The progressive biweekly newspaper The Madison Observer accused its conservative counterpart The Mendota Beacon Wednesday of “cybersquatting,” or anonymously buying two web domains similar to The Madison Observer’s and redirecting those sites to The Mendota Beacon’s website.
According to Observer Editor in Chief Youssef Sawan, he was first aware of the issue when his friend e-mailed him that she had tried to access The Madison Observer’s website but had accidentally typed “madisonobserver.com” instead of their actual website, “madisonobserver.org”. Sawan said she was redirected to The Mendota Beacon’s website.
Sawan said he researched who bought the domains www.madisonobserver.com and www.madisonobserver.net on register.com and found it lists the March 11 purchases as anonymous. However, he said in an informal talk between a Beacon staff member and two Observer staff members, the Beacon member told them the Beacon’s editor in chief had bought the domains and designed them to redirect to the Beacon’s website.
Mendota Beacon Editor in Chief Tim Shea declined to comment on the issue “as a matter of policy.”
University of Wisconsin political science professor Howard Schweber, who is a former lawyer, said he was unaware of exact legalities surrounding cybersquatting. However, he said the key to the action being illegal would have to result in confusing customers so that they thought they were dealing with one business when in fact they were not.
The Observer hired a lawyer to send the Beacon a letter warning them of potential legal action. Sawan said the purpose of having an attorney send a letter to the Beacon is to ultimately be reimbursed for the traffic lost to the Observer’s website.
“Our main concern is that our readers can go to our website,” Sawan said.
He added it was unfortunate for the Beacon to take this “underhanded attack.”
“We really want to have a friendly relationship, and we really want to have discourse [with the Beacon],” Sawan said.
Madison Observer Features Editor Chelsea Ross said their newspaper will wait to receive a response from the Beacon before deciding whether to take further action because they cannot know for sure if the Beacon was in fact the party who purchased the two domains and redirected them to the Beacon website.
“We definitely opened the doors for discourse between the two papers,” Ross said. “We are interested what they have to say about it.”