May 08, 2009

California Community College Threatens Massive Legal Actions Over Private Domains and E-Mail Addresses

Greetings. It's fascinating how when it comes to the Internet, some bureaucrats develop delusions of grandeur.

Officials associated with Santa Rosa Junior College, located a bit to the north of San Francisco, have unleashed a barrage of legal threats against their students and faculty, demanding the relinquishment of all domain names and e-mail addresses containing the school's "SRJC" initials.

This nonsense came to my attention today courtesy of Sean Kirkpatrick, an adjunct faculty member in Computer Studies at SRJC for around 15 years. Early this week, Sean and apparently hundreds of other SRJC "family" members received a threatening e-mail from the Director of Computing Services for the Sonoma County Junior College District, demanding that all references that could be construed as referring to Santa Rosa Junior College in private domain and e-mail addresses immediately cease. In subsequent statements, school officials have even threatened to try order the releasing of identity information from e-mail service providers such as Google and Yahoo, to uncover the users of "offending" addresses.

The justification cited for these demands was California Education Code section 72000(b)(4), regarding use of schools' names or abbreviations of their names.

A couple of problems immediately spring into view. First, it isn't at all clear that this statute supersedes the rights of individuals to create private e-mail addresses and domain names, the latter in particular generally controlled by ICANN rules and regulations.

Even worse, it is not obvious how the statute in question would even apply to individuals in any case, since it appears to be directed mainly at organizations that might act in ways as to confuse themselves with the schools in question.

Sean tells me that he had the domain SRJC.US for around five years, and in a knee-jerk reaction closed it when he received the SRJC threats (he's now reconsidered, and is taking steps to retain the domain). Sean has been using SRJC.US simply as the focal point for teaching his classes -- spending his own money to set this up due to continuing dissatisfaction with the quality of academic support provided by SRJC's own computing services.

While there are no doubt a range of different scenarios relating to various faculty members and students, it appears obvious that SRJC and associated officials are Overreaching with a Capital "O" -- and need to sit quietly, gulp down a few stress pills, and then spend more time thinking about what they legally can actually do, what they should actually be doing, and what it means to be good citizens of the Internet community, rather than boarish bullies.

In the meantime, I invite other members of the educational ecosystems to contact me with any similar stories.

Feel free to write me at my usual address of:

But for info regarding this particular case, you can alternatively use my brand new Special Resources for Journalistic Computing addresses:


Be seeing you!


Posted by Lauren at May 8, 2009 02:53 PM | Permalink
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