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Reserving Domain Names on the Internet

QUESTION 37: RESERVING DOMAIN NAMES ON THE INTERNET

On the Internet, a person can reserve an Internet name by going to a web site and entering information about the 'domain name' that a person wants to have. The company then sends a bill via e-mail, which can be paid by credit card or check. If the money isn't paid within a certain time, the name is lost. I assume that a person who wants to be on a high level always does what he says, and if he says he's going to buy something, follows through. If after a week a person decides he really doesn't want the name, is it perfectly all right, even if he likes to operate lifnim meshuras hadin (beyond the letter of the law), not to pay and let the name lapse, even though in a sense he has electronically committed himself to purchasing that name?

RABBI BELSKY

I don't know, because I'm not sure exactly how the process works. Let's say you earnestly wanted to use it, and then you back out because you decided not to use it. In this case your temporary use was for a trial period where your right to back out is legitimate and lechatchila (from the beginning). Let's say they haven't sent the bill out, and in the meantime you used it for a while, with no trial use intended. Then lifnim mishuras hadin, you should probably pay for it. But I don't think that the din - the law itself -- requires that you pay for it.

QUESTIONER

Actually it says, "Do you want to have it for a year? It's $35". You actually click a box.

RABBI BELSKY

You mean, you actually received the name, and it was yours for you to use. In other words, they gave it to you on the basis of that commitment.

QUESTIONER

You can use it for that month, but it's not really worth that much to use it for a month. The question is, is there a moral commitment to pay for it - even though you decided that you don't really want it.

RABBI BELSKY

I see. Now we're talking about something else. In other words, you have permission to use it for a certain amount of time without charge. But tell me, are they asking about paying for the 30 days, or for payment for the whole year?

QUESTIONER

There's no way to pay for the 30 days. You either pay for the whole year, or you just don't pay them and it lapses, and then you don't have it anymore. So is there a kind of moral commitment to follow through on what you clicked?

RABBI BELSKY

No. I don't think so. Mi sheporoh (being obligated to a verbal sale) or tzaddik hein sheloch (a tzaddik doesn't retract his words) are not applicable here. If you promised to use it for a whole year, that's one thing. But if they themselves say that if you don't want to use it for a year, you can change your mind, and they provide the mechanism for backing out, that's another thing.

QUESTIONER

Well, it just lapses. It's not like you say "I don't want it".

RABBI BELSKY

There are cases similar to this. For instance, let's say you rent an apartment and you're there for one day and then you decide to back out. The period of rental is for one month and you have to pay for the whole month. Even though you're not using the other 29 days. That's what you bought, you bought a month's use. In our case, it seems if you use it for one month then you bought a year's use. If that's the case, then of course you have to pay for a whole year. But apparently it's not so.

However you could say there the principal of tzaddik hein sheloch does apply here, because you signified your intention to use it for a year. Even so, you intended to use something which didn't exist yet, and it's a dovor shelo bo l'olom (something that doesn't yet exist). I could only see it as a lifnim mishuras hadin type of thing, but not even within the level of tzaddik hein sheloch... it's not binding, even morally.

Thus there are two issues. Issue number one - did you purchase a year's time? Apparently not, because otherwise they could bill you for it. Issue number two - is there an intention on your part to buy it for the whole year? Is it considered as though you promised to buy a year and then you didn't? I don't think that this promise was made either, because in the end people do back out, and it's a dovor shelo bo l'olam (the commodity is not yet in the world) and it's not something that you could say you committed yourself to purchase.

To me it seems the are two valid problems. One is that you did use it for a month, and a second is that this system is vulnerable to abuse. If you used it for a month, you had hano'oh (benefit) from that month's use. You received something that has a certain value to you, and you should pay for it. But you say there's no mechanism to pay for that. That's why I'm saying it's only lifnim mishuras hadin (beyond the minimal requirements of the law), and it's quite a leap to pay for a whole year's use when you used it for one month.

QUESTIONER

Earlier you said there are three levels of lifnim mishuras hadin. The first level is what we should all do; the second is a higher madreigoh (level) and the third is the highest for only tzaddikim (very righteous people). So of the three levels, which does this fall into?

RABBI BELSKY

This is more like the second one, not the third. The third level involves paying for something that you didn't get at all. You're just paying the other person out of kovod habriyos (out of respect for his humanity). Here you want to pay for something that you got. You don't want to use something which you got for free.

QUESTIONER

Would you say this even though here it's all done electronically - nobody knows that this really happened?

RABBI BELSKY

That's what I'm saying. It's the middle level of lifnim mishuras hadin.

QUESTIONER

So a person who regards himself as a ba'al madreigoh (striving for a high level) should accustom himself to follow through on what he says. Is that the bottom line?

RABBI BELSKY

Yes. But I'll tell you, I have to reserve one thing here. There is something called minhag ha'olam (the general practice of the world) that is pertinent here. Number two - it may be the will of the company that people should not feel themselves committed. Why? Because of an attitude that is quite prevalent in business. The company knows it can get many new customers by making its introductory policies a bit liberal. Hundreds of people may try something out, and out of that number, half of them will stick to it. And this half will help the company increase its business. If people feel that once they are committed to take the day's worth, then they'll have to pay for a year, so then most people will say, "I'm not sure about it," and then they'll decide not to even try it out at all. Liberal introductory policies can lead to much more business. So it's to the benefit of the company, actually, to let people try things initially for free, and not require them to pay for it up front.

These are all or most of the considerations involved. To be any more definitive, you would have to be quite familiar with the workings of the Internet, and I'm totally unfamiliar with that.

QUESTIONER

I can see there are a lot of issues.

RABBI BELSKY

But I think we covered most of them here.


NEXT WEEK'S QUESTION 38: DOCTOR FORGIVING DEDUCTIBLE

When our family goes to the doctor at the start of each year, we must pay a deductible amount after which the insurance company pays most of the cost of the doctor visits. During this period before our deductible is reached, our family doctor lets us pay a portion of each visit now, with the intention that we will pay the rest later in the year - even though he reports the entire cost of the visit to the insurance company. If later in the year, he forgives us our debt, is that fraud?

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