Concerns over potential abuses of the coming new domain names system (DNS) were raised at the Internet Governance Forum USA this week. In a special session at the Washington DC event, panellists assembled from government, industry, the law firm sector and federal law enforcement debated the likely effects of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs), set for launch in 2013. While the current crop of gTLDs includes familiar domains such as .com, .net and .org, the new system will enable applicants to claim their very own, customised suffixes, which could be named after individuals, companies, products or issues of public interest.
Suzanne Radell, senior policy adviser at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), said that the US government was concerned about opportunities for fraud and ‘user confusion’ that could stem from the new system, which could be plagued by a scramble for variations of registered brands by numerous unofficial entities. Such activity, she argued, could lead to US users questioning their government about why the new system was allowed to happen. Meanwhile, Amber Sterling – intellectual property (IP) expert with the Association of American Medical Colleges – warned that non-profit groups and charities could have their brands abused and donations tapped by registrants of imitative domains.
The concerns echo criticism that erupted last month after global DNS governing body the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted to approve the new domains. Among those early critics was the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), a trade group for digital-content providers that had pressed for a more phased DNS expansion. SIIA attorney Scott Bain said: ‘Now the internet space is going to expand a hundredfold and nobody knows what’s going to happen. IP owners will have to spend a lot of money and time to enforce their rights.’ He added: ‘This new gTLD program – as currently formulated – represents a significant challenge to trademark and copyright owners.’
In a blog entry, People for Internet Responsibility co-founder Laura Weinstein said: ‘I believe we may see billions of dollars being wasted in ICANN's new, gigantic DNS – mostly by firms falsely hoodwinked into thinking that new domain names will be their paths to internet riches, and from firms trying to protect their names in this vastly expanded space, [which will be] ripe for abuses.’
However, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom argued that the organisation’s vote to approve the new domains would unleash the global human imagination. ‘[Our] decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains (TLDs) in any language or script,’ he said. ‘We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind.’ Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush added that the vote had ushered in a new age for the internet. ‘We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration,’ he said.
Under ICANN’s plans, acquiring a customised suffix will not be cheap. Interested parties will be charged $185,000 per application. Maintenance costs, meanwhile, have been pegged at $6,250 per quarter – that’s $25,000 per year, per suffix. In an interview with BBC News, ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz said: ‘The price tag is based on a cost-recovery fee – that’s the monies it’s going to take to evaluate each applicant for one of these TLDs. These names are not going to be delegated lightly. Rather, there will be a careful evaluation of each applicant to ensure that they have the technical and financial wherewithal to operate a registry [for their suffix].’
Olly Miller, head of domains at leading IP and legal services outsourcing (LSO) company CPA Global, advised: ‘New gTLDs are set to change the landscape of the web for good. They will present great opportunities for some and confusion for others. There is no more important time for brand owners to assess their digital brand strategy than now – to ensure that they are ready for the age of the dot-brand.’
CPA Global will be holding an open-forum event on digital branding in London on 1 September. To find out more, email Olly Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org
Experts at key US internet conference challenge brand confusion and financial risks posed by impending new domains