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News > May 2007

10-May-2007

Virginia Tech Domain Names

Fred McChesney bought several domain names following the Virginia Tech shooting spree on April 16. He hoped to sell names such as CampusKillings.com, VirginiaTechMurders.com and SlaughterInVirginia.com to the highest bidder.

McChesney, 48, said this was an opportunity to show his contempt for firearms by featuring anti-gun content on the domains. He also saw the opportunity to cash in. "Everyone is profiting off of this, iím not hurting anyone."

Domain names related to the tragedy were bought almost immediately by people hoping to sell for a profit or use them for links to advertisers. Cost of registering such domains is usually less than $10 - however some are now being auctioned for thousands.

"Any time thereís a big news event, people go do a domain registraion. Nine-eleven they did it, Katrina they did it, the tsunami in southeast Asia they did it." said Christine Jones, general counsel for GoDaddy.com.

This is especially troubling to some regarding registration of domain names relating to those killed in the tragedy. On the same day the victimsí names were released, people were registering domains named after the victims, such as JarrettLane.com. Friends and family members seeking to create memorial sites under that Internet address would have to purchase it from the owner of the domain.

University spokesman Mark Owczarski said. "If anybody is working to make a profit off of this tragedy by selling these kinds of things, itís just a crying shame, obviously, you wouldnít want anybody to make a profit off something as horrendous as this."

Jeremiah Johnston, chief operating officer for broker Sedo.com, said their company has shut down domains named after victims and dozens of other domain sites related to the tragedy, including BlacksburgBloodbath.com and SchoolSlaughter.com.

"We do feel that they fly in the face of our offensive domain policy. It is quite tasteless." said Johnston.

GoDaddy.com shut down a site raising money for victimsí families after university officials declared they were not aware of this charity, said Jones.

In general, there arenít many restrictions on what can be registered. The Internetís key oversight agency, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has arbitration procedures for resolving disputes with a domain or web address, however they only cover trademarks and service marks, (which can include celebrity names). Federal laws focus on trademark owners, not names of non-famous individuals such as these victims.

University of South Carolina cyberspace law professor Ann Bartow explains "Itís kind of exploitative, but itís not really cybersquatting, Itís socially, normatively disgusting, but itís not trademark bad faith."

McChesney has been anti-gun since his brother shot him in the face with a BB gun as a child. He hopes to use some of the domains to draw attention to what he calls an epidemic of gun violence in America and also plans to give away the memorial domain names to Virginia Tech students, and has so far donated one. He is hoping to sell othes, including VaTechTheMovie.com, to companies but so far he hasnít sold any.

He understands that many will be against what he is doing but he doesnít see anything wrong. "What Iím doing is the equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic."