Congress nears deal to protect famous names

WASHINGTON — Congress is close to an agreement that would allow celebrities to stop so-called cybersquatters from using their famous names to lure Web surfers to Internet sites.

The bill, if enacted, would give the names of famous people the same kinds of protections on the Internet as a trademarked company name such as Disney.com or Warnerbros.com.

The legislation was actually pushed by the major studios, which wanted to make sure that their trademarked status was extended to the Internet.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) said late Monday that he “very hopeful” that a final agreement on the legislation had been reached. However, Berman cautioned, that last minute disagreements could still scuttle the effort. “I’m not sure that the last “I” is dotted and last “t” is crossed,” Berman said.

Other sources said the bill still needed approval of the House leadership, but a vote is expected to occur as early as today. Once the House passes the bill, it will work with the Senate, which has already passed similar legislation. It is expected that the final bill will include the provision to protect famous names.

If President Clinton signs the bill into law, a famous actor such as Tom Cruise will be able to block a cybersquatter from exploiting TomCruise.com without permission. The same is true for a company, such as Disney, which wants to protect its Disney.com Web site.

Some celebrities have gone through the lengthy and expensive process of trademarking their names, but it is not common, according to trademark attorneys.

“We are really pleased that Congress has clarified that famous names are protected on the Internet,” said Margaret Cone, a Washington lobbyist who was hired by coalition of performers.

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