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By TOM PULLAR-STRECKER – The Dominion Post | Monday, 26 February 2007

A 17 year-old Ponsonby youth who caught internet giants Xtra and Yahoo flat-footed last year by beating them to register the website address won’t say whether he was paid off or arm-wrestled into relinquishing the web address.

William Maxwell-Steele, who turned 18 last month, registered the web address in the name of a company set up on his behalf by his mother, but has since handed over ownership of the site to Yahoo.

Australian joint venture Yahoo7 and Xtra have formed their own joint venture and will launch their portal, YahooXtra, on Wednesday, hoping to make it New Zealand’s most popular website.

Mr Maxwell-Steele jumped on the web address while Xtra and Yahoo7 were still secretly negotiating details of their online partnership, at a time when many were tipping a deal between Xtra and Google.

At the peak of the dot-com bubble it was common for businesses to pay small sums to buy web addresses from “cyber-squatters”, to avoid the hassle and delay of going through the courts.

A downbeat Mr Maxwell-Steele would not say whether he had had such luck.

“They were a bit strange about that. I can’t say much about it. There is an agreement in place not to say anything.”

There is a growing trend for big businesses to stand their ground.

An alternative dispute resolution process, based on mediation, was put in place in New Zealand in June by the Office of the Domain Name Commissioner to make it easier for trademark owners to assert their rights over web addresses.

YahooXtra will be marketed as marrying the “the best of Yahoo” with the “best of local content”.

The site will provide access to Yahoo’s free email service – the most popular in the world – and its instant messaging and search service, along with news, sports and entertainment coverage.