've noticed.

Many of the U.S. lawsuits involve cybersquatters--people who use trademarks or words similar to existing trademarks to draw traffic to their own sites or to make big bucks by selling them to their natural owners. While it costs US$70 to register a domain name, some addresses can later fetch many times more than that.

Last year's trademark lawsuits involved Volkswagen of America vs. Virtual Works, a Virginia-based service provider that used VW in its domain name; Walt Disney Company vs., a porno site, and AT&T vs. an online phone card seller called In one of the stranger disputes, America Online demanded author Marlene Sobol stop selling her Internet dating book entitled "You've Got Male" because the title sounded too much like its catch phrase "You've Got Mail."

And then there's the stuff that would really make Latin Americans mutter "crazy gringos."

A group called Seven Words has sued the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers--the non-profit group tapped by the Clinton Administration to oversee the Internet's naming system--to allow them to register the so-called seven dirty words made popular in a George Carlin comedy sketch as domain names.

The NAACP and Anti-Defamation League have registered several racial and anti-Semitic slurs to keep hate groups from using them in Internet addresses. Last December, an unnamed...

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