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Sex.com sells for $13 million, has sordid back-story

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Sex.com, the go-to site for curious/bored ten-year olds, has been sold to one "Clover Holdings, Ltd.," a mysterious company based in Saint Vincent with a hushmail.com email address. (The site's former owner, Escom LLC, is bankrupt.) At a reported price of $13 million, it's now one of the most valuable domain names of all time. Who knows what Clover Holdings, Ltd. is up to — we're picturing something sinister/Lovecraftian — but this is only the latest piquant episode in the surprisingly eventful history of sex.com. Founded in 1994 by forward-thinking entrepreneur Gary Kremen (who later started match.com, as it happens), the site was then hijacked by one Stephen M. Cohen, a career criminal who'd been arrested in 1990 for operating a sex club in a residential zone and who, in 1995, had just been released from prison for fraud.

Cohen persuaded an employee of the domain registrar Network Solutions to transfer the ownership registration of sex.com by sending a fake fax. (Seriously.) He then made $50,000 to $500,000 a month selling ads on the site. After a five-year lawsuit, Cohen was ordered to return the site to Kremen and pay $65 million in damages and lost earnings. Instead, he covertly transferred his holdings out of the country and then himself fled to Tijuana, where he was eventually captured in 2005.

Astonishingly, this entire fiasco has thus far failed to become a Steven Soderbergh movie — unless Clover Holdings, Ltd. is Steven Soderbergh, which would be weird. One thing seems likely: sex.com will continue not to feature much except ads.