The controversy concerns the company's policy of not registering domains that contain obscenities. Prior to installing an automatic screening system in 1996, NSI granted the domain "shit.com" to iName's Mail.com (formerly known as GlobeComm). Last year, NSI put the domain name on hold. Mail.com had been using it to point to its BestDomains domain name sales site.
But in the last few weeks, NSI took the domain off hold, allowing a third party, Virgin Islands-based Web development and investment firm Real Assets, to scoop up the domain.
"It's a great name, a very valuable name," said Jodi Fontana, domains manager for Mail.com. "We used to own it, but Internic put it on hold, maybe a year ago. I don't know how it escaped."
Fontana said her company had initiated a dispute with NSI. Parties usually bring disputes before NSI over trademark infringements.
According to Fontana, NSI explained that it took the word out of its automatic screening system in order to accommodate a growing number of requests for Japanese words that contain the string s-h-i-t. One such domain, "shitakemushrooms.com," ran into trouble with NSI's screening system last year.
But NSI denied to CNET News.com that this was the case. A spokesperson said that while NSI was looking into ways to accommodate Japanese-language domains containing the string, the ban on it was still in effect.
NSI could not explain how Real Assets had acquired its domain.
That company is currently using the domain to point to a pornographic site located at the "teensteam.com" domain, registered by RJB Telcom in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Real Assets said RJB Telcom is paying it to direct traffic to "teensteam.com" with the "shit.com" domain, among others.
"At this point we're just checking what kind of traffic we're getting from this domain," said Real Assets president David Weissenberg. Weissenberg declined to say how much traffic the domain was generating, but he did say that from the first day he successfully registered it over the weekend he has received offers to redirect traffic.
So far the sole distributor of top-level Internet domain names, NSI has long been the arbiter of what can and cannot be a domain name. In addition to screening out the so-called Network Seven, or seven words that are not permitted on the major network television channels, NSI has barred racial and religious epithets in the past. Last year it granted six of those domains to civil rights groups.
NSI has encountered criticism for selectively censoring some offensive words and not others.
The company is on the verge of facing competition in the allocation of top-level domains.