Networking

ICANN's generic top-level domain rules cause major headaches for online businesses

The proliferation of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) following ICANN's decision to allow for the expansion of TLDs has caused headaches for trademark owners and confusion for consumers.

Image: iStockphoto/Jirsak

In August 2011, ICANN founding chairman Esther Dyson wrote an argument against the proliferation of new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs), a reversal in policy that allowed for the creation of numerous top-level domains for arbitrary purposes, like .cloud, .rich, .plumbing, and for reasons that defy logic, both .black and .blackfriday. Dyson predicted that this expansion would "create lots of work for lawyers, marketers of search-engine optimization, registries, and registrars" constituting what is ultimately a "waste of resources."

Nearly five years on, this prediction appears to have been perfect—the proliferation of gTLDs has added no value, but has lined the pockets of gTLD operators from organizations and individuals in the practice of defensive registration, and joke websites that serve no practical purpose except to highlight the ridiculousness of gTLDs, such as rebecca.blackfriday.

What's wrong with gTLDs?

The proliferation of gTLDs is a headache for IP holders that are burdened with the task of protecting their brand by defensively registering domains. This is particularly problematic for celebrities and domains operated by ICM, such as .adult, .porn, .sex, and .xxx.

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Companies are also finding themselves obligated to protect their trademarks by defensively registering websites in the .exposed, .gripe, .review, .reviews, and .sucks gTLDs to prevent others from establishing websites which may contain disparaging information about their brand, while appearing to have some modicum of authoritativeness by merit of using a company name or trademark in a TLD.

The existence of both .review and .reviews is also an issue with ICANN's authorization process—there is no apparent protection against the creation of nearly-identical gTLDs, leading to the creation of .accountant and .accountants, .career and .careers, .dental and .dentist, .loan and .loans, among others. This is a practice that potentially encourages typosquatting. Registering one without the other is effectively useless in that potential customers may be unable to find your website if the corresponding domain is not registered, or could be directed to a competitor if it was registered by someone else.

Is the proliferation of gTLDs a racket?

Rob Holmes, the CEO of IPCybercrime, and member of the gTLD committee of the International Trademark Association, noted in a phone interview the ease of abusing gTLDs and ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). According to Holmes, the expense of pursuing a UDRP claim can easily reach $5000, while the basic arbitration fee for one domain is $1500. It is highly advisable to hire an attorney to handle the dispute, which can last a few months. To avoid the expense and laborious tasks involved in UDRP arbitration, Holmes suggests simply offering to buy the domain from the present owner.

For domain portfolio policy, Holmes strongly recommends that organizations decide what their priority is for gTLD purchases, and be mindful of the fact that domains are both property and inventory—it is necessary to renew domains each year. Additionally, before going public with a product name, secure the relevant domain names to avoid conflicts with cybersquatters.

The existence of the .sucks gTLD is one that has drawn substantial ire, as operator Vox Populi charges substantially higher prices than other gTLD operators.

Is it worth the expense?

The Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO), a project a of the Association of National Advertisers, presently comprises 102 associated advertising organizations, and 79 companies opposed to the proliferation of gTLDs.

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Representatives from Adobe, one of the signatories of CRIDO, have been more vocal in their opposition to, in particular, the .sucks gTLD. J. Scott Evans, associate general counsel at Adobe, said "I basically think it's extortion" of the .sucks gTLD in an interview with NPR.

Marketing doesn't understand gTLDs

A recent campaign by Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam for the reservation website Booking.com uses the tagline "booking.yeah" to convey "the sheer, unbridled joy and satisfaction when you open the door to your accommodation and know you've got it right." Aside from being the single strangest justification for an adjective ever, the campaign has the unfortunate side effect of prompting users to attempt accessing the service by using the URL "booking.yeah." Not only does the .yeah gTLD not exist, the company also has a pending application with ICANN for the ".booking" gTLD.

What's your view?

Has your organization defensively purchased domain names to avoid potential trademark issues? Have you bought a gTLD for novelty purposes? Share your experience in the comments.

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About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware.

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