Wednesday, March 01, 2006


In my nonexistent spare time, I'm webmaster for a section 501(c) non-profit organization. Now, many years ago, when this whole "internet" thing was just starting to take off, one of the members of the then-Board of Directors had the foresight to think that the organization should stake out a little virtual turf in cyberspace, just in case this "web" thing might someday prove to be useful. This they did, but because they were a non-profit organization, and because at the time domain name registration was a moderately expensive and somewhat difficult proposition, after a few weeks they proudly launched their one and only web site: [organizationname].org. And there was much rejoicing.

Times change. InterNIC is no longer the sole arbiter of domain names. The rules for registering domains have become quite relaxed, and the cost of doing so is nearly insignificant. Outfits like are even in the business of encouraging people to register large blocks of domain names, so that they might speculate in the domain name market by locking up the rights to names that other people might someday want. Imagine the horror that struck my little non-profit, then, when last week a newly elected Board member accidentally entered [organizationname].com into her browser, and was redirected to -- well, it wasn't a porn site, but it sure wasn't good.

Her first reaction was predictable: she called the President of the organization in a panic and demanded that I appear at the Board of Directors meeting, to explain just what the Hell I was doing with their web site. I did so, and the Board's reaction was equally predictable: when I explained the true nature of the problem, they said, "Can they legally do that?" The answer, unfortunately, was yes: given that some years before the Board had voted not to spend the money to register the .com and .net variants on their site name, those names were now up for grabs. The Board's next question, of course, was, "Well, what can we do about it now?," and someone began singing that old Warren Zevon song about lawyers, guns, and money...

Google is my good friend. (Google is also my worst enemy, but that's a topic for another time.) When I got home from the Board meeting that night I got online, and in about twenty minutes I learned the name of the current domain name owner, which was in fact a nested set of shell companies that bounced ownership back and forth across the U.S. - Canadian border just to muddy the trail. Further, I learned that the ultimate owner was listed on several nations' consumer fraud watch-lists -- he'd been a busy little beaver -- and in a wonderful stroke of luck I found the full text of the decision in the case of a certain famous NFL player vs. this company, which ruled that this company had engaged in bad-faith cybersquatting and awarded the domain name in question to the famous person whose name it actually was. Armed with this information, the corporation's legal counsel --

Actually, I don't know what they've done or are going to do. It's not my concern.

But the moral here, folks, is this: they could have avoided the whole problem years ago, if they'd just been willing to spend a few bucks to register their .com domain name.

As writers, our names (or our pen names) are our commercial brands. Domain name registration is cheap, and outfits like and others make it easy. If there is any possibility at all that you will someday want to create a website to promote yourself or your work, you owe it to your future self to invest a little time and money now in order to secure the rights to your own writer's name.

After all: it's always cheaper to buy something outright, than it is to buy it back after someone else has got some idea of just how much you want it.