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STRIKE REPORT

Coming up short in domain name game

December 11, 2007|Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writers

When the Hollywood studios say they don't know enough about the Internet to pay writers what they seek for the streaming and downloading of their shows, they might not be kidding.

That was made embarrassingly clear Monday when a group of opportunistic writers unveiled a website lampooning the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios in labor negotiations. The alliance neglected to register two key domain names, an oversight seized upon by the writers, who are now in the sixth week of a strike.

Using the Web addresses amptp.com and amptp.net, the writers built a fake site announcing that the alliance was "heartbroken" that negotiations had collapsed "despite our best efforts, including sending them a muffin basket, making them a mixed CD and standing outside their window with a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel songs."

Featuring the same logo and typeface as amptp.org, the official website of the alliance, the faux site calls the studios' "new economic partnership proposal . . . the single greatest document since the Magna Carta."

It also includes a "breaking news" section, with headlines linked to UnitedHollywood.com, a site supporting striking writers.

The owner of the domains is Bill Davis, a self-described "military and police technical advisor" to movies and TV shows. Davis said he had owned the site names for more than a year, and last week was approached by a person who was interested in paying him for their use.

Davis declined to identify the person or how much money he received. "It was strictly entrepreneurial. I did it on whim," he said, adding that he twice offered to sell or lease the domain names to the alliance, most recently last weekend.

The writers behind the site are on safe legal ground, said cyber-law expert Michael Atkins of Seattle.

"It's perfectly defensible for a disgruntled party to use someone else's trademark if the purpose is to protest," Atkins said. It would be improper only if the writers were attempting to confuse the public or sell something.

A spokesman for the alliance confirmed it had received an e-mail from Davis but had not yet responded to him. "We've been telling the writers that the Internet potential hasn't been fully realized, and here's a case in point," Jesse Hiestand said. "We tried to obtain [the domains] a while back, but like the guild, the owner refused to negotiate a deal with us."

As it turns out, the alliance isn't the only player in the strike that may still have a lot to learn about the Internet.

The Writers Guild of America also did not register other domain suffixes. The wga.com site address is owned by the Western Growers Assn., an Irvine-based trade group of farmers.

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claudia.eller@latimes.com

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Joseph Menn contributed to this report.

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