I want to flesh out some thoughts about ethical domain name acquisitions after an article I wrote generated some comments and a couple of emails asking about it. In the article I wrote last week, I wrote the following about ethics:
“I would never intentionally buy or register a brand name with the idea of selling the domain name to a specific company. That is legally and possibly ethically wrong, and it is also financially risky.”
When I buy domain names, I never want to be embarrassed about owning them when someone inquires to buy. I try to buy domain names with large appeal rather than specific domain names only one company or one person would ever want to buy. I feel like it is likely unethical to buy a domain name that only one other person or business would ever want to own (with that being the sole reason for buying it). This might change if I was going to use a particular domain name for a website – like a gripe site I suppose, but I don’t see that happening.
I will share some examples to make what I am saying a bit more clear.
I would love to own descriptive domain names like Dentist.com or Dental.com. Those domain names have mass appeal to a wide variety of prospective buyers throughout the world. Even second tier domain names like DentalCenter.com or BostonDentist.com have generic value and could be desired by many parties.
I would not, however, want to buy or own a specific domain name like TheodoreSchwartzenwalderDMD.com because I saw a local dentist named Theodore Schwartzenwalder (made up name) had not bought his domain name and I wanted to register it to sell to him. I think this is unethical. Likewise, buying a generic but very specific domain name is a grey area. Let’s say there is one dentist in a very small town. I wouldn’t want to own RandomTinyTownDentist.com knowing that there is only one dentist who might want this domain name. This is a grey area (ethically) to me.
In both of the cases I mentioned, I would be uncomfortable trying to sell the domain names, although I am sure others might argue that the second example is generic. It might be generic enough legally, but I wouldn’t be comfortable owning it and trying to sell it.
People need to keep in mind that ethics tends to be a personal set of principles. While many people may share the same feeling about things that are ethical or unethical, people from different backgrounds may have a different opinion. Additionally, there are some things that would be both unethical and illegal, and the later aspect could cause problems that are more costly than the first part.