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Code of Ethics Case Studies

Case #12-7: Use of Deceptive Domain Name / URL ("Uniform Resource Locator")

REALTOR® X, a principal broker in the firm XYZ, was technologically savvy and constantly looking for ways to use the Internet to promote his firm and drive additional traffic to his Web site.

Being an early adapter to the Internet, he had registered, but not used, domain names that incorporated or played on the names of many of his competitors and their firms, including ABC, REALTORS®.

REALTOR® X and his information technology staff concluded that one way to drive traffic to the firm's Web site would be to take advantage of the search engines commonly used by potential buyers and sellers. They realized that when potential buyers or sellers searched on key words like "real estate" or "REALTORS®" or on similar words, lists of domain names would appear, and that when consumers searched the Internet for ABC, REALTORS®, one of the domain names that might appear would be REALTOR® X's domain name, abcREALTORS.com.

REALTOR® X decided to take advantage of the domain names that he had previously registered, and pointed several that used, in various ways, the names of his competitors, including "abcREALTORS.com," to his site.

In a matter of days, REALTOR® X learned that he had been charged with a violation of Article 12 of the Code of Ethics by REALTOR® A, the owner of ABC, REALTORS® , alleging that his (REALTOR® X's) use of the domain name "abcREALTORS.com" presented a false picture to potential buyers and sellers and others on the Internet.

At the hearing, REALTOR® X defended himself indicating that, in his opinion, use of a domain name was not advertising or a "representation" to the public but simply a convenient way for Internet users to find relevant Web sites. Moreover, "When web surfers reach my home page, there is no question that it is my site since I clearly show XYZ's name and our status as REALTORS®," he continued. "These complaints are just a lot of sour grapes from dinosaurs who aren't keeping up and who don't realize that on the Internet it's 'every man for himself.'"

What do you think the hearing panel concluded? Show Answer