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CYBERCULTURE | HEARD ON THE BEAT

Boy's Pokey Web Site Gums Up Toy Firm

March 23, 1998|GREG MILLER

If Gumby and Pokey were anything, they were flexible. But the company that owns the rights to the lovable Claymation characters has taken a rather inflexible stance in battling a 12-year-old for the rights to the http://www.pokey.org Internet domain address.

Prema Toy Co., a San Rafael firm that owns the Gumby and Pokey trademarks, has engaged its lawyers to wrestle the address away from Chris Van Allen, a Pennsylvania boy who uses the cyber-address for his personal home page.

"We write to request that you discontinue the use of the pokey.org domain name," reads a letter Chris received from Prema's Palo Alto attorneys. They politely added that they "would be willing to waive any claim for damages and attorneys' fees . . . if you will simply turn over the domain name."

The boy's initial reaction was, as Gumby might have put it, "Uh-oh."

But since then, the boy and his father have fought back, refusing to give up the site, which David Van Allen gave to his young son as a birthday present last fall.

The site has nothing to do with the Claymation characters, and was simply a reference to the boy's lifelong nickname, said David, 39, who owns FastNet, an Internet service provider based in Bethlehem, Pa.

"Christopher was born late," the elder Van Allen explained. "You have to call this kid over and over again just to get him to come. We called him Pokey before he was born and it just kind of stuck."

In fact, the site does not have any pictures of Gumby or Pokey, and instead is a digital scrapbook of some of Chris Van Allen's favorite Web sites and cartoons. Since a knee injury knocked him off the playground two years ago, his father says, Chris has become very interested in computers and has taught himself how to design Web pages and write programs.

If Prema is looking for online insults, there are plenty of Web sites out there with unflattering portrayals of its characters, including one with a cartoon of Pokey--an orange horse--in his later years, ambling off toward the eraser factory.

Prema has also filed a complaint with Network Solutions, the Arlington, Va.-based company that assigns Internet addresses. A spokesman for Network Solutions said that the complaint was received in February and that if the dispute is not resolved soon, the address will simply be rendered inactive.

David Van Allen said he and his son are prepared for an extended battle, and are not holding the site for ransom, hoping that Prema will pay for its release.

Neither Prema executives nor the company's attorneys returned telephone calls requesting comment.

Predictably, Prema is taking some heat on the Net in chat rooms. But Chris, his father says, is handling the tug-of-war in mature fashion.

"We're very proud of the way he's handling it," David Van Allen said. "He's not putting stuff on his site depicting somebody stepping on Gumby or Pokey, which would probably be a 12-year-old's natural reaction."

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