Squatter in Mesa State’s new Internet domain?
Mesa State College student Justin Kolenc saw a business opportunity when the Mesa State College Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the institution.
On the day the trustees voted for the new name, Kolenc bought the domain names coloradomesauniversity.net, coloradomesauniversity.org and coloradomesauniversity.info.
Kolenc’s entrepreneurial zeal, however, might have run afoul of federal law and could threaten the school’s ability to rebrand itself, Mesa officials said.
Kolenc said by email he has nothing but business on his mind.
If Mesa won’t buy his domains, “I’d rather set up a legitimate website, maybe a social-networking site celebrating the new university,” he wrote. “I’m not really sure exactly what form it would take, but my point is that I’m not acting with bad intent here. I’m only trying to pursue a business opportunity.”
Rick Taggart, Mesa State’s executive director of marketing and recruitment, said there is more to it than that.
“While Mesa appreciates such entrepreneurial initiative among its students,” Taggart wrote Kolenc in a May 12 letter, “your unauthorized registration and use of the infringing domains constitutes illegal activity, commonly known as ‘cybersquatting’ in violation of our rights and several federal laws.”
Kolenc’s actions also might violate the Mesa code of conduct, Taggart wrote.
“We are willing to extend to you one opportunity to resolve this matter without further ramifications, provided that you immediately transfer the infringing domains to Mesa,” Taggart wrote.
Kolenc said his review of federal law left him confident he holds a strong hand.
“Based on my initial research, though, I don’t think they have a case,” Kolenc said.
The college is in a better legal position, Taggart said, telling Kolenc in the letter, “Please be assured that we are confident in the remedies available to us if you do not comply immediately and without further negotiation.”
Kolenc said he has a toehold because he can’t find any place in which the college is registered as the trade-name holder of Colorado Mesa University.
The cybersquatting statute appears to protect owners of trade names, but not others, he said.
Though Taggart said Kolenc appears to own the “.com” iteration of domains, Kolenc insisted he does not.
“Somebody else beat me to the punch with respect to the ‘.com,’ though the school seems to think that I own that one as well,” Kolenc said in an email.
The “.com” appellation is of particular importance to the college because it’s the domain the college could use with its bookstore and other commercial enterprises, Taggart said.
From a marketing perspective, it’s important that the college own various domains that relate to it, Taggart said, because it’s important to control the message the college sends out to potential and current students, alumni, faculty and others. It’s also useful to direct people who type in the alternate domains to the school’s website instead of elsewhere, he said.
The obvious choice, coloradomesauniversity.edu, is unavailable to anyone but the institution itself and can’t be purchased on the open market.
Domains in general should be held to the standard applied to .edu domains, with registrants required to prove ownership of the business or institution for which they are seeking to establish a domain, Taggart said.
Kolenc said he felt as though Taggart was condescending in a short talk they had.
“This angered me, and I casually told him that I intended to sell the websites to the school or to the alumni association for $10,000 each,” Kolenc said. “I was not serious, of course, I wanted to get a rise out of him. I’m actually moving forward with plans for the social networking site. This will keep me clear of the laws that they’re citing. Maybe if I build a profitable site somebody else will invest. I don’t know for sure.”