San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, CA, November 8, 1995

Obscene, Racist Names on Internet


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.