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Cybersquatting

May 19, 2000

For many who use it, the Internet is looked upon as the last frontier, wild and free, with any attempt to tax or regulate its content vigorously opposed. With some exceptions - we oppose Internet distribution of child pornography, for example -we agree with that view. But there ought to be some remedy for what is happening to Rep. Bob Wise, the Democratic candidate in West Virginia's gubernatorial race.

According to the Charleston bureau of The Associated Press, Wise is apparently the victim of what's called "cybersquatting." That's the practice of registering the name of a web site, with the intention of selling it to someone who has an association with that name.

In this case, a Baltimore man registered the names "wise2000.com" and "wise2000.org," then e-mailed the Wise campaign, offering to sell the names. The man also contacted the campaign of incumbent Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood, saying that he wanted to create a site that would curtail Wise's use of the Internet for fund-raising.

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Underwood's campaign has declined to participate in that idea, but says it anticipated the problem and registered a number of web site names to prevent being targeted in this manner.

Because this is the first gubernatorial campaign to make extensive use of the Internet, it's no surprise that someone's campaign was caught napping. But the Internet has become so important to campaigns, allowing them to post candidates' speeches, schedules and biographies, that denying a candidate a site based on his own name seems like an infringement of free speech.

What if, for example, the candidate was not a sitting Congressman like Wise, but an ordinary citizen without the means to pay the "cybersquatter" for such a site? The Internet has been an equalizer for impoverished candidates of that type, allowing them access to lots of people without the expense involved with mass mailings, for example.

We don't have an answer for this one, but find it troubling that at a time when we should be learning all we can about candidates, some people can prevent the free flow of information.

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