Palace Takes Legal Action Against Cybersquatters

In November 2004, a Russian company quietly bought an Internet domain under the name norodomsihanouk.com and registered it for two years.

Once the word was out this week that a domain named after retired King Norodom Sihanouk was on the market, the Royal Palace took immediate action and contacted Eurobox Ltd, which is based in St Petersburg.

“The expression ‘Norodom Sihanouk’ is patronymic and not a trademark. Its utilization by ill-intentioned people for hostile, mercantile or advocacy purposes would constitute an infringement on a person’s character,” wrote Chhorn Hay, secretary general of the retired King’s Cabinet, in a letter to Eurobox on Wednesday.

“This phenomena is called cybersquatting or hijacking,” said Omry Revach, general manager of Interquess Enterprises.

Companies register Web sites in the names of prominent celebrities and politicians with the goal of selling them back to those celebrities for a great deal of money, he said.

“Domain squatting is an old game. Only last month, a man in Florida bought rights to a domain in the name Pope Benedict XVI [recently appointed the head of the Catholic Church worldwide], which sent the Vatican [his headquarters] into a flap,” Omry Revach said.

Eurobox may have paid $4 or $5 for norodomsihanouk.com and now is posting $990 as price indication for it, he said.

In his letter, Chhorn Hay describes “Norodom Sihanouk” as patronymic, which means that this concerns the name of a living person, said Patrick Bolcioni, who heads the international division of  sia Pacific International Law Firm in Phnom Penh. “The minute it is patronymic, it cannot be used without the authorization of the person.”

Under international law, using norodomsihanouk.com without the retired King’s consent would amount to slurring his name or image, an offense for which a person or a deceased person’s family can sue, Bolcioni said.

In a separate letter to Eurobox, Srey Nory, director of the retired King’s Secretariat, stressed on Wednesday that only Meridian Video Corporation in Los Angeles has been authorized to use the domain “norodomsihanouk.org” to promote the retired King’s films and music.

Srey Nory added: “Nobody can use the name of HM Norodom Sihanouk, the King Father of Cambodia, without his consent. I urge you to cease without delay this trickery.”

Srey Nory also wrote to The Cambodia Daily to confirm that the retired King’s one and only Web site—which is not for sale—is norodomsihanouk.info.

If Eurobox refuses to take norodomsihanouk.com off the market, the Royal Palace may choose to retain an intellectual property attorney or pay the asking price of $990.

The retired King could also turn to the World Intellectual Property Organization, Omry Revach said.

This UN organization designed to transfer technology to developing countries and promote ‘creative intellectual activity’ interprets this ‘activity’ in very broad terms ranging from patents for AIDS medicine to folk songs, he said.

Charging a service fee of $1,500, Omry Revach said, “Julia Roberts, Spike Lee and Madonna have won cases under WIPO’s fast track, low-cost protection.”

Of the 7,744 cases filed with WIPO since 1999, more than 4,500 were won on behalf of the plaintiffs, he said.

Were the Royal Palace to apply and win its case against Eurobox, the domain name could be transferred to the palace within 10 days unless the company decided to go to court, according to Omry Revach.

Chhorn Hay and Srey Nory’s letters to Eurobox are posted at the retired King’s Web site.

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