Hate site distorts King's dream

Is it cybersquatting? Is it deception? Or is it free speech? White supremacist group hosts disinformation at MartinLutherKing.org.

It's a new tactic for white supremacist groups on the Net -- capitalising on the name of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. to preach bigotry and hatred to unsuspecting Web surfers.

MartinLutherKing.org appears to be a benign site dedicated to the life and writings of the man who gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington. It's actually hosted by Stormfront.org, one of the oldest and largest white supremacist sites on the Internet.

It appears to be a clear case of cybersquatting, but legal experts agree there is little that can be done to return the name to the King family. Unlike living celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Kenny Rogers, who have recently filed lawsuits under the US Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act passed by Congress last November, Martin Luther King's name is not protected because he is deceased.

"As it's stated in the Act it only applies to living persons," explained intellectual property attorney Jacqueline Ryall of Seattle-based firm Preston, Gates and Ellis. "Misrepresentation was the issue the Act was trying to address, but for some reason they're only limiting it to living people."

Attempting to seize the domain through the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation charged with overseeing the Internet, would also be unsuccessful, according to ICANN spokesperson Pam Brewster.

"It couldn't go through ICANN's dispute resolution policy so it would have to be a lawsuit," said Brewster. "This falls under the category of something that falls under the First Amendment."

That's fine with the site's Webmaster, Vincent Breeding, who also owns MLKing.org. Breeding, a former regional coordinator of the white supremacist National Alliance organisation and editor of the Nationalist News Agency, claims the purpose of the site is to spread another point of view. He is quick to point out that much of the information on the site comes from declassified FBI documents.

During the 1960s, the FBI organised a smear campaign against King which has been largely discredited.

Unlike Stormfront's Web site, which clearly identifies itself as a "White Pride" site, the King site is designed specifically to mislead people into thinking it's a legitimate research tool, something Breeding doesn't deny.

'Things like this are sort of infuriating. I can only imagine school children finding this thinking they're researching Martin Luther King' said Robert Vickers, King family spokesman. "I imagine when people come here they don't expect to find anything other than what the traditional party line is," said Breeding.

One click on titles like "The Death of the Dream: The Day Martin Luther King was Shot" brings out allegations that King was a womanising communist, among others.

Meta tag information included in the site's source code, which is used by search engines to categorise Web sites, lists words like "civil rights", "Jesse Jackson", "Rosa Parks", and "NAACP" in an attempt to appear during searches for those words.

To some degree, the meta tags work. A search for "Martin Luther King" on Lycos listed the Stormfront site as the No. 3 search result. Searches on Google.com and AltaVista.com also listed the site high in their results. Search sites that use real people to categorise, like Yahoo! and Looksmart, do not list the site, however according to a Yahoo! spokesperson the company's policy is not to exclude or censor any site and the reason it isn't listed is likely simply because it hasn't been submitted.

Breeding says that, while search engines help, much of the site's traffic comes from people directly typing the URL into their browser to see what's there. It's that tactic that Breeding hopes to capitalise on in the future. He says he plans to buy up other civil rights related domain names in addition to tripling the size of the King site.

Robert Vickers, public affairs manager for the King family and the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, Georgia, was not surprised by the site's tactics. Stormfront has been online since 1995 and is considered by the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a non-profit organisation which tracks hate groups, as of the biggest purveyors of hate on the Net.

"I guess misinformation is going to go along with the Internet," said Vickers. "Things like this are sort of infuriating. I can only imagine school children finding this thinking they're researching Martin Luther King."

Vickers said it's possible the King family will seek legal action against the site, but the family's lawyer, Joe Beck of KilPatrick Stockton had no comment, adding that he needed to speak with the family first.

If the family did decide to sue, Marc Bernstein, a San Francisco-based lawyer specialising in Internet issues, believes their best bet would be to charge that the family's "right to publicity" has been violated.

"It (Stormfront's use of the domain) definitely deprives the King estate of their own ability to use the name for their own purposes," explained Bernstein. "Also, if people are misled that the King heirs have endorsed this then that's potentially actionable."

But because Stormfront isn't trying to make any money through their use of the name and the rules regarding publicity rights vary from state to state, Bernstein acknowledges succeeding with such a case could be difficult.

In the meantime, sites like Breeding's continue to grow. At last count, Breeding says the Martin Luther King site had registered two million visitors. He calls the Net, "amazingly important" in his effort to spread his views, something that has not escaped the eye of the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

"These guys are pretty slick," Joe Roy, director of the Law Centre's Intelligence Project. "They've gotten a lot better. It used to take 30 minutes to access their servers. Now they're using javascript and applets and streaming video."

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