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"Domain Name Theft"

[Thanks to Ron Rapp, who pointed out a factual error, in that Internic now charges $70 initially for two years, $35 every following year.]

In a previous Soapbox, I offered some suggestions as to how to improve the hierarchy of the top-level domain names on the Web (.com, .net, etc.) to the people in charge of figuring out how to fix the bloated domain name crunch problem we have now.

That was in April. Still no progress has been made that affects regular people like me. This continues to hurt the Internet. There are too many companies, people, and organizations for the limited number of relevant domain names needed now.

Alright, so I've covered that ground already. However, I kept the scope of that Soapbox rather small, and waited for another occasion to attack another serious flaw I see in the domain name system: reselling of domain names.

At first, it was cute. Proctor & Gamble seems to be the granddaddy of registering absurd domain names which have only tangential relevance to any of its products. One example was "diarrhea.com". I think another might be "diapers.com". There was a handful of other names. Proctor & Gamble paid $100 each for these suckers, just so no one else would snatch them up. They then owned them and no one else could use those names until P&G gave them up.

Like I said, it was cute in the beginning. We could all laugh about it. The Web was young and people didn't know what to do with it, let alone massive business conglomerates.

The Web has grown up a lot since then, and plenty of schemers and schmucks have slithered into the scene, seduced by the mythical piles of money available for the picking online. We've seen CyberPromotions and its ilk of First Amendment whining e-mail spammers. We've had to put up with big companies pushing around smaller companies which have similar domain names. Corporate lips frothy when some teenage punk registers the name of a product a company is releasing, just to give them trouble.

Ah yes, domain names..."coke.com" and "benturner.com"...absurdly easy to purchase, even for regular schmucks like me, and also built around a system obscenely out of date and unequipped for the current state of the Web in which millions of new web sites are made available every day. Domain names are in limited supply in the United States and new sites often have cryptic domain names just because the first choice wasn't available. Someone else has it already.

And that makes domain names valuable goods. Gosh, and no one would capitalize on this?

Anna and I, during my happiest summer vacation ever (1998), were sitting together, trying out domain names, playing with ideas and seeing what was available. We tried "anna.com", just to see if it existed, and it did. However, it brought us to a domain name reseller, BestDomains. Obviously BestDomains was trying to diversify its presence online by making sure it got ALL of its possible customers -- what a better way than by registering "anna.com" with Internic, the organization which currently maintains the domain name list.

Currently, "anna.com" does not have a fixed price tag on it, but if you go to the domain list, you can see all the domains that this company has registered in order to sell to people who need THAT domain name.

This really pisses me off. Look at some of the pricetags on these domain names. "autobody.com" is $12500. "avengers.com" is $5000 (I wonder what the movie's URL was...).

For some perspective, let's cover what a domain name costs through Internic. It costs $70 for two years of ownership of a domain name through Internic. Granted, you have to pay some fees to the server that hosts your site, but the domain name in itself only costs $70 for two years.

So BestDomains and companies like it are making a huge, huge profit, quite obviously. Much to my disgust. I don't know how other people feel about this -- I've never seen this discussed before.

Internic is operating under contract from the government at the moment, and many of its rules aren't exactly up to date. It allows people to transfer ownership of the domain names without any monitoring by Internic. In other words, if you own a domain name and you want to get rid of it, you just need to transfer billing and contact information to the new owner. What this system doesn't specify for is the ability for companies to collect domain names in order to make a profit reselling them. This needs to be changed.

Having to pay some middle man company $12500 for a domain name that is fairly generic is ridiculous. Why are they allowed to scam people this way, if those people really require that domain name? They've got people by the nuts, and having to pay means a hand squeeze.

So some companies are taking advantage of this corrupted system which allows people to manage their own affairs with the domain name, extorting their customers. "Oh, but it's not illegal!" they say. How a company builds itself on this philosophy is beyond me.

Domain names should only be registered to people who can demonstrate an interest in a name that is relevant to the site's content, the business's framework, or whatever.

Quakeworld.com was registered by some twit at Planet Quake, the whore of the online Quake community. Quakeworld is a free product released by some members of the Quake programming team and some other people. Quakeworld.com is not run by the people who released Quakeworld. Quakeworld.com refuses to give up its domain name because it says it registered the name first. People looking for info on the Quakeworld product end up at some place they don't want to be. This interferes with the Quakeworld team's ability to publicize their work. Quakeworld.com has no stake in the domain name and should give it up.

Companies like BestDomains should not be able to collect domain names that they think people will need, and then register them. BestDomains has no interest in the domain name "unisex.com". People will either shell out the money or find another less recognizable domain name to host their business from. Pathetic.

Internic and its committees need to sit in a room and clamp down a restriction to domain name abuse, because companies are snatching up names and charging the Hell out of them. I've always thought the strength of the domain name and the Web is that even the smallest business or an individual such as myself could establish a permanent place on the Web. Money-lusting companies are dancing on the rules, watching as more fools pay $10000+ for a name that they should have gotten for $70 through Internic.

If the Internet is really serious about promising to regulate the 'Net by itself instead of letting the US government intervene, it would get its act together and organize, forming a plan to correct some corrupted aspects of the medium.

What of "anna.com", anyway? How dare they. That site should be sitting in a pool of the other Internic addresses, ready for the $70 payment. It should never be violated. That site should exist as a world of its own, not as a pointer to a company full of scammers. That site should celebrate the beauty of its name, and devote itself to the splendor and brilliance of the woman I love completely. Its charm should be infectious, as it naturally is, not locked up in a corporate moneypot. Its subtlety would be unmatched, if freed, and everything about it would glow radiance and happiness upon he who was lucky enough to share it. If it could exist for one thing only, it could exist for the triumph of love, the fact that a man in Texas and a woman in Sweden can maintain a wonderful relationship thousands of miles apart. But no, my baby's name is stuck in a sterile, lifeless room somewhere in a business building where the almighty dollar means everything, where ideas like "survival of the fittest" and "technical legality" are bastardized shamelessly in order to defend one's case.

Opportunism makes me nauseous.

I imagine people with about the same cranial activity as the dimwits at Cyber Promotions. You know. They've taken some business classes at some small community college before quitting to aspire to greater things. They think they're hip by getting on the 'Net, and they decide to just go for it and take a risk by getting on the Information Superhighway and securing domain names for the good of everyone. They feel well within their rights, which they are, even if they're making their money through pissing people off and forcing customers into positions they don't want to be in. Some business.

I really hope the committees fucking nail companies like BestDomains into the coffins they deserve to be in. "Servant Moriarty, don't hesitate to hammer a nail through a hand if he tries to get out of the coffin..."

The Internet is attracting these sorts of two-bit scum-sucking companies because customers are so willing to dish out money to be cool like the rest of us. Nevermind the fact that most web sites do little for companies anyway (which is why you hire people like me to give the site some purpose ;) ). Nevermind the fact that these people have no shred of moral conscience.

We as Netizens (a phrase we only use when in activist mode) have overturned the section of the Communications Decency Act which applies to the Internet, and we've also shot CyberPromotions down. We've protected many personal sites against the cease and desist letters from big companies. I think it's time for a swift kick in the rear of the association that's working to revamp the domain name system. Hurry up, guys -- the Internet built itself, and it knows how to do it, but we have to rely on you in order to implement a system that allows for the massive number of web sites that currently exist. If the Internet could fix it itself, it would.

On stage, there was glitz and glamor, but in the long tendrils of halls backstage, chaos and jealousy proliferated themselves everywhere, actors knowingly and begrudgingly just pawns of their agents and directors, a fiery rage building up and ready to burst.

No wonder hackers, warez crews, and crackers are striking out more and more now. The people aren't a big part of the 'Net anymore. And they want it back.

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