Maintaining an online Catholic directory can be challenging.
Sites move. Dead links have to be removed. Newly submitted links need to be reviewed before being added to the database.
Given all the maintenance and attention it takes to keep the monksofadoration.org directory upto-date, I wasn't surprised when somebody e-mailed me to say I had a “bad link” under my Hunger category. It seemed something was wrong with the Aid to the Church in Need site. Normally, I interpret “bad” to mean “dead” when it's used in reference to an Internet link. So I filed the e-mail in my non-urgent to-do folder.
A couple of weeks later, the same person e-mailed to ask if I had removed that “bad link.” I explained that I hadn't yet found the time; nor had I forgotten about it. He responded by conveying, with great urgency, that the link was “really bad.” It became clear that he wasn't referring to a technical aspect of the link or the site — he was referring to its content.
Now I know that Aid to the Church in Need is a very good Catholic organization. It was started by Norbertine Father Werenfried van Straaten in the 1940s, and is recognized by the Church as a Universal Public Association of the Faithful. The organization's goal is to try to help Catholics in need wherever they are repressed or persecuted, and therefore prevented from living according to their faith. The group offers financial support to more than 8,000 projects worldwide. In the past its people did much to help the Church behind the former Iron Curtain. I couldn't see what my e-mail correspondent could possibly be so concerned about.
Off I went to the site to find out. I entered the Web address I had listed for the organization — an obvious, intuitive address based on the name of the organization — and a plain purple page downloaded with a hyperlinked “Enter” button. I clicked on it … and was taken to a site dedicated to pornography. I exited posthaste, went to a search engine and keyed in “Aid to the Church in Need.” This gave me their new location, www.kirche-innot.org. Needless to say, I immediately updated my directory.
That problem solved, I could now rest easy. Or so I thought. Within a week, a priest alerted me to the link I had for Schoenstatt, a solid, international Marian movement with diverse branches for both laity and priests. Again, the address was intuitive and obvious, and based on the name of the movement. And, again, it led to pornography. I found their correct location, www. execpc.com/schoenstatteditionsusa, and updated my directory.
After getting a heads-up on a third incident of this kind, this one on the former site of the Oklahoma Catholic, I figured out what was going on. A number of good Catholic organizations had let the rights to their original domain names expire — and pornographic-site operators had snatched up the domain names. Unfortunately, this is perfectly legal if they haven't acquired a trademark or service mark for their organization. There was little the Catholic groups could do once the new owners had sneakily taken over their domains on the Internet.
Why were the pornographers targeting specifically Catholic domain names for takeovers? After all, the names of these sites were not suggestive or even remotely related to pornography. It could only be a campaign of mischievous cyber-vandalism against the Church.
Another derivation on this domain-name game was brought to my attention recently. A Catholic woman informed me that someone had bought up all the domain names similar to her Web-page address (or URL, for Uniform Resource Locator), including different name endings such as .com, .net and .org. Then they redirected these URLs not to pornographic sites, but to sites that spoke against this woman's Web site.
What's a Catholic Web master to do? First, don't let your domain name expire. When you set up your site, pick a domain name that you will keep.
If it's too late, and you've already been victimized, it is possible to track down the people who have abused your former domain name and ask them to stop. Quite a few cyber pranksters back down as soon as they are confronted. One way to trace the individuals behind the mischief is to go to www.inter-nic.com and select the Registry WHOIS link. Type in the domain name you had before and follow the instructions.
You can also try the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) at www.icann.org and click on the Domain-Name Dispute Resolution link.
Here you will find a wealth of information on the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, which was adopted October 24, 1999, by ICANN. Most domain-name registrants are subject to this policy because it is incorporated into their registration agreements.
Plus you can learn about the federal Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which was enacted Nov. 29, 1999. Cybersquatting and Cyberpiracy laws apply to anyone who profits from, or does harm to, a trademark or service mark of another by registration, trafficking in, or use of a domain name identical or confusingly similar to the trademark.
For further discussion of both these policies see Hunter Tonry's article at www.estoel.com/ resources/ebiz_0014.shtm.
Brother John Raymond is the author of Catholics on the Internet and Web master of www.monksofadoration.org.