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Site Snafu: Pageant of the Masters Tangled in Web of Porn

Laguna Beach's annual arts show falls prey to a cyber-hijacking ploy after losing its Internet address through a registration error.

June 26, 2003|Stanley Allison and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

Fans of Orange County's venerable Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts looking for information or tickets on the Internet may instead be ushered into a series of sites touting "hot lingerie photos," "100% Free Porn" and other adult unmentionables.

The festival, an official said, has become the latest victim of a common cyber-hijacking stunt, but apart from some embarrassment has suffered no real harm. The festival is an annual summer arts exhibition in Laguna Beach that runs in tandem with the pageant, which features performers reenacting works of art.

Payment to renew registration for one of the festival's Web addresses was incorrectly applied to another name the group had registered, said Sharbie Higuchi, vice president of marketing for the festival. By the time the error had been detected, the address had been snapped up by a pornographic site.

Public Web-site registration records do not identify the new owner of the address, though Higuchi said festival officials have determined who registered the name. The company or person, whom she would not name, has not responded to phone and e-mail messages, she said.

"We are just outraged that there is no means or way for us to retain our Web site name, and that the burden is on our part rather than the companies who have erred," she said.

At issue is an address based on an acronym for Festival of Arts Pageant of the Masters. The festival still owns www.foapom.com and www.foapom.net, as well as www.pageanttickets.com and www.pageantofthemasters.com.

The festival joins a long list of organizations that have found Web addresses taken by unrelated companies or individuals. Among them is the White House, whose official home page, www.whitehouse.gov, for years has had an uneasy coexistence with a similarly addressed pornographic site. And Chrysler sued two Internet companies when its official Web site was confused with a pornographic site with a similar name.

Higuchi said the festival is investigating its legal options, and experts say it has a good chance of prevailing.

Festival officials have two arguments they can make in the courts, which "take a dim view of porn sites sponging off customers" of mainstream organizations, said Tyler Ochoa, co-director of the Center for Intellectual Property Law at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa.

The group's options hinge on whether the acronym, FOAPOM, is a service mark, a name intimately associated with the organization, like the acronym NAACP, Ochoa said. If the pageant's acronym is a service mark, it could sue under a cyber-privacy act designed to prevent people from profiting from a misused name.

Even if the pageant can't meet the service mark test, it could allege that the adult site is unfair competition because it confuses consumers, luring them to a site by using a familiar name, said Tom W. Bell, a professor specializing in Internet law at Chapman University in Orange.

"If I bookmarked the dot-org and saw porn, I'd be confused," Bell said.

Higuchi said ticket sales do not appear to have not been hurt by the snafu because advertising for the pageant and the festival used a different address domain name than the one now attached to a porn site.

Tickets for the festival, which opens July 6 and runs through Aug. 31, and the pageant, which opens July 9 and runs through Aug. 29, can be purchased at www.pageanttickets.com.

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