"I really thought that especially if Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen, that he'd be very likely to go back to the papal playbook and choose one of these traditional names," Cadenhead said.
A 1999 U.S. law made it illegal to register an Internet domain name with the intention of extorting money out of a trademark owner. The Internet addressing system's main oversight body also disapproves of the practice and offers a dispute-resolution process for people who feel their names or trademarks have been improperly registered as Internet addresses in a bid to extort money out of them.
But that doesn't prevent someone like Cadenhead from owning an Internet address associated with a famous person's name, said Wendy Seltzer, an attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. "You're perfectly entitled to own the name of even a celebrity ... if you share that name ... if you're creating a noncommercial message or fan site around that name or ... if you're using it for an unrelated purpose [where] the name also makes sense, but not to gouge money out of the celebrity," she said.
The Vatican may see no need to contact Cadenhead about the Web address. The newly anointed Benedict XVI will inherit a large and robust Internet presence. The Vatican's official Web site -- Vatican.va -- contains detailed information about the church, the pope and the Holy See in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. And since the Vatican is a sovereign nation, church leaders can use its .va Internet domain however they see fit.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Bishops declined to speculate on whether the Vatican would ask Cadenhead to transfer ownership of BenedictXVI.com and the other potential papal name addresses he controls. Messages left with the Vatican's embassy in Washington were not returned.
BenedictXVI.com is not Cadenhead's first controversial domain purchase. In 1998, he bought Drudge.com in response to the rising popularity of the Drudge Report (www.drudgereport.com), an Internet gossip and news site. He still runs the "Drudge Retort" site as a "liberal response" to its enormously popular namesake.
Cadenhead said he doesn't necessarily have a similar plan in mind for Benedict XVI.com. "I've had some strangers contact me via e-mail with concern for my immortal soul," Cadenhead said. He added that if the Vatican called and asked for the name it would be "hard to say 'No.'"
"I guess I should call my grandmother," he said.