Client-chasing dot-orgs

by Walter Olson on March 27, 2008

We’ve previously noted that seemingly public-spirited websites purportedly set up to offer medical information and advice on mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses are usually fronts for law firms. Roger Parloff at Fortune “Legal Pad” takes a look at a couple of such ventures operated by Beasley Allen of Alabama and Early Ludwick of Connecticut. (Mar. 27). NYU’s Stephen Gillers says the “disguised nature of [Beasley Allen's] web site would not allow it to survive challenge under the New York rules” on attorney promotion but doesn’t have reason to think it violates the (presumably less stringent) Alabama rules. Early Ludwick’s “Mesothelioma & Asbestos Awareness Center”

uses a popular symbol of medicine as its emblem – the two serpents wrapped around a winged staff – and its “about us” blurb says: “Our organization is staffed entirely by volunteer writers and other contributors who recognize the importance of building awareness.”

but if you look hard enough you can find a hyperlink leading to an “Attorney Advertising” notice. And what’s with the law firms’ having managed to secure dot-org domains for these ventures, just as if they were nonprofit or something?

P.S. As several readers point out, those who distribute domains make no attempt to police the recommendation (originally requirement) that .org be reserved for non-profits; for one thing, it’s now routine for .com owners to obtain the .org equivalent of their name and arrange for it to redirect to their main site. I should have phrased my point more narrowly: when they select a dot org as the primary address for their site, law firm marketers make it more likely that unwary readers will mistake the site for that of a medical philanthropy.

{ 2 comments }

1 AZFlyer 03.27.08 at 7:13 pm

“And what’s with the law firms’ having managed to secure dot-org domains for these ventures, just as if they were nonprofit or something?”

Pretty much anyone can get a .org domain. It is recommended that .org be used for non-profit organizations, but no one actually enforces it. Replace the .com with .org on most large corporate sites and you’ll get the same company (i.e. http://www.microsoft.org).

2 David Schwartz 03.28.08 at 4:18 am

While .org was once reserved for non-profit organizations, it is not a gTLD (generic top level domain) just like .com and .net. Anyone can get a .org domain for any reason.

Basically, non-profits need to get a .com domain anyway to protect their name and prevent people looking for them from finding other companies. So it didn’t seem fair to prohibit the same protection for for-profit organizations.

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