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Imminent Domains

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Janet McTeer, Tumbleweeds

For a studio that’s perpetually ahead of its time, Miramax doesn’t show much foresight for sites — internet sites, that is. Because the company is slow to register its film titles as web addresses, internet scalpers are scooping up web domain names like “jackiebrown” (as in http://www.jackiebrown.com) in hopes of selling them for hefty sums. (Miramax’s “Jackie Brown,” directed by Quentin Tarantino, opens December 25.) So far, Miramax isn’t buying, but the company doesn’t seem to be learning either.

Jason Ayers, who works as a web designer in Oklahoma City, discovered last August that the address http://www.jackiebrown.com was available. He registered it, paying the $100 fee to InterNIC, the organization that distributes all web domain names. Sure enough, someone from Miramax soon tracked him down, looking to claim the site’s address for the film’s promotional website. Ayers offered to sell his ownership, but the studio wasn’t an eager customer. “The Miramax representative treated our discussion like he was in a hostage situation,” says Ayers. “He didn’t want to negotiate.” (Miramax representatives were not available for comment before our deadline.)

If you visit http://www.scream2.com, you won’t find downloadable pictures of Neve Campbell. Instead, you’ll discover copies of an e-mail exchange between Bill Sweetman, an internet consultant who registered the address in July, and Miramax VP of Interactive Media and Marketing Brian Dickman. (Miramax’s Dimension division is releasing “Scream 2” on December 12.) On November 3, Dickman wrote to ask if Sweetman “would be willing to allow us [Miramax] the courtesy of our using [this domain name] to promote our upcoming film with that name?” Sweetman replied that he would be happy to supply the address, at “a fair price.” He was offered $300, which he declined, citing the $200 it cost him to register the domain names “scream2” and “screamtwo.” Sweetman says he wasn’t out to make a huge profit; he just wanted to prove the point that “when it comes to the internet, movie companies still don’t ‘get it.'”

Sweetman adds that the site names were probably worth more than $300, considering their promotional value to the film. His domains now receive about 1,000 hits a day, he says, most likely from people looking for information about the movie. Filmgoers take note: the official promotional site can be found at the more unwieldy address, http://www.dimensionfilms.com/scream2.

Miramax may have some legal recourse, it turns out, because of a series of court decisions against one internet scalper who gobbled up domain names that were not for personal use. “Miramax could take this to court and possibly prevail,” says Frisco, Colo. intellectual property lawyer Carl Oppedahl, who handles internet-related lawsuits. “But that would take months, and the studio would need the site for promotion during that time.”

Still, Oppedahl says, studios have no one to blame for being scooped by enterprising web surfers: “Miramax knows the titles of its films before the public does. So the company should register them right away.” Says Sweetman: “It boggles my mind that Miramax would sink millions into a movie and thousands into developing a website without first thinking to register the name.”

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