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Domain Game: Universities Snap Up Academia.XXX

Posted by Sheila Shayon on December 14, 2011 01:01 PM

Brands are waiting to see what happens with ICANN's gTLD program launch, with a second hearing (following last week's grilling) taking place today in Washington.

In the meantime, another domain game — the introduction of .xxx website addresses — is convincing trademark-holders and brand marketers to protect their name and reputation from purveyors of adult content who they fear could sabotage their good names. Nowhere is this more true than for academic brand managers.

The ICM Registry gave trademark holders a one-time chance to pay $200 per address as a blocking charge in a ‘sunrise sale,’ and among the first academic brands to step up was the University of Kansas, buying kansas.xxx, rockchalkjayhawk.xxx, jayhawks.xxx, and more recently, kustore.xxx, kugirls.xxx and jayhawk.xxx for about $3,000 according to the AP.

"It's truly a preventative blocking measure, blocking others from doing it," commented Paul Vander Tuig, the university's trademark licensing director, to USA Today.

As we noted earlier this month, the scandal-rocked Penn State snapped up some .xxx domains to avoid further embarrassment. Carnegie Mellon, Indiana, Purdue, Pittsburgh and The University of Missouri have followed suit, with the latter securing missouri.xxx, missouritigers.xxx and mizzou.xxx.

As  Vander Tuig commented to USA Today, “Down the road there’s no way we can predict what some unscrupulous entrepreneur might come up with.”

"This is viewed as a rational and practical step to protecting our image," said University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald after U-M bought 21 .xxx website names. 

"There are potentially thousands of domain names the university could try to protect, making this an IT 'Whac-A-Mole' problem that is not practically or financially viable," said MSU spokesman Kent Cassella in The Detroit Free Press. "Instead, we focus our efforts on infringement. If we find someone using our name or marks without permission, we pursue them."

Many of the purchased .xxx names won’t be used, except as a defensive strategy. Others will monitor the Internet for infringement and pursue legal action against cybersquatters if necessary. At risk for universities, enrollment and endowment, both vulnerable if an academic reputation is marred…even by mistaken association.

"It's an unfortunate part of what one does today in order to do business and maintain the integrity of the institutional name, the brand name, the organization, the students, whatever it is that one has built the equity in that what we have to do in this digital age," says Barbara Brooks, co-senior partner at The Strategy Group in USA Today.

ICM Registry CEO Stuart Lawley commented that the .xxx domain "clearly signpost adult entertainment on the Net, and for those who wish to avoid this kind of content, not only can you see that it has the .xxx as a suffix visibly… parents can set their browser settings at home and on mobile devices to filter this content out automatically."

The word university, from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly translates as a ‘community of teachers and scholars’ with the earliest ones in Europe being the University of Bologna (1088), the University of Paris (1150 and later part of the Sorbonne) and the University of Oxford (1167).

Those founding professors are surely turning in their graves while contemplating procuring university.xxx and academia.xxx.

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