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I spoke to Mullens a few days later, and his story had changed slightly. He now acknowledged that they occasionally register "generic" names, like orangecountydoctors.com, on their own initiative, in anticipation of using them in the future. But he could offer no explanation for how his company had come to register a trademarked name like Carlton Hair.
"I cannot explain how we registered that name," he said. "I've never contacted anyone there, and I've never gotten a message from anyone there."
During our initial conversation, Mullens refused to give me any information on the company he claimed had requested that they register hempinthe hollow.com, citing customer confidentiality. But according to Farmer, they told his associate it was located in Palm Springs. (Mullens would not confirm this.) There is no business by that name listed in Palm Springs.
Farmer said his next move will be to register a variation on his company's name (he asked me not to reveal it, for fear it might get swiped, too). He hopes to have his Web site up and running within the next several weeks. He hasn't ruled out the possibility of a lawsuit, but he admits he never trademarked his store's name, so the outcome would be doubtful.
"I have a couple of attorney friends looking into it, but I'm not sure it's worth getting into the hassle of a lawsuit," Farmer said.
And if Network Solutions has its way, cybersquatting is going to get a whole lot more expensive. Spokesperson Cheryl Regan said that beginning in September, the organization will require domain-name registrants to prepay the $70 registration fee, eliminating the grace period that allows cybersquatters to tie up domain names without shelling out any actual cash.
Of course, Link to the Future denies it's in the business of cybersquatting. According to the company's Web site (www.lttf.com), it's in the business of designing, hosting and maintaining Web sites. (Mullens claimed the company has thousands of clients, but refused to name any of them.) But the fact remains: it has registered businesses' names without the owners' knowledge, and it has tried at least once to sell said domain names for outrageous sums of money. And if it attempts to turn a preemptive domain-name registration into a business relationship, it's hard to imagine the prospective clients' reactions being substantially different from Cindy Biggers'.
"It's just bad," she said. "It's distasteful. There are so many creative things people can do with their time and money besides snaking other people's domain names."Snake Wyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.