Web scheme links festival to porn

A little-known Internet profit-making scheme had the promoter of a South Whidbey music festival apolgizing this week for the event's unplanned association with a pornographic Web site.

According to Jay Nehf, the promoter of the Geoduck Music Festival, an expired Web site he used to promote his event last year is essentially being held ransom by an Internet company that purchased it and linked it with its sexually explicit Web page.

Last year, Nehf organized an event he called the Deception Pass Music Festival, a bluegrass music concert planned to take place in Deception Pass State Park.

Late in the planning phase of the event, park officials denied Nehf a permit, forcing him to have the festival at South Whidbey Community Park.

Promoted online at www., the festival retained its original name that year in spite of the venue change.

Set for the South Whidbey site again this year, the festival is now being promoted under the Geoduck name. But in abandonning the festival's former Web page and address, Nehf left himself open to a new type of online business in which companies purchase expired Web addresses, link them to sites of their choosing and put those addresses up for resale.

As it happens, Nehf's former address went to an online porn company. Though he is using a new Web site -- www. -- for promotion this year, some of those at last year's event are still going to the old site and getting a shock.

"I started getting calls and e-mails from people saying, 'What's going on with your Web site?' " Nehf said.

Looking at the old address himself, he found that it was for sale. After some research, he called the Ontario, Canada company controlling the sale -- Marketing Extentions Inc. The company offered to sell the address back to hime for $500. Nehf, whose music festival benefits people with cerebral paulsy, had a better idea.

"I told the guy on the phone that they could give me the name back and send me a donation for $1,000," he said. "Then he says 'Hey, that's backwards.'"

The company refused to meet Nehf's request. Company officials also refused to comment about their business this week, going so far as to threaten a lawsuit if any information about the company was published.

Though legal, the market for expired Web addresses is new and a bit surprising to even those in the Internet industry. George Henny, president of WhidbeyNet, said the practice was something he was unaware of until this week. He it is impossible for anyone make an expired Web address off limits for resale, unless that address is maintained -- via a monthly or annual fee -- through a Web site hosting company.

"Customers should certainly be mindful," he said.

There are low-cost ways to keep old Web addresses out of the wrong hands, Henny said. WhidbeyNet offers a reservation service that will maintain a Web address for $8.95 a year. It's a small price to pay, he said, considering how an old address can be used.

Many other Internet companies charge much higher fees than WhidbeyNet for maintaining old Web addresses, he said.

Unfortunately for Nehf, it is too late to take Henny's advice. He said he has no plans to purchase the Web address back prior his Aug. 10 and 11 festival.

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