VICE.com circa 1996.
VICE.com now. We like our version better.
Over the years, lots of people have visited Viceland.com and asked, “What’s up with the ‘land’? Why not just VICE.com?” Then we have to explain that a very prescient individual bought VICE.com and a bunch of other seemingly random domain names in 1996, when most people thought the World Wide Web was a Nintendo game. So we registered Viceland.com instead and went on with our lives.
Fast-forward to 2005. YouTube came out of nowhere and made regular TV look like a box of farts. Industry types started freaking out about “IPTV” and countless video-based sites were launched. Most of them were bad. In 2007, we rectified the situation by creating VBS.TV, a self-contained experiment that was successful beyond our wildest dreams.
Anyway, point is, last fall we realized it was silly to still have two sites. The time had come to smoosh VBS together with Viceland and stuff the whole magilla into VICE.com—a monolithic megasite with the potential to cure boredom (and, if we’re lucky, cancer) forever. After a few negotiations with the owner of the URL we settled on a price, and a lawyer who specializes in domain litigation drew up the paperwork. His name is Ari Goldberger and we asked him to give us a little history lesson on our long-lost domain name.
VICE: You’re not your average lawyer. Can you briefly explain what you do for a living?
Ari Goldberger: I’m a domain lawyer, one of the first, and a “domainer.” I kind of fell into this back in 1996, on the receiving end of one of the first domain-name disputes. I was fascinated by AOL, emailing, and everything else out there, so I began looking at ways to leverage the power of the web in the legal space. I founded ESQwire.com—a play on “esquire” and being “wired” to the internet. Then Hearst Corporation, which owns Esquire the magazine, sued me over it in a landmark case. I defended myself and won. I got a lot of recognition and became the go-to guy for legal problems with domain names. Back then you had to explain what the internet was to judges.
Do you know what was going on at VICE.com when it was created in 1996? The rumor is it was a porn site.
I’m looking at it right now through waybackmachine.org’s archives, but they only go back to 1999. My understanding is that, at the time, the owner simply pointed the domain to an Australian company in the adult business that paid domainers for the traffic.
Yeah, I’m looking at the archive from May 8, 1999. Clicking the link sent me to justwild.com, which features a photo of a woman with what appears to be a zucchini in her vagina. It could be a cucumber, though. Hard to tell. This was some sort of bonanza period for these type of sites, right?
My understanding is that the adult industry was doing very, very well in ’99. Companies were paying top dollar for traffic. By 2004 or 2005, however, adult revenue had declined, partly due to higher credit-card fees for chargebacks and a crackdown on abuse. Chargebacks became a big issue and had a negative impact. Imagine there’s a $35 charge from a porn site on someone’s credit-card statement and his wife would say, “Honey, did you do this?” And he’d reply, “No, that’s crazy!” Then the wife would call the card company to chargeback the site, which can’t be disputed because at that point it’s considered fraud. Looking at the Way Back Machine, you can see the domain was subsequently pointed to Yahoo, which displays pay-per-click links on the site and shared the revenue with the owner.
Have your clients or legal opponents ever tried to play games with you? Like registering domains that contain your name and some creative descriptors?
There was an individual named “Ryan” who wanted to buy ryan.com from my client. A few months later, I decided that I had procrastinated in getting arigoldberger.com for too long. But when I typed my name in to see if it was available, up loaded a picture of three naked fat women, and it said, “Welcome to my site. Check out my girls.” I looked up who owned it and it was the guy who wanted to buy ryan.com. I called him up and said, “Really funny, but can I have my name back?” We worked it out.