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With Respect to a Name

Litigation: Rodney Dangerfield alleges Web firm pirated his image. Company denies claim.

June 26, 1997|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hear the one about the comic who says an Internet company stole his act? It's no joke.

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield is suing Epoch Networks Inc. for $2.8 million, alleging that the Irvine-based company that designed his Web site also swiped his bug-eyed image for promotional gain.

In a suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Rodney Dangerfield Entertainment Inc. charged Epoch with selling advertising space on the comedian's Web site (http://www.rodney.com) without permission, pirating his name and likeness to market its services, and using an Internet audio system purchased by Dangerfield for its own benefit.

Known more for his low-brow humor than high-tech wizardry, Dangerfield, 75, nevertheless was one of the first comedians to take his act to the Internet, where fans can scroll for daily jokes and film clips of the self-deprecating comic.

The site has won several Internet awards. But even in cyberspace, Dangerfield is still searching for a little respect, according to his attorney, Patricia Glaser.

Executives from Epoch, which does business under the name Epoch Internet, refused requests for a telephone interview. But in a prepared statement, they called Dangerfield's allegations meritless and said the comic owes them several months' worth of fees for maintaining and servicing his Web site.

Epoch no longer provides those services for Dangerfield, who switched to another Internet service provider earlier this year.

"Rodney, we would like you to retract your false statements," the Epoch release said. "It's hard to get any respect if you don't pay your bills."

According to Dangerfield's complaint, the comedian entered into an agreement with Epoch in 1995 to design and service a Web site to showcase the comic's jokes.

Dangerfield decided not to sell advertising on the site but this spring noticed an ad for Microsoft on the Web page, according to the lawsuit. Research by Dangerfield's wife, Joan, revealed that Epoch had allowed earlier ads from other firms without notifying Dangerfield or offering him compensation, according to the complaint. Joan Dangerfield was most disturbed by an ad from a firm called Sassy-Sex, which advertised hard-core interactive pornography, Glaser said.

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