New domains are not a solution

The Web moved one step closer to getting more domain names this month, with the selection of seven new top-level domain (TLD)...

The Web moved one step closer to getting more domain names this month, with the selection of seven new top-level domain (TLD) names, writes Danny Bradbury

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) chose the new domains after an application period during which third parties were invited to suggest names for the TLDs and make offers to run them.

A TLD is the set of characters furthest to the right after the company name in a URL (uniform resource locator) address. Typical examples are .com or .co.uk, which indicate commercial organisations.

The industry had been worried that the limited number of TLDs would become insufficient with the rapid growth in organisations and individuals setting up URLs.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the prospect of the new domains. Some feel that Icann needs to work harder to resolve disputes over the current set of TLDs before complicating the issue.

One of Icann's main goals is to provide a framework for resolving disputes over domain names. In some cases the dispute is easy to resolve, for example, where domain names have been speculatively purchased in bad faith by "cybersquatters" hoping to sell them for a profit to "bricks-and-mortar" companies bearing the same name. In most cases now, the cybersquatters come off worse.

Andrew Carothers, press relations manager at Evoke Software, thinks the new domains are treating the symptom rather than the cause. His company was waiting for a defunct company that owned the evoke.com URL to go into liquidation so that it could acquire the domain cheaply from the registrar. In the meantime, another firm, Evoke Communications, stepped in and pipped Carothers' company to the post by purchasing the URL from the liquidating company for a considerable sum.

Now, the companies are embroiled in a legal battle, not only over the company trademark issue surrounding their names, but also over the right to own the URL.

At the moment, firms named anycompany.com and anycompany.co.uk may not be the same company. This has led to another form of cybersquatting where a start-up company snaps up a parallel URL of an established firm in an attempt to pick up custom from surfers who wrongly guess the URL or, in extreme cases, begin to trade on the good name of the established firm. To avoid this, many organisations buy all the TLD variations of their name.

Another complication is the desirability of some TLDs. A prime example is the kudos of the .com ending, which should signify a US company only but has been purloined by foreign companies that should use their agreed national TLD. Italy is also finding unwelcome users who see the .it TLD as an ideal address for an information technology company

"The process for registering domain names was developed separately from the US federal trademark law," explained Carothers. Company trademark and domain name dispute issues are becoming increasingly linked, and he is worried that disputes such as his own will happen more often if the number of TLDs increases.

"Now there could be more and more opportunities for this sort of confusion and trademark infringement," he said.

The effect of adding more TLDs will be that current domain name owners will rush to buy up the new TLDs. "What's to stop Amazon simply buying Amazon.info and Amazon.biz, for example?"

Surely the result will be an Internet in which similar numbers of companies own domain names across multiple TLDs, instead of a Web in which larger numbers of companies each own their own domain, sharing it across different TLDS?

Without proper policing and extensions to trademark laws to govern the Web, anarchy will continue to reign. Whatever happens, there are still extensive negotiations to go through before the TLDs are implemented. Icann said this won't be until at least the second quarter of next year.

New domains

  • .aero

  • .biz

  • .coop

  • .info

  • .museum

  • .name

  • .pro

    TLDs rejected by Icann include .sex, .shoes, .sucks, .kids and .xxx

  • Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)

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