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Web legal woes: Forget Facebook, the real controversy is flatulence

We at 60-Second Science apologize in advance for some of the bathroom and otherwise juvenile humor that appears in this post. But do keep reading.

Last week Apple iPhone software maker InfoMedia, Inc., filed suit in a Colorado district court to get competitor Air-o-Matic, Inc., to stop threatening InfoMedia with a lawsuit. (Read the lawsuit filing.)

So far, just another day at the courts. But here's what's at stake: Loveland, Colorado-based InfoMedia's right to use the phrase "pull my finger" in an ad campaign for its iFart Mobile iPhone software. Jacksonville, Fla.–based Air-o-Matic offers an iPhone app of its own called "Pull My Finger" and has demanded that InfoMedia stop using the phrase to sell iFart and to pay them $50,000 to settle the dispute, reports CNN.com.

Excuse me?

Air-o-Matic even contacted Apple in January demanding that the iPhone maker remove the iFart Mobile app from the Apple App Store website and cancel its developer contract with InfoMedia. Apple refused to get involved, telling the companies to settle the dispute on their own. After all, the company offers 75 different flatulence simulation apps via its online store, according to InfoMedia's court filing.

You read right: 75 farting apps.

Moving right along: Viacom International Inc. last month lost its bid to use the Web domain Jackass.com to promote its popular MTV show "Jackass" (as well as the two movies this program spawned). Instead, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center decided that a company based in the British Virgin Islands called Future Media Architects, Inc., could keep that domain name, which it acquired in November 2002 (two years after Jackass debuted on MTV).

Future Media, whose Jackass.com website is little more than a page that directs visitors to other sites where they can get loans, airline tickets and other services, won the right to keep the domain name despite several unconvincing arguments, including: a claim that Viacom had no right to trademark the word "jackass" (which they did in 2000) because it's a generic word to describe a donkey or dumb person (evidently Future Media isn't aware of "Time" magazine or "Apple" computers); and a claim that Future Media has plans to operate a website from the disputed domain name that deals with donkeys, their uses and their contributions to society.

While WIPO panelist John Swinson was skeptical in his report about Future Media's sincerity and intentions (after all, the company owns 100,000 domain names and had already lost five other WIPO decisions), he declared the company the victor based on its legal right to the Jackass.com domain name, which Future Media bought from Moniker Online Services, LLC. Moniker legitimately registered the domain in 1999, prior to Viacom's show, forcing the media giant to continue using the domain Jackassworld.com. (Read the full ruling here.) As Ars Technica noted yesterday, "Swinson, not being a jackass himself, recognized a load of donkey manure when he saw it, but he still refused to hand the domain over to Viacom."

There were more serious legal battles in the online world too though, in a week during which Facebook struggles to shore up its public image in the wake of changes it's made to the policies governing its members' personal information. A federal judge recently threw out a legal claim from a Pittsburgh couple claiming that Google's Street View software violated their privacy after finding photos of their home on the search giant's mapping program. The couple, Christine and Aaron Boring, accused Google of "privacy violation, negligence, trespassing and unjust enrichment," BBC News reports today. The judge acknowledged the Borings' right to "resent" seeing their house as part of a Google virtual map, but ruled that the couple hadn't suffered any "shame or humiliation," as they had claimed, according to BBC News.

The shame and humiliation are evidently reserved for Web sites with less Boring names.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Nikolay Mamluke

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