It was from the president of Online Classifieds Inc., the company name under which Gary Kremen had registered sex.com, and it was addressed to Stephen Cohen. The president, a Sharon Dimmick, wrote that she was handing over ownership of the sex.com domain to Cohen in recognition of his existing trademark for no consideration i.e. for free.
She pointed out that Gary Kremen had been fired, and the company had decided not to do anything with sex.com, and so was turning it over to Cohen. The most crucial part of the letter, however, stated that it – the letter itself – should be used as proof of Online Classifieds’ intent and should be presented to Network Solutions as evidence of the agreed transfer.
The whole thing was a fake produced on Cohen’s home computer, and printed out and faxed to NSI from his workplace. It was sent on 5 December 1995, but dated 15 October of that year – two days before Cohen actually stole sex.com.
It was a cunning ploy, appearing to give Network Solutions all the justification it needed to change ownership, while also explaining why Gary Kremen had complained – because he was an aggrieved ex-employee. However, while the letter was a clever piece of high-wire balancing, it suffered from one major defect that would ultimately lead to Cohen’s downfall: it was appallingly written.
Cohen possesses an unnatural gift of persuasion, but he left school early with a poor education, no qualifications and dreadful literacy. He can’t spell, and he has never learned the art of writing. As a result, he simply types verbatim what he would say to someone, never fully recognizing the difference between what people say and how they express the same thing in print.
The letter heading itself possessed a glaring mistake. It read: "Online Classifieds, Inc. (For your online ad's)". The extra apostrophe in "ads" is a basic grammatical error, and one that would be understandable in the body of a letter, but almost inconceivable in a company’s official letter heading, reproduced thousands of times on company stationery.
It also contained no phone number or email address or website. And, as Kremen’s lawyers were to discover, the letter heading was printed in an unusual font that Cohen had been using in his letters, both forged and real, for years.The rest of the letter is just as sloppy, and the syntax frequently childish.
It began: "Per our numerous conversations, we understand that you have been using sex.com on your FrenchConnections BBS since 1979 and now you want to use sex.com as a domain name on the internet. Our corporation is the owner of sex.com as it relates to the internet."
Would the president of a company really write an important letter so poorly? Cohen also hadn’t done his homework – the ".com" extension only came into existence in 1984. Considering that this phoney letter was being faxed as proof to the very company that ran all dotcoms, such a glaring error was bound to raise eyebrows.
It continued just as badly: "At one time, we employed Gary Kremen who was hired for the express purpose of setting up our system. We allowed Mr Kremen to be our administrative and technical contact with the internet, because of his vast experience with computers and their connections to the internet.