De Beers tries to force spoof Web site offline over fake ad

A provision in the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) protects domain name registrars and Web hosting providers from being held legally liable in most cases for the content that clients post on their Web sites. But that hasn't stopped some companies from trying to pressure Internet intermediaries into that contain what they consider to be objectionable material.

The most recent example involves South Africa-based diamond conglomerate De Beers, which is trying to get domain name registrar to take down a spoof of the Web site of The New York Times. The includes a that takes a satirical shot at the company, saying that diamond purchases would enable De Beers "to donate a prosthetic for an African whose hand was lost in diamond conflicts."

The Web site includes an online version of a 14-page knockoff of the Times that was published on Nov. 12 and distributed for free to commuters in New York. The paper, which is datelined July 4, 2009, includes madeup stories about the end of the Iraq war, the indictment of on war crimes charges and the passing of a maximum wage law by Congress, along with other satirical ads in addition to the De Beers one.

The spoof is believed to have been the work of a group called the , which is known for such satirical work. However, the domain name with Switzerland-based under an apparent pseudonym: Harold Schweppes, who is listed as living in a fictitious town called Son of Triumph, Pa.

In a letter that was sent Nov. 19 to EIS AG, which owns, Brian McGinley, a Kansas City, Mo.-based attorney at Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal LLP who is representing De Beers, demanded that the registrar "immediately disable" the spoof site.

McGinley wrote that his firm's attempts to locate Schweppes had proved futile and that both Schweppes and the address listed for him appear "to be entirely made up." Because whoever registered the domain name had provided false information to, it was the registrar's duty to disable the site, the lawyer added. Computerworld obtained a copy of his letter from the , which says it is representing the person behind the Schweppes name.