The whole Katie.com imbroglio seems to have ended happily, or at least, is close to doing so.
Katie Jones, the British owner of the website katie.com since 1996, has had a miserable four years since the publication of a book of the same name, about the true ordeal of a teenager sexually molested by a man she met in an Internet chatroom. After receiving hundreds of emails from people believing they are writing to the author of the book, Jones says recently she has come under pressure to donate the domain to a website being set up to help victims of similar abuse. Jones has declined, despite what she says was an “unpleasant phone call” from a lawyer, Parry Aftab, acting on behalf of the author, Katie Tarbox.
After several news reports and a steady campaign by Jones to publicise Aftab’s alleged efforts to obtain the name, the books publishers are backing off, saying they were never part of the move. A press release (PDF only) issued yesterday by Plume, an imprint of PenguinPuttnam, says: “In an effort to avoid an association between the book originally titled Katie.com and the website Katie.com, Plume and the author decide to make this title change.”
The release also says: “In addition, it was erroneously reported recently that Plume had asked its attorney to attempt to buy the web site Katie.com from domain owner Katie Jones. This is absolutely not true.” Plume makes clear it’s not part of that attempt: “We are not working in association with author Katie Tarbox or any other individual in an attempt to assume ownership of the domain name address www.katie.com.”
This is a belated but welcome move by the publishers, who must have calculated the negative publicity was outweighing the good. After all, what’s the point of publishing a book about online abuse if you just engage in another form of it against someone whose only mistake was to register a darn good domain name years ago?
There is a loose end yet to be tied, of course. The lawyer and author will also have to back off , abandoning any plans for a website ”where children who have been victimized by Internet sexual predators can go for help and support” around the name katie.com. Aftab, a prominent cybercime and Internet privacy lawyer, may also have some damage control to do. She has declined to comment on previous developments in the case, accusing Jones of having “an agenda”, but as things stand the public perception is that it has been the other way around.