How the sex.com domain name was stolen

The theft of the sex.com domain name is an extraordinary tale of duplicity, greed and incompetence. IT journalist Kieren Mccarthy's best-selling book sets out the whole sorry story. Read the first of our extracts here.

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"So one day, the name disappeared,"explains Gary Kremen. “One day it said one thing, one day it said another. I saw some guy’s name next to it, but if you looked through it my information was still there. I just thought, you know, it’s some bureaucratic screw-up and that eventually they’d figure it out."

It was September 1995 and the new name that had appeared on the electronic ownership records for sex.com was Stephen Cohen and, unknown to Kremen, he had just stolen the domain name after several days of concerted effort. Kremen’s email address had also changed from [email protected] to [email protected]

What gave Kremen peace of mind was that his home address was still there. He decided it was probably an accidental overwrite of information on the database – this was, after all, the early days of the Internet and its systems were still very far from 100 per cent reliable.

Kremen reasoned that when the mistake was noticed, the company in charge would simply revert back to an earlier saved version and his name would be restored. But it was not to be.

Kremen kept checking sex.com’s details, and for a fortnight it stayed the same: a mix of Kremen and
Cohen’s information. And then, one day, his address also disappeared, replaced with one he didn’t recognise. Shortly after, Stephen Cohen’s name also changed, this time to acompany name, Sporting Houses Management. And that was it. Gary Kremen had just become one of the first men in the world to be conned over the Internet. He had lost the Net’s most valuable property, silently, on a computer screen, right before his very eyes.

So he did what anyone would do and called the number listed as the contact for sex.com to find out what the hell was going on. And he spoke for the first time to the man he would spend the next ten years chasing. According to Kremen, Cohen told him straight off that he had trademark rights in the name sex.com, but Kremen didn’t believe him and immediately called the company that ran and sold all dotcoms at the time, Network Solutions, asking to be given the domain back.

Cohen recollects an altogether different version of events. "It only lasted maybe ten seconds, the whole call,” Cohen says. "He made some off-the-wall comment: ‘I’m sex.com, you’re not sex.com.’ I told him to go fuck himself and hung up." Whatever happened, Kremen did call NSI, “and they said they’d investigate and I said fine, get back to me. And then they never got back.” But Kremen was persistent and kept calling and arguing, refusing to be put off until he finally reached the head of investigations, Sherry Proehl.

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