NASA And FTC Protest Look-Alike Domain Name

Rohit Khare (
Tue, 15 Jul 1997 15:25:43 -0400 (EDT)

TOKYO, JAPAN, 1997 JUL 14 (NB) -- By Martyn Williams. The National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) have complained to Network Solutions, Inc., the
company that issues domain names under the ".com" domain, about the
allocation of "" The complaint came just days after the site,
not affiliated with NASA, received press coverage.

While the experienced Internet user in search of Mars Pathfinder
information was going to the Web site, in the
governmental ".gov" domain, many inexperienced users were simply
trying "" and being taken to latter's Web site. The problem
came with the widespread use of commercial domain names in the media
today. "It shows the power of .com, how it has become part of our
vernacular. Even people who don't know much about the internet know
what .com means," Pinkard Brand, president of and a
specialist in domain names told Newsbytes last week.

The site contains nothing more than a link to the domain name owners,
New York based Epicenter Network, a picture of Mike Tyson biting
Evander Holyfield's ear and a graphical banner ad to a commercial
adult site, and the latter is what caused headlines. "Mars web surfers
land on porn site" said United Press International while Newsbytes'
coverage was headlined, "Exploring For Mars Might Lead To Porn Site."

The coverage alerted NASA to the domain name, which was registered
over two years ago, in June 1995. According to a letter from Network
Solutions to the domain name owners, forwarded to Newsbytes, NASA is
protesting the use of the name through the National Aeronautics and
Space Act of 1958. "NASA has alleged that Network Solutions is 'aiding
and abetting this registrant to maintain [your] domain name
registration', and has demanded that Network Solutions 'cease and
desist allowing the registration of the Internet domain name
NASA.COM,'" says the letter.

It continues, "Network Solutions has no comment upon, nor does it
consider relevant, NASA's demand as it pertains to the content of your
web site." And adds, "Network Solutions is seriously concerned,
however, that The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as
amended, clearly prohibits the knowing use of the letters 'NASA' in
connection with a product or service 'in a manner reasonably
calculated to convey the impression that such product or service has
the authorization, support, sponsorship, or endorsement of [NASA]
which does not in fact exist.'"

The letter also reveals that Network Solutions was contacted on July
11 by the Federal Trade Commission, which also outlined its concerns,
"The FTC holds the opinion that the 'continued registration and use of
NASA.COM . . . in [its] current format is likely to mislead consumers
in violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act.' It is also the
FTC's opinion that 'it is inappropriate and perhaps unlawful for
[Network] Solutions to continue to provide domain-name assistance to
[the registrant], knowing that current use of [this name] likely
violates federal law.'"

The letter closes with, "Network Solutions neither violates federal
statues, nor acts in any manner which does, or creates the appearance
that Network Solutions aids and abets such violations. Accordingly, in
response to the notice provided in the enclosed letters and upon
advice of counsel, Network Solutions is immediately deactivating the
domain name NASA.COM"

What's causing controversy though, is not the removal of the
look-alike name, but that Network Solutions did it without giving the
owner the normal 30-day period to respond to the challenge to the
name, outlined in its own policies, "Registrant agrees that Network
Solutions shall have the right in its sole discretion to revoke a
Domain Name from registration upon thirty days prior written notice."
Network Solutions policies are outlined in the document at, .

It's also questionable whether the Space Act does apply. The site that
many users landed on could hardly give the impression that it was
associated with NASA. The only such impression could be from the
domain name so, should legal action follow, it could also present an
important precedent, that a domain name alone, and not content, can
convey association with another organization.

At present, the Web site contains a notice warning that many users
will loose access on July 11, when the domain name databases are
updated. Any user wanting to connect with the site can still do so by
connecting to it via its IP address, .