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...This book is a true horror story. And the cleverness of the way McCarthy presents it, is that you think you're going to read a racy description of the high life of a few wealthy California dotcom millionaires, playing at pornography - but what you end up soaking into your soul, is a deep understanding of the pioneering days of the internet.
And the story you actually read is one you would probably have dismissed - if you were told what it was about beforehand - as "boring, background business stuff". But this boring tale is actually the one that has you staying up late into the night, unable to say: "I'll finish it in the morning!"
And it's this tale of corporate deception, implacable monopoly abuse and downright evil around the boardroom, which means that when you turn the last page and switch off the light, the darkness of the night is almost tangible and fearful. But the monster that lurks beyond the curtains isn't the drug-crazed obsessive geek, it's not the relentless, bullying conman. It's the corporate giant which waits for you beyond the borders of sleep, with nightmares where you find yourself too helpless to resist an implacable foe - a foe beyond your power, and apparently immune to the law.
It's a brilliant bit of writing. Read it if you dare.
Civil law, not unreasonably regarded as a dry subject, is often rendered relevant by colourful cases. There is no more dramatic cause of dispute than money, unless it is sex — so the battle for the domain name sex.com had it all. The registered owner, Gary Kremen, alleged that Stephen Cohen, a conman and pornographer, had stolen this prime piece of internet real estate from him. McCarthy gives a fast-footed account of the trial and its upshot.
...Sex.com is the best book on the subject of "internet history" (for that is surely what this story will become) since Where Wizards Stay Up Late, and certainly the best book about the Domain Name system that I've ever read. The narrative is compelling, well-informed and highly readable.
McCarthy is not afraid to tackle the quasi-political implications of the Sex.com story, in particular the stranglehold that the old Network Solutions (now VeriSign) had - and continues to have—over the domain name system, and how some of its then employees treated the suspected hijacking of Sex.com with pure contempt—allegedly, even up to the point of threatening physical violence against an expert witness...
The Sunday Telegraph
...While Kremen may have been a geek, he wasn't a wimp. Swiftly he mounted his fightback. Various porn barons, eager to boot the bumptious Cohen off the scene, lined up in his camp.
Among them was Seth Warshavsky, a man who had done very nicely out of posting Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee's sex video on the internet. The trouble for Kremen was that Cohen proved impossible to pin down for long enough to have a writ slapped on him. Supposedly possessed of a 'genius-level IQ', he had made a career out of what Keiren McCarthy calls 'heartless, predatory crime'. As Cohen once said, rather winningly, about himself, 'So many people have done wonderful things for society. I'm not one of them.'
The resulting lawsuits dragged on for 12 years, at the end of which Kremen was declared the victor, winning $65 million in damages. But by then Cohen had salted away most of his assets to stop them falling into Kremen's hands. But having finally got sex.com back, Kremen immediately astounded his friends by becoming a crystal meth addict and - valiantly if insanely - trying to make the website less smutty.
Within a matter of weeks sex.com's monthly revenue had fallen from $1 million to just $50,000. None the less, Kremen sold it last year for $12 million - the largest sum of money ever paid for a website.
It's an interesting story which includes almost every kind of dirty-dealing you could want - apart from sex, oddly enough...
There are two types of computer books: there are the instructional ones, and then there are the ones that are of such general interest that even non-techies will buy them. This is definitely the latter, but that's not to say that there's nothing of interest to techies. It might not give programming hacks or give detailed information as to how to set up security, but that doesn't render this valueless.
Sex.com tells the story of the world's most valuable piece of cyber-real estate: the most coveted domain name on the web. Most people in the industry are vaguely aware that the rights to the domain name were stolen; some people might even recognise the names of Gary Kremen and Stephen Cohen, the protagonists in this drama. What McCarthy does is give far more detail that has ever been given before: this is not just about the scam, it's how the scam was worked and how it finally unravelled... this is a gripping story, well told. There can't be many books about the computer industry that can be described as page-turners but this is....
In 1995, when the Internet was not yet mainstream, Stephen Michael Cohen stole the sex.com domain from Gary Kremen. Unlike more recent stories of domain theft, the theft of sex.com was not so much about technical matters as interpersonal relations. As a practical matter, the battle over that domain is over, but the fighting goes on because neither Cohen nor Kremen will give up and go away. Guys can be competitive.
Kieren McCarthy's book Sex.com, on the epic battle (its epic as Internet battles go) between the two men, is a fun read on many levels. Its a story of the early and growing years of the Internet. Its a story of crime and the shady, dishonest and dishonorable world of con men. Its a great business and legal story. Its got sex, its got drug abuse. The only thing missing is the rock and roll...
Domain Name Wire
The book is an exhilarating and entertaining read that educates and entertains. Each short chapter tells a new story in the saga. When you’re about ready to put the book down, McCarthy forshadows what crazy event will happen next, making it impossible to not dive right into the next chapter. You’ll be turning pages as fast as when you read Harry Potter.
Here are some of the crazier parts of the saga:
- When Cohen stole the domain from Kremen, he sent supporting documentation to Network Solutions (which was the registry at the time) that was a forgery supposedly from Kremen’s company. It read, “Because we do not have a direct connection to the internet, we request that you…delete our domain name sex.com [sic]“. The name of Kremen’s company, which was shown at the top of the forged letter, was Online Classifieds, Inc.
- After Cohen was forced to give up his $3M house to Kremen, Cohen ordered his thugs to tear everything out of the house including toilets, light fixtures, and door knobs. The police showed up but it was too late.
- Kremen was the victim, but wasn’t exactly perfect. His drug habit spiraled out of control during the saga. One of his lawyers had a drug habit of his own. When both Kremen and his lawyer were high on cocaine, they signed an agreement to hand over 15% of sex.com to the lawyer. (The agreement was later nullified.)
- Cohen tried to register the trademark to Sex.com. While it sat in limbo at the US trademark office, he sued anyone who owned a domain with “sex” in it, such as sexsex.com. Amazingly, the courts repeatedly ruled in Cohen’s favor and handed a number of domains to him. Imagine someone filing a trademark for money.com and then going after everyone with ‘money’ in their names – such as easymoney.com and freemoney.com.
- A few hours after Cohen was let out of jail, his attorney in Mexico was ambushed. It’s unclear if Cohen ordered the hit. What we do know is that Cohen’s fable of a bloody battle at his Mexican house was just that — a fable.
Those are just a few of the crazier substories in this exciting book. It’s a must read even if you are not in the domain name industry...
DomainIncite (Kevin Murphy)
This is easily the funnest tech industry book I’ve read in a long time. The premise, in a nutshell: in the early 1990s an entrepreneur called Gary Kremen registered the domain name sex.com. It was subsequently stolen by an absolute bastard called Stephen Cohen, who quickly creates a multimillion dollar porn empire.
The book Sex.Com tells the story of Kremen’s long legal fight to get it back, and the increasingly personal and bitter hostilities between him and Cohen.
The genre is essentially courtroom drama, which could have very easily led to a very dry legal tome on the controversies of internet property rights during the early days of internet governance... But I’m delighted to say that [McCarthy] instead chooses to focus on the far more entertaining human story of two men who start off as strangers and quickly come to realize they really, really fucking hate each other. These are two men where a series of taunting telephone calls could easily and in fact does (if only in the paranoid ravings of the vanquished) culminate in a gun battle in a Tijuana suburb between a gang of bounty hunters and the Mexican police...
Sex.com is primarily a very entertaining story about two guys having decade-long fight, but it’s also impossible not to learn a little something about the domain name industry along the way...