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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Ahmanson, Foes Battle Over Web Sites

August 23, 2000|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Critics of the proposed 3,050-home Ahmanson Ranch project on the east Ventura County line are somewhere between amused and furious at the latest development in a war over Web site rights.

Washington Mutual Inc., parent company of Ahmanson Land Co., is trying to force two groups, Save Open Space and Friends of Ahmanson Ranch, to stop using Web site addresses http://ahmanson.org, http://ahmansonranch.com and http://ahmanson-ranch.com--domain names they obtained before the developer thought to do it.

The case is set for arbitration next month and the developer has also threatened to sue in federal court. It contends the company has a right to protect its name.

At the same time, the company has gobbled up domain names such as http://saveahmansonranch.com and http://stopahmansonranch.org.

"The irony is too much," said Eve Wagner, a Los Angeles attorney and a member of Save Open Space. "The only reason they could possibly be doing this is to prevent us from using the names, to prevent public discourse."

Vince Curtis, director of Friends of Ahmanson Ranch, said he recently learned he can't set up a Web site called friendsofahmansonranch.com to espouse his views because the developer already has registered that domain name for its own use.

"It's calling the kettle black, obviously," he said.

Washington Mutual spokesman Tim McGarry acknowledged Tuesday that the company has registered several domain names in recent months, but said he did not have a list of all of them and therefore could not respond to questions about individual names.

He said the company's purpose in registering what critics say are more than 50 domain names was "to ensure our mark is protected."

"We're very sensitive to the fact that our opponents have the right to criticize us on the Internet and elsewhere," McGarry said. "We're not trying to harass anyone."

Wagner said she's betting the developer's move will look hypocritical to arbiters for the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Geneva-based group considering Ahmanson's argument against the critics' Web site addresses.

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