A federal judge in California was to Monday consider arguments in a legal battle over ownership of the fiercely coveted, and highly lucrative, website address "sex.com".
The case, in US District Court, pits the current owner of the domain name against a San Francisco entrepreneur who claims that the name was pilfered from him.
In a series of suits and counter-suits, San Francisco entrepreneur Gary Kremen alleged that his cyberspace nemesis Stephen Cohen stole the legal rights to sex.com about five years ago.
The domain name has been a bonanza for Internet porn purveyor and convicted felon Cohen, who has made millions by linking online users to a universe of X-rated websites for up to three months, charging a fee of 25 dollars.
At Monday's court hearing, the latest step in a two-year legal battle, US District Judge James Ware was to consider, among other issues, a request by Kremen's lawyers to freeze 25 million dollars in sex.com-related assets, to ensure that Cohen doesn't hide his money in offshore accounts.
In a recent interview with Wired magazine, Cohen made it clear that he knew the stakes were high in the booming online sex industry, which experts believe reaps about a billion dollars per year.
"Our audience is not America. It's the whole world," Cohen told the magazine.
"There's only one word in the whole world that everyone understands - sex. You type the word 'sex,' you come to sex.com," said Cohen, who insists that he came by the name completely honestly.
According to court documents, the dispute dates back to 1994, when Kremen apparently registered sex.com with Network Solutions, the central gatekeeper of Web addresses.
But he did nothing specific to launch a web site, and sex.com remained dormant until Cohen took it over after being released from federal prison in 1995 for a bankruptcy fraud conviction.
Details of how Cohen got hold of sex.com are murky, but court records suggest he attempted to register the name with Network Solutions only to find that a business owned by Kremen -- Online Classifieds Incorporated -- had already claimed it.
Cohen allegedly fraudulently secured the rights to sex.com by sending a letter to Network Solutions purporting to be an officer from Online Classifieds.
"The transfer of the name sex.com to Cohen - based as it was on an indisputably forged document - was invalid," Kremen said in court papers.
In his written reply to the court, Cohen denied forging a letter to Network Solutions, and insisted his company had cut a deal with Online Classifieds to take over the name against payment of 1,000 dollars.
Kremen also accused Cohen of hiding his profits from sex.com in a variety of offshore bank accounts around the world. In court papers, Cohen repeatedly refused to answer questions from Kremen's lawyers about his finances, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights.
While Kremen provided no specifics about what he would do with sex.com, he suggested he would tone down the web site's image so that it would attract respectable investors, while still titillating users.
"I don't think he's using it in a way that makes the most money," Kremen said of his rival, Cohen.
"I sure wouldn't do what he's doing with it. It's very untactful." -- SAN JOSE, California (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)