/ 12 August 2004

Burning question: Will Telkom sue?

While some disgruntled customers would probably like to see South African telecommunications giant Telkom burn in hell, the parastatal this week took exception to the popular website Hellkom and threatened the creator with a R5-million lawsuit for copyright infringement.

Greg Stirton, a 26-year-old graphic designer from Cape Town, told the Mail & Guardian Online on Thursday that he had made the site after comparing international telecom prices against those offered by Telkom.

“If I didn’t care for South Africa there wouldn’t be a Hellkom site. Why are we being charged the Earth? The majority of people in this country can’t afford a phone.

“A [Telkom] ADSL connection costs R1 000 a month and you can get the exact same service in London for 19 pounds. There’s no reason why we should be charged so much”.

Telkom spokesperson Ravin Maharaj on Thursday said he disagreed with Stirton’s assertions, and said it was not helpful to compare the price of telecom access in South Africa with that of other countries.

“It’s fine for Greg to say our fees are high, but our installation costs are down and more public phones have been installed in rural areas. There’s a lot of things in place. There’s also the e-rate that will halve the bill for internet usage at schools.”

Against a backdrop of orange flames, the website lampoons the Telkom logo by adding a pair of horns and a logo saying: “Hellkom: Prices that will make you sweat”. Another logo declares: “Melk-hom. Ons melk die pulbiek soos ‘n Jersey-koei”.

This has not gone down well at Telkom.

“He’s making unauthorised use of the Telkom trademark and using disparaging logos. We’ve asked him to respond by tomorrow [Friday]. Our rationale is that we support freedom of speech, as long as it’s not hate speech.

“The site has been constructed for a lot of reasons and we don’t want to mess with that process. All we want to do is protect brand equity,” said Maharaj.

“It’s a trademark issue. We’re not concerned about bringing them down. A lot of people write into Hellkom … it’s a good process.”

“They have until tomorrow [Friday] to get back to us. If they don’t we will institute a damages claim.”

Stirton said on Thursday that the figure of five million was “going through my mind at the moment”.

Last week trade union Solidarity entered into an alliance with Hellkom following Telkom’s announcement of its plans to retrench 4 181 workers over the next three years.

The Hellkom website will in the future be hosted in Germany due to the high cost of hosting a website in South Africa.

Stirton said a petition has been added to the Hellkom site on Thursday demanding that Telkom abolish ADSL line rental and reduce voice line charges, as well as stop retrenchments at the company. The petition also calls for a new minister of communications and suggests that the government legalise voice-over IP (internet protocol). – I-Net Bridge