Cyber squatters and Internet domain names

The thorny issue of domain names, which have become the alphabet of the Internet, has made reasoned business adoption of Internet...

The thorny issue of domain names, which have become the alphabet of the Internet, has made reasoned business adoption of Internet addresses a minefield.

The race to gain lucrative '.com' domains was likened to an auction, and the acquisition of new names either now or shortly to be available, such as '.biz' '.info' and '.name' is unlikely to be much different.

So, a report by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) calling for greater controls on who uses domain or website names gained plenty of media attention this month.

According to the Financial Times, as cybersquatters move in, the latest set of domain names is in danger of descending into the same chaos that dogged the old ones such as '.com' The WIPO wants to see an extension of international rules on cybersquatting that apply to trademarks - which are already covered - extended into the region of non-proprietary names, such as unique generic names of pharmaceutical substances, and for the names of intergovernmental organisations.

Eventually, protection might need to be extended for personal names, the FT said, such as sports or entertainment stars.

The problem runs parallel to a gold rush on the new domain names, which, said the FT, has seen Jesus gain a website address, Jesus. info, thanks to a registration by an enterprising online tourism company.

BBC Online reported that WIPO had found widespread cyber-squatting continuing with little recourse for those involved in disputes. An example it said was southafrica.com, which is the subject of a court battle in the US between the South African government and a US-based company. The BBC suggested WIPO had come up with three solutions - self-regulation, management by the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); or legislation through an international treaty.

In the US, which together with Australian and European countries, had asked WIPO to undertake its investigation, the story cropped up on the SiliconValley.com website, which suggested that even US presidents have no legal recourse against cybersquatters or anyone registering their name, because, unlike Madonna and Microsoft, they are not covered by trademarks for commercial gain.

It reported that champagne.org is owned neither by a town in France nor by a sparkling wine company, but by a US firm that offers personalised emails. In addition, someone on the Caribbean island of Antigua owns California-cheese.com.

Despite the fuss over domain names, the Washington Post was rather less than overwhelmed. With .info names available from 12 September and .biz open from 1 October, the Post suggested that a bird's eye view of the summer scramble to grab the first new global Internet addresses in 17 years was "like the dotcom goldrush, minus the gold". It suggested that with dotcoms dying left and right, it's hard to see why anyone could get so worked up about .biz and .info.

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