Opening Statements

Master of Their Domain: Ariz. For-Profits May Now Use '.org'

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Arizona law firms may now use “.org” suffixes on their websites, even if they operate as for-profit businesses, according to a recent state bar ethics opinion.

Before, only public interest firms were allowed to utilize the .org designation, based on a presumed possibility of confusion.

“Arizona is the only state that specifically addressed that issue,” notes Will Hornsby, staff counsel with the ABA Division for Legal Services. “But I think you have to peel the onion because if you look at nothing but the use of .org, it may or may not be misleading.”

That’s the same conclusion an Arizona ethics panel reached in reconsidering a decade-old decision, which was based on state laws prohibiting lawyers from making false statements about their services. The original opinion determined that “by identifying a private law firm with the .org suffix, the communication creates a false impression that the firm either is a nonprofit or is in some way specially affiliated with a nonprofit.”

But the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers doesn’t require businesses that use .org to be nonprofit, and local firms argued that the use of the suffix has become widespread to the point of dilution. In its latest opinion, the State Bar of Arizona agreed that consumers were smart enough to know the difference. “The possibility that the public will be misled by a for-profit law firm’s use of .org in its website address is remote,” the ethics panel concluded.

Hornsby says the ruling will make it easier for businesses to protect their intellectual property and stay competitive: “If you were a law firm trying to brand your name and drive business to you, you wouldn’t just have .com, you would also have .net and .org, so you could redirect those to your site.”

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