To see it, sex.com seems like a no-frills Pinterest for porn, but behind the site there is a controversy between the man who invented online dating and the artist who stole the scepter of the internet.
The history of the domain is well documented, with two books and dozens of articles on the subject. It was first registered in 1994 by Gary Kremen, the entrepreneur who founded match.com and who was smart enough to buy other generic domains, including jobs.com and housing.com in the early years of the internet.
Kremen left the sex.com domain aside as he built his online dating business, until one day he received a notification telling him that the site’s email had changed. He thought of a mistake, but soon realized that all domain ownership information had changed. When he called the new phone number associated with the domain, Stephen Cohen answered him, a brilliant man who would soon become his sworn enemy.
“Kremen asked him: what are you doing with my domain? And Cohen replied: no, it’s my domain now, and basically told Kremen to go fuck himself,” writes Kieren McCarthy, the journalist whose book Sex.com traces the legal battle for the site.
It is not yet clear how exactly Cohen came into possession of the domain. After leaving college, Cohen had become a swindler who lived on such tricks. McCarthy says she believes Cohen has found a technical loophole to take over the site, and Kremen’s attorneys have speculated that perhaps he was helped by someone from within the domain’s host company.
“He is suspected of having had a sexual relationship with someone from Network Solutions, and has deceived someone to change the site’s email address and replace it with his own, and from there he changed all the other information,” says the author of Sex. com.
It is no surprise that “sex” was a popular word to look for: the site made millions of visits a day.
Kremen started a legal process to regain sex.com. Meanwhile, Cohen had started running the site, selling and earning millions of dollars. This happened before the launch of Google, when people typed in the various domains to browse the web. It’s no surprise that “sex” was a popular word, and the site made millions of hits a day.
“It was the best domain on the internet because there were millions of people who came there just to see what it contained,” says McCarthy. “It made millions simply by existing. It was the Holy Grail of the net at the time, and people went crazy about it.”
The legal battle over the domain continued for five years, with both tenacious protagonists intent on conquering ownership of the site.
“They were two very intelligent and determined people, neither was willing to let go,” says McCarthy. “Cohen had stolen him and was making millions, so he did everything to keep him, while Kremen was overwhelmed by injustice: he was willing to punish in any way the man who had stolen sex.com from him.”
Kremen eventually won the case, thus setting an important legal precedent. Cohen appealed, but was not accepted. He was sentenced to pay $ 64 million to Kremen, which ushered in the second half of the sex.com saga.
In response, Kremen had “wanted” signs posted throughout Tijuana.
After losing the case Cohen took a flight to Tijuana to avoid payment, and Kremen in response had “wanted” signs posted for the Mexican city everywhere, with photos and personal information of Cohen. McCarthy states that Cohen claimed that this caused some bounty hunters to show up at his door, initiating a gunfight with the Mexican police.
Cohen was later extradited and sent back to the US, where he remained in prison for six months until a judge gave up trying to make him pay the stipulated amount. Cohen declined to pay even a single $ 64 million penny, according to McCarthy.
“Kremen paid lawyers to follow Cohen in whatever he does,” said McCarthy. “They have been playing cat and mouse for ten years now. He follows Cohen around the world trying to get the money he owes and Cohen travels around the world and refuses to pay him.”
And what happened to sex.com? Kremen auctioned it for an estimated $ 13 million in 2006; has passed into several hands, and is now a great porn site, which works like a kind of Pinterest that allows users to upload and share content. It still makes profits, but it’s nowhere near the success it had before Google.
Martin Kelly, project manager at sex.com, says the site is now run by a staff of around 20 people based visits per day between fixed and mobile, and the team plans to renew the site shortly.
“Many historical sites have had problems with managing the right content for their users,” said Kelly. “What we want to do is analyze the data of your favorite contents and redesign areas that respond to our users’ wishes. We want users to be able to follow their favorite stars and share content in an elegantly presented package.”
His days as the Holy Grail of the internet have certainly passed, but the value of sex.com remains an undeniable fact.