New players in the domain name game signal some changes

Big change is afoot in the Internet’s Domain Name System registration. It
won’t affect .gov and .mil registrations, which are handled by separate,
government-controlled systems. But the pending change will affect agency users and
webmasters nevertheless.


I’ve been paying particular attention to domain names lately because of a mistake
I made in a recent column.


I accidentally typed an address www.fedworld.com
instead of the correct www.fedworld.gov.  The
.com suffix, as several readers pointed out, goes to a page of cartoons, not to the
federal portal site.


Spoofers and squatters will have a harder time misusing government names after the
forthcoming changes.


The new Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a nonprofit
corporation that will manage nongovernment IP address space allocation, DNS and its root
servers. Those functions until now have been performed by the Internet Assigned Numbers
Authority under federal contract. To read the government document that established ICANN,
visit www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/icann-memorandum.htm.
 


WIPO wants to establish an online dispute authority under ICANN. New name registrations
would be accepted only on the understanding that the arbitration authority would handle
any disputes. The interim report is posted at wipo2.wipo.int/process/eng/processhome.html.


As domain registration costs drop, the number of domains will explode. Just take a look
at www.register.com, which lets you register a .net,
.com. or .org domain name for just $70 for two years. Namestake.com, operated by
intellectual property researcher Thomson & Thomson, already offers a free service to
screen potential addresses for trademark infringement.


A 1995 law, commonly known as the trademark dilution act, formed the basis of several
judicial decisions last year stating that the owner of a domain name might not have the
right to keep it if it adversely affects another company’s trademark.


The question is whether the law applies to government sites. Up to now, it has been
used to keep people from registering certain commercial domain names.


But government agencies could argue that their names and uniform resource locators are
proper trademarks that deserve protection. I’ve been told by more than one government
attorney that agency seals can be trademarked.


ICANN is working with WIPO to develop a best-practices policy for registration
authorities and users that would minimize conflicts.


The government could develop its own policy. For example, to protect against spoof
sites, an agency could automatically register in new commercial domains that match its
.gov prefix. Such spoof site names have been the most abused.


As new top-level domains spring up, it will get harder to keep out multiple spoofers,
but it will also be less likely that visitors will mistype your agency address in one of
the new domains.


Visit http://wipo2.wipo.int/process/eng/rfc3/interim2_ch3.html
  for the dispute resolution process WIPO is setting up. It would be worthwhile to
have a government counterpart that could cooperate with WIPO to resolve improper uses of
government names.  


Shawn P. McCarthy designs search and navigation products for a Web
search engine provider. E-mail him at smccarthy@lycos.com.





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