LINCOLN — Imagine your teenager browsing the Web, researching college possibilities.
Now imagine your teenager stumbling upon a porn website with a name like UIowa.xxx or Creighton.xxx or Huskers.xxx.
Many university officials don't even want to imagine it.
With the new .xxx domain name category to roll out early next month — think of it as a red light district for the Web — several area colleges have taken steps to prevent their names from being misappropriated by purveyors of "adult entertainment."
In a defensive move, Creighton University officials have registered "creighton.xxx," the University of Iowa is claiming "UIowa.xxx" and Huskers.com has spoken for "Huskers.xxx." Iowa State registered eight permutations of its name.
They are among countless colleges and universities across the country that have taken similar defensive actions.
To be crystal clear, none will offer adult content. People who search for those domain names will find nothing or they will be redirected to the university's main Web pages. The goal simply is to keep university names untarnished.
"Better safe than sorry," said Brian Young, Creighton University's vice president for information technology, though he said he couldn't imagine what advantage a pornographer would gain from using Creighton's name.
That's not to say there haven't been problems in the past. In one famous example, Whitehouse.com was a pornographic site in the late 1990s and early 2000s — much to the chagrin of the residents of the White House and the administrators of the whitehouse.gov website.
In recent years, Iowa State lawyers have had to shut down an outsider's pornographic "College of Engineering" website, said Trademark Officer Leesha Zimmerman.
The University of Nebraska made the owner of the "HotHuskers" website — a racy, though not pornographic, fan site that includes photos of scantily clad women — remove NU logos and trademarks and post a disclaimer that the site was not affiliated with the university, said NU Associate General Counsel Turan Odabasi.
Though its use is voluntary, many in the porn industry have criticized the new .xxx domain designation, fearing that it could be a first step into forcing them into an easily blocked Internet ghetto.
Some commentators have noted that most .xxx site activity thus far has involved people taking steps to prevent their names from being used for .xxx sites.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) provided two avenues for protecting trademarks owned by higher education and other entities from being used as porn site designations.
Initially, institutions could pay to have their names blocked from the registry. From now through Dec. 6, institutions can pay to register potential domain names. After that, names go up for sale to the general public.
Iowa State applied for blocks of five names — "ISU," "Iowa State," "Iowa State University," "Cyclones" and "Istate," all federally registered trademarks.
More recently, Iowa State pre-registered three more names, "Iastate," "Iowa State U" and "ISU Cyclones."
Institutions pay several hundred dollars per name.
Nebraska has moved to protect only Huskers.xxx. It did not block or register other names.
"We feel we are protected, and we are able to defend ourselves already," said University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chief Information Officer Mark Askren.
UNL Athletic Department officials made the call to register Huskers.xxx because of "the nature of sports."
"We can't protect all our marks, but I think it's worth it to protect that from falling into the wrong hands," said Michael Stephens, assistant athletic director for marketing and licensing.
Odabasi said he's confident that federal trademark law and the watchdog skills of the Collegiate Licensing Corp., which handles NU's various trademarks, will nip potential problems in the bud.
It's virtually impossible to protect every possible permutation and every possible trademark name, he said.
Other universities, however, have opted for an extra careful approach.
"Sometimes preventatives are easier than going through the process of trying to take a domain name back," said Iowa State's Zimmerman.
The University of Iowa is looking into how many other names it will need to protect besides UIowa.xxx.
"Every institution wants to protect their image," said Rex Pruess, senior director of IT enterprise infrastructure at the University of Iowa. "For us, it makes sense to pay the money and get the .xxx designation. We don't want prospective students to have their first experience be a .xxx site."
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