Duke has joined other universities nationwide in purchasing domain names in the Web’s new X-rated, red light district.

The University recently purchased a handful of .xxx URLs in an effort to protect the University’s brand from use by potential pornography sites. The .xxx URLs are part of a new effort by the adult entertainment industry to differentiate porn websites from other websites on the Internet.

“With the .xxx domain, we wanted to make sure we secured some of the major identifiers such as duke.xxx and dukeuniversity.xxx, to keep them, in a sense, off the market,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public affairs and government relations.

Schoenfeld said he was not sure if Duke was only registering .xxx names related to existing trademarks of the University. He added that a number of people are involved in deciding which domain names to preventively register through the Office of Information Technology.

“We have reserved a number of Duke-related names, things that involve Duke, things that involve Blue Devils,” Schoenfeld said. “I don’t know precisely how many we settled on, but we’re looking at the most common and most intuitive uses of Duke.”

Other local universities have taken steps to secure their trademarks in the new .xxx top-level domain space.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has pre-emptively purchased the domains unc.xxx, universityofnorthcarolina.xxx and tarheels.xxx, Karen Moon, a spokeswoman for UNC-Chapel Hill, wrote in an email Monday.

Mick Kulokowski, assistant director of North Carolina State University news services, said N.C. State has registered four .xxx domains: northcarolinastate.xxx, ncstate.xxx, ncsu.xxx and wolfpack.xxx.

“In .xxx, we’re registering anything related to our trademark,” Kulokowski said. “I’m guessing everybody’s doing it.”

ICM Registry, the company overseeing .xxx domain name registration, allowed trademark owners to secure .xxx domains for $200 before sales opened to the adult entertainment community. Sales open to the general public Dec. 6.

A search at buy.xxx shows that coachk.xxx and bluedevils.xxx are already claimed, though dukeuniversitybluedevils.xxx and cameroncrazies.xxx are still available.

“I find it interesting that it’s on someone’s radar—that they need to go and pre-emptively domain squat, that somebody has said, ‘Hey, we should buy these while we still can,’” said Owen Astrachan, director of undergraduate studies for the computer science department and professor of the practice.

The University continually purchases URLs for new and current programs and sometimes purchases Duke-related domain names to avoid possible confusion, Schoenfeld noted. Besides the University, other commercial and nonprofit entities use Duke in their names, so it would not be feasible for the University to pre-emptively purchase all Duke-related domains.

“Securing domain names and securing URLs is a dynamic process,” Schoenfeld said. “It would be impossible for anyone to think of all the possible combinations, and it would not be a particularly wise investment. But if somebody were to use some Duke-related URL or brand in the .xxx domain, we would pursue that pretty aggressively, as we do with every trademark violation.”

The .com Internet suffixes allowed anyone to register a domain name on any topic, Astrachan noted.

Astrachan said he owns the domain names dukevote.com and dukehookup.com, adding that he purchased the websites to use as a learning tool in the classes Computer Science 82 and Computer Science 182. If the University requested that he take down the sites, he said he would comply.

Companies commonly register domains that could be associated with their brand, Astrachan added.

“If it’s only $200 a pop, it seems like an easy call to make,” he said. “That makes complete sense, especially given how prevalent the Web is in people’s lives. You might as well do that so that there’s no confusion.”

Curious students who type in duke.xxx wondering what creative plans the University may have in mind for its new website will be disappointed, Schoenfeld said.

“We’re going to keep the sites dark,” he said.

Head of Information Security Richard Biever directed questions to Schoenfeld. Chief Information Officer Tracy Futhey and Director of Trademark Licensing Jim Wilkerson could not be reached for comment.