University .xxx domains: The aftermath

Summary:The introduction of .xxx domains caused concern in academia -- but have fears been realized?

Once top level domain names ending in the suffix .xxx became available late last year, many groups and industries, including the adult entertainment industry itself, began to protest against the move.

A clear concern for academic institutions and public figures was the prospect of future 'cybersquatters' -- those who would be able to purchase an overlooked .xxx domain name and potentially cause issues for those in which it related to. Future problems included:

  • Purchasing a name in order to 'cybersquat' before selling it back to an organisation at a higher price.
  • Directing an audience using the .xxx version of a website to links that may be detrimental to a reputation.
  • Selling names on to the highest bidder.

However, a few months after the release of this domain to the general pubic, have fears disappeared, or are there examples of this kind of behaviour currently in motion?

The .xxx domain, which was intended to signal pornographic content and encourage a step towards a more regulated adult industry online, instead caused a flurry of activity and expense as organisations, companies and public figures utterly unrelated to the adult industry began buying any name related to them -- out of the fear the newly-available suffix could cause them problems, embarrassment or expense.

In a recent blog post by Educause's vice president of policy, Gregory Jackson said:

"The effects of these initiatives thus far have been modest, but they have been entirely negative. So far as we know, no college or university has benefited from either initiative. Rather, institutions have been exposed to risk and incurred costs without receiving any value in return.

On behalf of its members, EDUCAUSE proposes that procedures for issuing and managing generic top-level domains be tightened to reduce their unintended negative effects on colleges and universities."

Jackson later mentioned the University of Hawaii, that has already been faced with the reality of an individual purchasing a related domain name. The buyer of universityofhawaii.xxx featured what it described as "hot nude Hawaiian college girls" before a cease and desist letter from the university convinced the operator to take the site down.

Before, the website was reportedly full of graphic images of men and women having sex on beaches; now, it redirects to a website under construction -- Ihadyourmama.com.

This is one of the few cases that is currently known to exist when an academic institution's counterpart .xxx domain name was registered and linked to a pornographic website. Universities, unless they are willing to accept the expense of renewing these domain names every year, have few choices in which to deal with potential cybersqatters.

For larger universities and colleges, anything from a shortened nickname -- for example, harvarduni.com -- to the name of their football team or a campus ground could be registered and linked to content outside of their control. Attempting to purchase everything remotely related would therefore become a long-term, expensive and arduous process.

The alternative? Secure the most important, obvious domain names, and ignore approaching cybersquatters, in the hope that either legislation will change to protect trademark holders (although this could become an issue in itself when you try and decide what part of a domain name can be considered a trademark) or that the university won't be exposed to too much embarrassment.

Jackson went on to recommend certain changes to the registration of these top level domains, suggesting that ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) should:

  • Block any domain that corresponds to a registered trademark.
  • Block any domain that corresponds to an existing .edu domain.
  • Impose a waiting time between registration s any objections can be made before it is finalised.
  • To consider rejecting such registration unless the operator is the trademark holder.

Image credit: Screenshot C.Osborne

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About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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