Dowd, Kinsley, Updike and Woody Lose Names to Cybersquatters

Maureen Dowd has been bought. So has John Updike. So, too, have Michael Kinsley, David Foster Wallace, Lou Dobbs, Amy Sohn, Ingrid Casares, Gloria Steinem and Hunter S. Thompson.

Attention, all ye seekers of fame and status: your name in boldface type on the New York Post ‘s Page Six column is no longer enough. In the era of dot-com riches, you only know you’ve made it when some soul out there–be it an admirer, fortune-hunter or crazed stalker–has seen fit to register your name as a Web site address.

A 38-year-old computer network engineer named Jim is the man who registered the name Maureendowd.com. “I’m a fan of hers,” said Jim, who wouldn’t give his last name. “I’d just like to get it transferred back to her, if she wanted it.” He added that he got to know Ms. Dowd’s work not through The New York Times , which runs her column twice a week, but through a hyperlink at Matt Drudge’s Drudge Report Web site. Jim, who lives in Bay Pines, Fla., said he also likes Dick Morris and Ann Coulter.

Domain names are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis. Anyone anywhere can register any word they want as an Internet address, just by providing a name, phone number and e-mail address on a Web page. (Network solutions.com and Register.com are two of the biggest Web pages of this type.) It costs about $70 to reserve an address for two years. Now, with common words and the most famous names having already been turned into Web addresses, some Internet users have taken to registering the names of the not-so-famous, including members of the media and literary establishments.

Michael Kinsley, editor of the on-line Microsoft magazine, Slate , unwittingly lost his name as a cyberspace address in January. That was when Jacqueline Marcus, a philosophy teacher at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., registered Michaelkinsley.com. “I bought it because I think Michael Kinsley is cute,” said Ms. Marcus, who also runs a Web site called Forpoetry.com.

She mentioned that she had an ulterior motive: She sent two copies of Mr. Kinsley’s book, Big Babies , to the author, asking him to autograph them. Now she’s upset that he never returned them to her. “Until he sends my two books back, he cannot have his own domain name,” Ms. Marcus said. “That’s the deal. And even if he sends my two books back, that may not be enough. It may require some begging on his part.”

Mr. Kinsley had no comment.

The fact that anyone can register a domain name has brought about a brisk trade. Big money can be involved. In April, the rights to the name Wallstreet.com went for $1.03 million; in July, the name Drugs.com sold for $823,456. Celebrity names, too, are popular with poachers. For a while at least, Vannawhite.com and Woodyallen.com took Web surfers to a pornography site. But people who register the names of novelists and columnists and that ilk have in mind things other than sex or money.

Tim Lyman, 29, bought the rights to David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest , Brief Interviews With Hideous Men ) to annoy the author’s fans. Late one night, Mr. Lyman was following an on-line debate about which author was better, William Vollman or Mr. Wallace. Mr. Lyman disagreed with those who were arguing on Mr. Wallace’s behalf; and so, in a kind of revenge move against them, he went and registered Davidfosterwallace.com. Next, he rigged things so that anyone typing Davidfosterwallace.com into a Web browser would end up at a William Vollman appreciation page.

“From what I’ve seen, fans of one or the other talk smack on the other,” said Mr. Lyman, who works at a punk record label in Los Angeles. “So I thought it would be funny to register his domain name and direct it to the Vollmann page, to piss off his people or fans.”

Mr. Lyman succeeded in pissing off the author himself. “What you should tell that guy,” said Mr. Wallace, “is that he should take an enormous breath and hold it if he thinks I am going to call and offer money for my own Web site. I don’t even have a modem yet and have no desire to be on the Internet.”

Former New York Press sex columnist Amy Sohn got together with a Web site designer in August, not long after she started writing life style columns for the New York Post . She learned that, just days earlier, an outfit called TCN Inc. had registered Amysohn.com.

Ms. Sohn was flattered. “I feel the poaching is an indicator of somebody’s faith in my future earning potential,” she said. “You know you’re a boring schmo that nobody cares about when nobody wants to poach your name.”

A representative of TCN Inc.–which has also registered Girlssuckcam.com and Asswife.com–responded to queries about Amysohn.com with an anonymous e-mail: “When we acquired this name in a package of multiple names, we were told this person was an actor.” (Ms. Sohn went on many an audition before the writing career took off.)

Ms. Sohn’s solution: a hyphen. Yea, her self-promotional Web site shall be called Amy-sohn.com.

Peter Miller, an Internet software developer in Manhattan, is the proud owner of Johnupdike.com, Philiproth.com, as well as the more obscure Richardhoward.com (in honor of the poet and translator of Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and Stendahl’s The Charterhouse of Parma ). Mr. Miller, who meets writers through his wife, Colette biographer Judith Thurman, said he’s protecting authors from having their names fall into the wrong hands.

“When I run into someone, like when we have a party or something, I’ll ask, ‘Do you know what an Internet domain name is?’ And they’ll either say, ‘Noooo,’ or ‘Well, I heard something about it,'” he said. “And I’ll say, ‘Have you checked to see if your name has been taken by anybody?’ And almost invariably the answer is No, and so I’ll bring them upstairs and show them what to do and say, ‘Here. You’re now registered.'”

Here’s a rundown of somewhat famous people whose names have been registered by someone else: Lou Dobbs, Lillian Ross, Walter Isaacson, Pete Best, Tommy Mottola, Herb Ritts, Anna Wintour, Spike Lee, Roone Arledge, George Stephanopoulos, Ron Perelman, Ian Schrager, William Safire, Steven Brill, Mel Karmazin, Ingrid Casares, Gloria Steinem, Kurt Andersen, Bianca Jagger, Gerard Cosloy, Jay Mohr, Bill Blass, Shane Spencer, Charlie Rose, Kate Betts, Michael Lewis, John Gutfreund, Nina Griscom, Mortimer Zuckerman, Caroline Herrera, Edward Said, Hunter S. Thompson, Jimmy Breslin, Todd Pratt.

The following semi-famous names are among those still up for grabs: Susan Faludi, David Denby, Michiko Kakutani, Graydon Carter, William F. Buckley Jr., George Plimpton, Neal Travis, Christopher Buckley, Louis C.K., Jay McInerney, S.I. Newhouse Jr., John Fund, Ileana Douglas, Howell Raines, Art Cooper, Brooke Astor, Seymour Hersh, Tabitha Soren, David Remnick, William Styron, Janet Malcolm and Melvin Mora.

The Story of Us

Three New Yorkers defied common sense, friends and Janet Maslin, and sneaked off to the United Artists Union Square megaplex for a 4:40 P.M. showing of The Story of Us . Each had his own silly reasons–residual affection for Bruce Willis after what he did for that kid in The Sixth Sense , a couple of spare hours before an evening show at the Tonic and simple Sunday boredom–but there was one more thing. That preview. “I saw it, like, four times and in spite of myself I bawled every time,” marveled one.

Incidentally, it is not for nothing that the United Artists 14th Street megaplex is fast gaining a reputation as the most loathsome movie theater in Manhattan. We paid $9.50 each, went up a series of labyrinthine escalators, settled comfortably into choice seats at 4:35P.M. sharp–only to be herded back into the lobby along with approximately 50 spooning couples when United Artists personnel suddenly decided that the previous audience’s debris should be removed. People whipped out cell phones; girlfriends settled into boyfriends’ neck-crooks; “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” whined on the Muzak.

Finally, show time. A Coca-Cola commercial, a Kodak commercial, a concession stand commercial. Doug Flutie plugged an autism charity. Four or five epic previews–none so compelling as the one that sucked these people in on this warm October afternoon. Then, The Story of Us .

It was brutal. You could just imagine the pitch meeting: It’s When Harry Left Sally , with Bruce Willis as the Seinfeldian ambi-Jew and Michelle Pfeiffer as the anal-retentive WASP. The principals addressed the camera like they do in Woody Allen and Nora Ephron movies; their quirky friends offered shrugged aphorisms about marriage; Mr. Willis and Ms. Pfeiffer yelled at each other, made up and yelled again. A baby in the audience yowled as Eric Clapton plucked softly in the background.

About seven-eighths through this torture came a ripple of recognition. There, patched into the movie like a flashback, was a montage sequence–and this montage had served as the preview for The Story of Us ! Half a dozen life events whirring before one’s eyes–babies born, diseases contracted, relatives and pets dying, a heartwarming family line-dance number–half a dozen stories that had not been told in the film, a recap of a narrative that no one had bothered to construct! Several viewers shifted in disbelief and disgust. Had Rob Reiner actually released a trailer in lieu of a movie he was too lazy to make?

He had. A final, excruciatingly long soliloquy from Ms. Pfeiffer (“Please stop,” whimpered one captive), and The Story of Us ground to a close.

We felt hollow and gypped as we exited into the autumn darkness. Not a single tear shed. Cheap catharsis denied.

–Alexandra Jacobs