Steal This Web Site

Like a bunch of cowboys up against one friendly Indian, Coral Gables city commissioners are fixin’ to take over some territory. Only instead of using guns, they’re using lawyers. And instead of land, the war is over Web domain.

As the Miami Herald reported last week, the City Attorney Elizabeth Hernandez plans to sue Gables businessman and activist Rob Burr for the site Venetianpool.com. Burr created the website in 1996 -- out of pure passion for the scenic pool -- and boils the conflict down for Riptide 2.0 this way:

“Say you have a cow, and you milk that cow for years. You give the milk to the city because you like to, you want to. Then somewhere along the lines the city says, ‘We own that cow.’”

Burr, who has put 800 hours of work and thousands of bucks into the site, explains there's more to the story than has been reported. He describes the way he was duped: “Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Able called and told me the city wanted to license the use of the city seal to us. He sent over a contract. It contained some odd language about transferring control of the website to the city.

I asked Joe, "Does the city want to buy my Venetian Pool Web site?" He said no, they just want to control it. I understood this to mean they wanted to make sure I put nothing on the site that might embarrass the city. I thought that was reasonable.”

Turns out, there was fine print. Now, the city feels they own it. And Burr says lawyers are sending “threatening letters.”

In the last few days, he’s put in several calls to City Manager David Brown, hoping to meet and come to an agreement. He doesn’t want the relationship to get legally messy. But, this past week, he has gotten zero response.

Riptide 2.0 says: Law is one thing; ethics are another. Sometimes contracts are just a fancy way of stealing.

--Natalie O'Neill

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