Looking to Profit From a Tragedy

Before the world even knew Seung-Hui Cho's name Monday, someone had already registered the Web site domain name vtechkilling.com.

It's impossible to get inside Cho's mind, but it's also hard to figure out the genetic wiring that motivates entrepreneurs who hear about the worst school shooting in history to run to their computers and register domain names to sell them.

This morning eBay listed no fewer than seven domains related to the tragedy up for auction, including themassacreatvt.com, the vtshooter.com and thechoseungshootings.com.

It never fails. No matter how horrific the tragedy, within seconds there always seems to be merchants selling you the tragedy-themed wares.

Looking for a Hurricane Katrina Storm Chaser Team T-shirt and mug? Or what about a commemorative Katrina sandbag souvenir? You can find them all online.

At the site of the former World Trade Center this week vendors were selling Sept. 11 themed souvenirs.

But the domain names are the newest development in this age-old, vulturelike business impulse.

"We're hopeful that those domains will be used for bringing attention to the story and shedding light on helping people to heal, or actually maybe some good can come out of it," said Christine Jones, general counsel for the Web site GoDaddy.com, where domain names are registered. "But we're not naive. We also understand the people do not do nice things with domain names, and so, you know, as those come to our attention and those crop up, we will deal with those on a case-by-case basis."

In fact, there are already examples of what could be more telling than the dot-com profiteering that anticipates a different kind -- a whole new level -- of tragedy profiteering:

Already snapped up on GoDaddy: Web addresses including virginiatechlawsuits.com and vatechlawsuits.com -- a gift for an ambitious young trial lawyer out there -- both offered earlier this week on eBay for the low-low, buy-it-now price of half a million dollars.