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Shop Talk: A Master of its Domain

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Burson-Marsteller has so many domain names it's hard to keep track of them all. The addresses www.burson-marsteller.com, www.bursonmarsteller.org and www.bm.com all belong to the public relations company. But strangely, as of press time, the site www.bursonmarsteller.com was skewering and lambasting the shop and some of its clients.

The site is the work of one Dexter Smith, who claims he originally registered the domain to post pictures of two family dogs: Burson (named after artist Nancy Burson) and Marsteller. Only later, he says, did he learn about the PR firm and what he deemed to be its "unethical business practices." He then posted articles criticiz ing the agency and clients it has worked for, including Philip Morris, Union Carbide and Argentina.

Crying foul, Burson filed a complaint with the Web's version of The People's Court: the Arbitration and Media Center of the World Intellectual Property Center in Geneva. The agency accused Smith of "using the domain name in bad faith" and diluting the company's service mark.

Smith's dog story didn't hunt with the WIPO, and Burson was soon awarded the name. But there is evidently a lag time before the changeover: Smith's site was still up last Friday.

By the way, Burson did own the rights to the name once upon a time, but its registration expired in 2001, opening the door to the bad PR. And therein lies the moral of the story: Renew those domain names, or else.