December 14, 2011 in City, Region

Colleges pay to fend off porn sites

GU, others buy domain names ending in .xxx
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Universities around Washington are buying up websites under the new .xxx web extension created for pornographic material.

But they aren’t trying to bolster their budgets by getting into the porn business; they are protecting their brands from entrepreneurs of the adult entertainment industry who may otherwise use the schools’ names to drive web traffic.

“This isn’t our business,” said Chris Gill, GU’s chief information officer. “It’s an ongoing challenge.”

GU paid $200 to register www.gonzagauniversity.xxx, and may purchase more in the future.

“Part of this is recognizing that we have a responsibility to do our best to protect the brand to make sure we’re not inadvertently missing something that could, in the long run, cause harm to the university,” Gill said.

Washington State University has also purchased some .xxx domain names, though how much it has spent was not immediately available.

“This is really just an extension of what we already do,” Alyce Anderson, program administrative manager of WSU’s Trademark Licensing Program, said in an email. “WSU actually only registered our trademarked names, which is the same thing we have done with all of the other extensions,” such as .com and .net.  

“.xxx is simply a new extension,” she said. “We would have done the same if it was .xyz.”

University of Washington officials recently bought URLs such as www.gohuskies.xxx, www.uwphysicians.xxx and one with a particularly seedy potential for tarnishing the university’s image: www.peds washington.xxx.

“We had to be very careful to make sure that we protected our reputation,” said Kathy Hoggan, director of Trademarks & Licensing. “But in these budget times, we certainly couldn’t go wild with all the different possibilities. We had to make some tough choices. There (are) endless amounts that could have been protected.”

Hoggan said she does not know how much, including lawyers fees, has been spent on the domains thus far.

They are among numerous universities and businesses around the country snapping up .xxx domain names to preclude others from doing so. They had two months to register their trademarked names with Florida-based ICM Registry, which manages the domains, before sales went public. During that time, 80,000 were registered, according to The Associated Press.

At Eastern Washington University, school officials decided against purchasing any of the domains during the two-month window but are continuing to consider their options.

“There (are) obviously costs associated with it, and right now we’re pretty tight on money,” said Dave Meany, director of media relations at EWU. “The bottom line is, no, we’re not going out right now buying those, but it is an issue we’re aware of.”

Since the sales opened to the public, tens of thousands have been purchased, though speculators who want to turn around and sell them for a profit likely make up a good chunk of the initial flood of sales. The online red light district was approved by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, in March.

“It’s … very difficult for us to stay ahead of the minds of the people who create these porn sites,” Hoggan said. “It’s very difficult to anticipate the site names that could be generated by those who are creating porn sites.”

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