Protect the Mislead

I stumbled across this interesting piece of American law today:

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Subtitle B—Truth in Domain
Names
SEC. 521. MISLEADING DOMAIN NAMES ON THE INTERNET.
 (a) IN GENERAL.—Chapter 110 of title 18, United
States Code, is amended by inserting after section 2252A
the following:
‘‘§ 2252B. Misleading domain names on the Internet
 ‘‘(a) Whoever knowingly uses a misleading domain
name on the Internet with the intent to deceive a person
into viewing material constituting obscenity shall be fined
under this title or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or
both.
  ‘‘(b) Whoever knowingly uses a misleading domain
name on the Internet with the intent to deceive a minor
into viewing material that is harmful to minors on the
Internet shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not
more than 4 years, or both.
 ‘‘(c) For the purposes of this section, a domain name
that includes a word or words to indicate the sexual con-
tent of the site, such as ‘sex’ or ‘porn’, is not misleading.
 ‘‘(d) For the purposes of this section, the term ‘mate-
rial that is harmful to minors’ means any communication,
consisting of nudity, sex, or excretion, that, taken as a
whole and with reference to its context—

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 ‘‘(1) predominantly appeals to a prurient inter-
est of minors;
 ‘‘(2) is patently offensive to prevailing stand-
ards in the adult community as a whole with respect
to what is suitable material for minors; and
 ‘‘(3) lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or
scientific value for minors.
 ‘‘(e) For the purposes of subsection (d), the term
‘sex’ means acts of masturbation, sexual intercourse, or
physcial contact with a person’s genitals, or the condition
of human male or female genitals when in a state of sexual
stimulation or arousal.’’.
 (b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT.—The table of sections
at the beginning of chapter 110 of title 18, United States
Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to
section 2252A the following new item:

‘‘2252B. Misleading domain names on the Internet.’’.

It’s from the PROTECT act (Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act of 2003). It’s an interesting piece of law which makes it illegal to create a domain name that purposely misleads people, especially children into going to and viewing objectionable websites. First of all, it’s interesting to note how stuffy old congress men and women discuss things like sex and especially how they define it (it’s fascinating that these days it even has to be defined at all, thanks Clinton!) Unfortunately this law did little to change the most famous of misleading sites, WHITEHOUSE.COM. Furthermore, any savvy lawyer could easily circumvent the law and get their defendant off.

Let’s take whitehouse.com for example. It used to be a porn site but is now a “free speech forum” where they criticize the government. The current site does not violate the PROTECT act but the previous porn site did. Clearly that porn site had nothing to do with the American government and many a school-child had gone there to do some research for their civics class only to be exposed to hard-core pornography (not even the kind where the private parts were covered up by little stars, bars, or text). If it had gone to court however, a half-decent lawyer could easily have gotten them acquitted by arguing that whitehouse.com was not misleading since they do their shooting in an actual white house. Even better, they could have changed their logo to a little white house to strengthen their case.

Now let’s try an even stronger example. Ostensibly a domain like arnoldschwarzenegger.com would have to be about one thing and one thing only: Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man, the actor, the governor, the TERMINATOR! Any other site would be misleading. Yet, a guy could easily go and legally change his name to Arnold Schwarzenegger (names are not copyrightable), then open a porn site with that domain. He would not be prosecutable under the PROTECT act because he is not misleading since that’s his name. It’s “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Porn Site”.

With a little bit of thought, even an eighth-decent lawyer could easily get around this law.

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