- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A growing number of universities are shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars to keep their names, logos and students off of the dark side of the Internet.

Educational institutions in Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania and other states have bought dozens of .xxx domain names associated with their schools, moves intended to keep the pornography industry from snatching them up.

It costs about $200 to buy an .xxx website, and many in the world of higher education think that’s a small price to pay when compared to the damage that could potentially be done to a university’s reputation if, for example, someone launched PennStategirls.xxx.

“As far as we know, there hasn’t been one institution that has bought up an .xxx domain with any plans to use it,” said Gregory Jackson, vice president of policy at Educause, a nonprofit organization that advocates the use of technology on campuses. “All of this buying up [of .xxx domains] has been done as some form of defensive maneuver. There’s no particular reason not to do it.”

Purdue University recently bought a variety of .xxx domains not only to protect itself from potential shame, but also to prevent costly lawsuits that it would surely file against pornographers trying to capitalize on the Boilermaker brand.

“Reserving triple-x domains for a decade at a cost of $200 each is much more prudent than the legal fees from litigation,” university spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg said Wednesday.

Colorado University recently purchased UniversityofColorado.xxx, CU.xxx, GoldenBuffaloes.xxx and a variety of other addresses, all of which will remain dormant.

The University of Michigan, Texas A&M University, the University of Saskatchewan and dozens of others also have aimed to protect their images by claiming a variety of .xxx sites.

The use of .xxx addresses for adult content is not mandatory, and it’s unclear whether adult entertainment companies will target individual universities to attract visitors.

But most colleges, as well as major companies and other entities, aren’t willing to risk it.

“Something that we’ve learned about the Internet is that corporations, universities and even individuals will go to great lengths to keep their names clean,” said Jonathan Coopersmith, a history professor at Texas A&M University who has written extensively about technology and pornography.

Universities “that have good public reputations are concerned about having their name appear pristine,” he added. “You’d be a foolish university president if you didn’t ask, ‘What’s our exposure here?’ “

The problem isn’t limited to universities. Prominent public figures, including some presidential candidates, are also guarding against the use of their names on .xxx sites. Many variations have been bought or blocked, but some, such as JonHuntsman.xxx, remain available.

Beyond the concern about their reputations, Mr. Coopersmith fears that universities and others could be falling prey to a “protection racket,” since they’re paying hundreds of dollars not for a tangible product, but instead for the assurance that porn companies won’t use their names.

Florida-based ICM Registry LLC is in charge of all .xxx registrations worldwide, and the firm makes a profit with each purchase, even if the site never goes live.

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