The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The case for Web sites ending in ‘.sucks’

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
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Should people be banned from registering domain names that end in ".sucks"?

It's easy to see how this could get out of hand. A politician might take out his opponent's name and put .sucks at the end. Cyberbullies might use the suffix to torment teens and young children. In the wrong hands, a .sucks domain could do real damage. But maybe clamping down isn't the best move.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) is the latest to claim that .sucks, well, sucks. In a letter Wednesday to ICANN, the agency that approves generic top-level domains (gTLDs), Rockefeller said allowing the domain to be created would force countless people to buy up useless URLs just so that other people couldn't use the domains against them.

"A gTLD like 'sucks' has little or no socially redeeming value," wrote Rockefeller, "and it reinforces many people's fears that the purpose of gTLD expansion is to enrich the domain name industry rather than benefit the broader community of Internet users."

The .sucks domain isn't available yet; ICANN still needs to decide whether to approve the pending application. But that hasn't stopped three companies from asking for permission to sell the rights to .sucks domains. In the case of one registrar, Vox Populi, trademark holders would have to pay as much as $25,000 a year just to hang onto their own domain.

Most reasonable people would probably agree the .sucks domain doesn't "serve the public interest," as Rockefeller put it. Yet at the same time, the case for banning the domain doesn't seem all that strong, either.

For starters, whether an idea pertaining to the Internet has "redeeming value" is hardly an objective test. Consider Internet comments. Some publishers disable them because they create a hostile atmosphere on Web sites; others disagree and leave them up. But we're not about to end Internet commenting altogether because somebody decided Internet comments inherently lack redeeming value.

It's far from clear that banning .sucks domains would do much to limit Internet vitriol, anyway. Got an axe to grind right this minute?  Go buy [theirname] Or [theirname] Or .org. Or .biz. Or if they're all taken, try "stinks." You get the idea. There are already an endless number of hurtful combinations available to the truly determined.

The $25,000 price tag for trademark owners might be seen as extortionate — the online equivalent of paying protection money to the mob. But it also imposes a steep barrier against harassers. If .sucks becomes a thing, you won't merely have to hate The Switch to buy You'll have to hate The Switch and have two-dozen grand lying around (that is, if you don't get in early; the registrar Vox Populi is temporarily offering prices of $2,500, but even that is a substantial investment for most people). Domain-based defamation wars will therefore almost exclusively be waged among the wealthy. If you really want to get upset about something, rage against that. Equal-opportunity trolling for all!

There's no compelling reason to single out .sucks for special sanctions when people are perfectly capable of sliming each other as it is. Perhaps the better move would be to allow .sucks to exist, but then make domain registrars liable for damages in the defamation suits that will inevitably follow. Or tax .sucks at obscene rates and see how the registrars like it then. Or maybe we should all flood the Web with lists of things that actually suck — like Internet trolls. Or Nickelback. Or mildew. Or the domain registrars who came up with this silly idea in the first place.