when it’s okay to lie

I just lied to someone, I stand to benefit if they believe me, and I am not sorry.

One company I know has a web address that is a .org. The .com would of course be better- I still accidentally type in .com half the time.

The .com site is owned by someone else and is just a placeholder, making money (don’t know how much) through ads.

The aboveboard way to go about this would be to have me in my official capacity or the firm that wants the domain to contact whoever currently owns the name, and ask the price. The results would be in the many thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars, because the seller would be able to determine (correctly) that we could afford that kind of price if we wanted to.

Instead, I pretended to still be in college and working on a class project. To hopefully get a price that is less than $1k.

There is no question that, applied to daily business, this is totally unethical. Lying to get a good deal is wrong, wrong, wrong.

So why do I feel so differently about this that I am posting it, opening myself up for criticism?

In short, I believe there is some kind of property right in domain names. The courts agree- we could force the current owner to give up the domain to us, unless it happened to be their name or their business name, both very unlikely. So instead of the direct, confrontational approach, I opt for the quick and dirty approach, that gets us what we want, which we would have gotten through a legal challenge anyways, but still gives the current owner something.

Note that they would not get anything if we were able to get it through a legal challenge.

So, I am basically trading a lot of time and psychic energy, and my ability to say that I never lie in business, in order to get the domain to the people who have a right to it, while rewarding those who were smart enough to claim it in the first place.


Also, what if it was your domain, you could make a legal challenge for $3k and get it because it is your name, but you can misrepresent yourself (lie) and get it for $500 and far less time. Or you could buy it outright for $10k (this is not a made up number- if the seller knows who you are, and you have cash, this could be a reasonable price). What would you do?

4 Responses to “when it’s okay to lie”

  1. 1 Jon November 1, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Lying to get a better price seems unethical, but the utilitarian argument (if you’ve really got a right to the name) is pretty compelling. Here’s a question: If you called the guy and said: “We’ve got a right to the name, and we’re going to take it from you through litigation unless you give it up for $500” would he give it to you? If not, you might be doing something unethical and justifying it because the other guy is worse (hoarding something that isn’t his to hoard). That can be shaky ground.

  2. 2 brianatportent November 1, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    Additonal data point- I do not know where in the world this firm is located. My impression is that ICANN will give it to us anyways, no matter where the firm is, but there could be substantial transaction costs.

    Thanks Jon for your views.

  3. 3 brianatportent November 1, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    Jon, I didn’t answer your question. If we said ‘give it to us for $500 or we will take it,’ and he did not give it up, then i would assume that he was being a jerk. Because he knows (if he is net savvy at all) that we can take it, but $500 is a small price to pay to make us do more work to take it from him by force. Cheap entertainment.

    It is also a factor depending on who owns it. If it is some person who happens to own a few, that is one thing, if it is a large company that domain-squats for a living, then it is another.

  4. 4 Linda November 2, 2006 at 3:08 am

    My momma always said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    Funny, though. I find myself feeling differntly if it was you, personally doing it (or me) from if you are doing it representing your company.

    That sounds like situational ethics which is usually not a good thing. I’ll be interested in seeing what others come up with.

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I'm now blogging about internet marketing at RedBeardConsulting.com.

Red Beard Consulting

At Red Beard Consulting I work on internet marketing primarily for speakers. I also work with Infusionsoft.

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