A web search showed I’m no longer the master of my domain

By MICHAEL LAYCOCK
Vancouver Sun > Mix
Sept. 4, 1999

When you grow up with a surname like mine, you get used to a little teasing. I’ll spare you the details. After all, this is a family newspaper.

The frequency and intensity of the teasing increased when my classmates and I hit puberty. At that point, anything remotely related to sex provoked titters and provided lowbrow entertainment. I coped with the jokes by feigning boredom and challenging my peers to come up with lines I hadn’t heard before.

After all, I’m a proud Laycock. It’s an honorable Yorkshire name derived from the Old English “Leah Cocc,” which means “meadow of the wild birds.” And when someone takes liberties with my name, my feathers get ruffled.

So when I discovered that the surname “Laycock” had been “bought” as a domain name (Web page address), I was livid. I stumbled across this unsettling fact a few weeks ago when, on a whim, I typed “www.laycock.com” into my Web browser.

I had half expected to end up at a porno site. Instead, up popped a Web page that stated “Laycock.com is shared by MailBank clients for their personal Email and matching Website addresses.” For the price of $9.95 US per year plus a one-time set-up fee of $19.95 US, I could “rent” back my own name from MailBank (mailbank.com).

MailBank, until recently based in Vancouver and now moved to Nevada, claims on its site that the 12,000-plus domain names it controls “are registered with InterNIC [a governing body of the .com domains] and used for the benefit and enjoyment of our clients. The majority of people on the Internet do not want a domain to themselves — not with the related expenses. They are happy to share the domain so that they pay as little as possible for their personal email and matching Web site address.”

I guess there’s some logic to this. Since it would cost at least $35 US annually to register a “.com” (commercial) domain name myself through InterNIC, I suppose companies like MailBank are offering a bargain.

It’s not the first example of domain name “squatting” out there. Witness the recent spectacle of a 16-year-old Calgary boy who, much to the chagrin of Apple Computer, registered the domain www.appleimac.com, only to put up a personal site complete with photos of his admittedly cute little dog.

After some terse correspondence from corporate lawyers regarding possible trademark infringement, the site is now in the hands of Apple. Some Web marketing firms have taken the lad’s strategy several steps further by registering company-related domain names before the companies themselves get around to launching Web sites. As a result, the un-wired company finds it has to pay the marketing firm to get access to its own name.

Registering company names and trademarks is crucial for protecting a company’s identity. So I have some sympathy for Apple. I, too, feel a need to protect my identity. After all, this is my own name we’re talking about. There’s little on Earth — except for DNA, I suppose — that’s more personal than that.

Mess with my name, and I get indignant. “Borrow” it without my permission, then offer it back to me on a rental basis (by the way, MailBank’s Web site says you can’t buy your name back), and tiny puffs of steam begin to emanate from my ears.

I close my eyes and picture generations of stubborn Yorkshire Laycocks howling with rage — in lilting accents through mouths full of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, of course — at this travesty from beyond the grave.

But who am I to impose my quixotic principles and ethics on business? In these glorious days of the New Economy, my name is just a digital soup of zeroes and ones anyway, yes? Not to me, it isn’t.