Firm handling registrations was getting government subsidy
By Laura Evenson
Chronicle Staff Writer
InterNIC, the company that registers Internet domain names — the equivolent of license plates for online sites — has registered several obscene and racist names.
The Herndon, Va., company has let at least 10 offensive domain names slip through its filters. In the past, it also has let private individuals register trademark names such as McDonald’s and Disneyland.
Until September, the company, which is owned by defense contractor Science Applications International Corp., received federal funds to handle the registration of sites on the Internet.
Grant Clark, a spokesman for InterNIC, said the company has no formal written policy against offensive names. But, said Clark, the company tries to weed them out using obscenity guidelines followed by the Federal Communication Commission and local departments of motor vehicles.
“We try to apply a common-sense standard as any state would in issuing a vanity license plate for a car,” he said. “Without seeing the specific domain names in question, its hard to comment on whether we would have prohibited their use.”
Upon being told about some of the offensive names found online, Clark said they indicate that “the system doesn’t work perfectly and we’d have to investigate this.” InterNIC receives 1,000 new domain names a day for review.
Problems with InterNIC’s censorship guidelines emerged after Internet consultant Leigh Benson successfully registered several obscene domain names late last August. At that time, InterNIC was still on the payroll of the National Science Foundation. Starting in September, InterNIC went private and began charging $50 a year per domain name to cover its costs for handling the registrations.
Benson’s registrations were discussed in a story that appeared late yesterday on the Netly News, an online program on Time Warner’s Pathfinder Website at http://pathfinder.com/Netly.
“Basically, I experimented with registering the obscene names out of concern for freedom of speech and expression, said Benson, a Phoenix consultant. “I did it after a group of friends and I were sitting around one night talking about sexual laws and how out-dated they are. Someone suggested I register an obscene domain name, just to test the Internet’s limits, and so I did.”
He apparently is not the only one to test InterNIC’s boundaries. Joshua Quittner, a writter for Newsday, successfully registered the McDonald’s name as mcdonalds.com late last year, in a move that eventually lead to a legal tussle over trademark infringement. Similarly, Matthew Grossman, a friend of Benson’s, registered obscene names as well as trademark names such as Disneyland.com and Knottsberryfarm.com. Grossman has since handed over the trademark domain names — in exchange for free theme park passes.