Defining Domain: Higher Education's Battles for Cyberspace
86 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2014 Last revised: 27 May 2015
Date Written: December 23, 2014
Internet domain names in the .EDU extension are special because not just anyone can own one. Given higher education’s unique purpose and historical detachment from the market, early architects of the Internet deemed it important for colleges and universities to have their own online space, reflected in a domain-name extension that could at once convey authenticity and legitimacy. That space was the .EDU.
Over the years, the closed .EDU extension has served as a source of status and pride for many in higher education, signifying involvement in or connection to an industry society often treats referentially. However, higher education as a whole certainly has not limited its online identity or presence to domain names in the .EDU extension, with institutions often choosing to register domain names ending in .COM, .NET, and .ORG, to meet the marketing and organizational needs of various groups and activities related to the institution. But as colleges and universities increasingly become similar to commercial actors, particularly with respect to their intellectual property acquisition and enforcement strategies, a critical empirical question has emerged: how do colleges and universities define their space online?
This Article examines the legal battles institutions of higher education have waged to wrangle control of already-registered domain names from their original owners. Through mining records of disputes brought under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy and the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act — the primary legal vehicles used for adjudicating disputes over the ownership and use of domain names — this Article provides empirical data that advance understanding of the expanding metes and bounds of higher education’s cyber identity and the struggles institutions face to protect their intellectual property.
The Article’s data provide footing for normative suggestions that universities wishing to manage their intellectual property in the public interest should consider. The data also offer a timely window into the evolving thinking of higher education institutions over complex questions of intellectual property decision-making, brand protection and expansion, free speech and institutional reputation, and commercial involvement.
Keywords: higher education, domain names, UDRP, anticybersquatting consumer protection act, trademarks, academic capitalism
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