June 9, 2010— -- Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket.
But when Brian McCrary, 33, received a speeding ticket in Bluff City, Tennessee, he didn't just complain, he bought the local police department's website and used it to complain.
After receiving a $90 speeding ticket earlier this year for cruising through what he called a speed trap, McCrary went to the Bluff City Police Department's website to reschedule his hearing.
When he saw that the site's content had been replaced with a notice saying that the domain name was on the verge of expiring, he saw an opportunity. He waited a few weeks until the name had officially lapsed, and then he pounced.
"I really thought for sure that the city would renew it," said McCrary, who lives in Gray, Tennessee. "I was surprised to find that it was still out there."
Since May 22, he said he's used the site to post stories about speed cameras in an effort to get them taken down. He also features comments from other camera critics supportive of his new cause.
"I wanted to get information out about the speed traps and what it's doing to the economy around here. ... I thought this would be a good way to get some exposure," he said, adding that a state representative for the district said the camera was pulling in more than a quarter of a million dollars a month from the small community of about 1,500 people.
Until Monday, McCrary said he'd received about 1,000 unique visitors. Since the Bristol Herald Courier wrote a story about him, he said traffic has jumped to 90,000 unique visitors.
"It's phenomenal," he said. "I hope this will [attract] the attention of the local representatives to get the cameras removed."
Bluff City Police Chief David Nelson said he didn't even know they'd lost their domain name until reporters started asking questions.
"I feel like he's doing it out of revenge because he got a ticket," he said.
GoDaddy: Once a Domain Name Expires, It's Fair Game for Anyone
Nelson said he now knows that GoDaddy tried to inform the police department that the domain name was about to expire via e-mail. But the e-mails never made it through because the department switched e-mail addresses after someone hacked into their old account.
"It's just something you don't think of every day," he said. "He bought it after it had run out for us. I had no idea it had run out."
Though Nelson said he might reach out to McCrary to see if there's a way to buy back the old domain name, he said, "I'm not so sure we'll probably be able to get it back."
GoDaddy, which manages about 40 million of the 200 million registered Internet domain names, said people can register a name for one year to 10 years but, once it expires, it's fair game for anyone who wants to snap it up.
"The police chief didn't understand how the domain name worked and his tech guy was out sick and the domain name lapsed and someone else got it," said Christine Jones, general counsel for GoDaddy.
She said the company sends out periodic notices just before and after a domain name expires. When those messages fail to attract the owner's attention, Jones said GoDaddy replaces the content with an expiration warning.
"[We do it] to get your attention because we know that domain names are important. In fact, they're so important that people refer to them as 21st century real estate," she said. "We want to make sure we get your attention before you lose [your domain name]."
Some domain names, including generic words such as toys and sex, are so valuable people are willing to pay millions of dollars for them when they're available. But even owners of smaller websites should pay attention to the expiration dates of their domain names, Jones said.
"You should still take your domain name seriously," Jones said. "If you're using it, you're directing traffic to it. ... If you lose it, getting it back can be difficult."
But regardless of whether the police department gets its domain name back, Nelson said he takes issue with the content that's taken its place.
Police Chief: Video Camera Intended to Decrease Accidents
The stretch of Highway 11 in Bluff City where McCrary was caught speeding is especially highly trafficked with heavy-footed drivers, he said.
What McCrary and others call a speed trap, Nelson said, is a public safety necessity.
Before the camera was installed in December 2009, he said there were nine to 13 accidents in the area each month. Since January, when the department started issuing citations for violations captured on the camera, there have only been three wrecks in the area, he said.