FTC nixes serial cybersquatter who targeted children’s cartoon sites, Britney Spears surfers

The Federal Trade Commission today said it settled contempt of a court with serial cybersquatter John Zuccarini who used more than 5,500 copycat Web addresses to divert surfers from their intended Internet destinations to one of his porn sites. With the new FTC order, the defendant must give up $164,000 in ill-gotten gains, conform to enhanced compliance and monitoring requirements.

Zuccarini calls his business Cupcake Party and has a long sordid history of abusing Internet users. In October 2001, the FTC went after him for registering Internet domain names that were misspellings of legitimate domain names or that incorporated transposed or inverted words or phrases. For example, the defendant registered 15 variations of the popular children's cartoon site, CartoonNetwork.com!, and 41 variations on the name of pop star Britney Spears. Surfers who looked for a site but misspelled its Web address or inverted a term - using cartoonjoe.com, for example, rather than joecartoon.com - were taken to the his adult sites. They then were allegedly bombarded with a rapid series of windows displaying ads for goods and services ranging from Internet gambling to pornography. In some cases, the legitimate Web site the consumer was attempting to access also was launched, so consumers thought the series of ads was from a legitimate Web site. It was difficult or impossible for consumers to close the windows or escape, the FTC said.

In May 2002, at the request of the FTC, the court permanently barred Zuccarini from redirecting or obstructing consumers on the Internet in connection with the advertising, promoting, offering for sale, selling, or providing any goods or services on the Internet, the World Wide Web or any Web page or Web site. Zuccarini was required to give up $1.8 million in ill-gotten gains. The court also ordered certain bookkeeping and record-keeping requirements to allow the FTC to monitor his compliance with the court's order, the FTC said.

Then in August 2003, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York criminally prosecuted Zuccarini for the misleading use of domain names and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release.

In December 2006, the FTC charged that Zuccarini violated the 2002 FTC order by redirecting consumers on the Internet, misrepresenting that his domain names were affiliated or associated with third parties, and participating in affiliate marketing programs. The agency also charged that the defendant did not comply with record-keeping and reporting requirements in the original order. The court issued a temporary restraining order to halt the defendant's prohibited practices, freeze the defendant's assets, and require records preservation.

In January 2007, the court approved a stipulated preliminary injunction halting the defendant's illegal conduct pending resolution of the contempt proceedings. On May 31, 2007, the court approved a stipulated order ending that litigation. The new order imposes a judgment of $164,000 - his ill-gotten gain from engaging in the prohibited practices. The original order remains in place, and the new order updates and enhances the compliance and monitoring requirements.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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