Wellington City Council website

On Friday the Dominion Post had an article on how a website which uses Wellington City Council’s name has been “taken over by a hard-core porn website”.

I was interviewed about this by Radio NZ and several people said they heard me on the news bulletins as well as being on Checkpoint (note the item is almost 30 minutes into the audio).

I figured I’ll explain what happened here in more detail.

Firstly no website or domain name has been hijacked. Both the Dom Post and Radio NZ got this slightly wrong. What has happened is someone who did not like WCC registered a domain name which some people might guess is one the WCC would use.

They used to have some material up attacking the Council and now they have set it up to redirect to a webpage which displays an explicit image. I’m not going to list the domain name used as the image it redirects to is about as work unsafe as one can get, and it made even me blanch. The fact that a half second before it redirected one sees it saying “redirecting to extreme-bizarre-penetrations dot com” gives you an idea of why you don’t want to view it. Just trust me on this one!

Anyway the issues I talked about with Radio NZ were how common is this, how can you prevent it, and what can you do if this happens to you.

Firstly it is quite common, but not normally for reasons of dislike but financial gain. Many speculators buy up as many famous names as possible with the most well known being a porn site which is at the .com version of the official www.whitehouse.gov website, and hence gets a mot of traffic by mistake.

Domain names are generally on a first in first served basis, so the best protection is to register the most logical and likely variations on your official domain name. However one should be aware you can never ever cover every variation, so it may be worth-while for many. In the WCC case the domain name registered is not one that many people at all would ever just type in as a guess, and in fact probably had almost no traffic before recent publicity.

If someone does register a name, as in this case, the courses of action are generally three-fold:

1) Sue the registrant if they are passing off as you, or are infringing your intellectual property rights. Bear in mind criticism and parody are allowed and protected in most countries. I am not sure that WCC actually could take legal action for this case.

2) In many cases, one can access a dispute resolution process if you believe your intellectual property rights have been infringed, and the person who has the name is using it in bad faith. This is open to .com registrations but at this stage not open to .nz names. In fact there is a consultation happening on this issue at present.

3) There is a near universal requirement for registration details to be complete and accurate. In this case the details are obviously fake. Hence the WCC can complain to the Registrar (Enom, a US based company) and they are in theory obliged to try and contact the Registrant and get him or her to provide correct details, with an ultimate sanction of cancellation if they do not.

Was fun doing the interview with Radio NZ, and trying not to mention any of the offensive sites on radio, especially the one it redirects to – that would have been a first for Radio NZ viewers 🙂

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