ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is the non-profit intergovernmental corporation formed three years ago to assume responsibility for management of the domain name system. In that time, ICANN has developed the framework for the registration and management of domain names. But many commentators, including high level individuals within ICANN, have said that ICANN is in need of fundamental change if it is to succeed as the domain name regulator.
Although discussions about the future role and structure of ICANN are ongoing, 2002 has already seen some exciting developments in the domain name world. Not all of these developments are the result of reforms introduced by ICANN. However, they could signal the start of a number of fundamental changes to the current domain name system.
This article looks at some of these recent developments and the implications for the domain name user.
Introduction of .EU
On the 25 March 2002, a Regulation to implement the ‘.eu’ Internet top-level domain (TLD) was adopted by the EU’s Council of Telecommunications Ministers. This will allow European citizens, organisations and businesses to have ‘.eu’ web site and email addresses.
The European Commission proposed the introduction of ‘.eu’ as a key element in the strategy to increase the use of the Internet in Europe. It was argued that the generic .com TLD was a hindrance to European companies and SMEs seeking to exploit e-commerce in Europe. The .eu domain name would offer businesses which wish to operate across the Internal Market a specific European identification which will be recognised globally.
With the recent introductions of the new .biz and .info TLDs, where should .eu fit into a business’ online brand protection strategy?
The new .eu name will perhaps be best suited for those wishing to communicate a pan-European presence, such as regional or global brands, or for those with operations linked with EU institutions. It will provide an alternative to the “congested” .com space and the more US focussed generic TLDs. Registering under .eu will also be desirable for many companies as a protective measure against “cybersquatters”.
The adoption of the Regulation will allow the Commission to take the necessary steps to put the infrastructure for .eu in place. These include the selection of a private, non-profit organisation to manage the .eu TLD. It is intended that domain name users will be able to register the .eu TLD some time during the later part of this year.
One of the crucial issues in setting up the new Registry will be the procedures under which intellectual property owners can register their brands and how competing claims to the same names will be addressed.
New Redemption Grace Period
ICANN is intending to establish a “Redemption Grace Period” to create a safety net to protect registrants against inadvertently deleted domain names in the generic TLDs, such as .com, .biz, .info, and .net. Businesses and consumers are losing the rights to their domain names through registration deletions caused by mistake, inadvertence, or fraud. One of the main causes of deleted names is non-payment of renewal fees. This can happen as renewal reminders are sent to the contact names listed in the domain name registration. If these contacts are out of date or relate to some external organisation (such as a web developer), then the reminder may not be acted upon. The current procedures for correcting these mistakes have proven inadequate.
Under this new proposal, deleted names would be placed in a “hold status” for a thirty-day period to allow the domain name registrant to detect and correct the mistaken deletion. During the Redemption Grace Period the registrant can redeem the name on payment of the renewal fee and a service charge.
Currently, several important details remain unresolved, such as what happens where the deletion has occurred due to a dispute or dissatisfaction with the original registrar. ICANN is discussing how these issues can be addressed.
Overall, the proposed Redemption Grace Period has won broad support and is likely to be introduced in some form later this year. It is important to remember though that it will only apply to the generic TLDs and may only be beneficial to domain names in active use. Businesses may still have to proactively monitor dormant domain names such as defensive registrations.
Introduction of .pro
Of particular interest to the legal profession, ICANN announced on 8 May 2002 that it has executed an agreement with RegistryPro, Inc. for the operation of the new top-level domain “.pro” registry.
The .pro extension will create the Internet’s first top-level domain exclusively for licensed professionals. Expected to launch by the end of 2002 or early next year, the .pro top-level domain will offer registrations only to acknowledged professionals. Initially, registrations will be open to the medical (e.g., .med.pro), legal (e.g., .law.pro) and accountancy (e.g., .cpa.pro and .acct.pro) professions and associated institutions (such as hospitals).
To facilitate the highest levels of privacy in communications and authenticated transactions, RegistryPro will be the first registry to require enhanced security with every .pro name. Every registrant’s professional standing will be verified, and each will be issued a digital certificate enabling encryption and digital signature services.
Given the importance of confidentiality to the legal profession, the introduction of the .pro TLD may be a welcome step towards more widespread use of technology for enhanced security in Internet communications.
New waiting list service
Verisign, the Registry for .com and .net, has announced plans to offer a new Wait Listing Service (WLS). This will allow interested parties to buy a secondary right to a domain name that is already registered by someone else. Should the name be deleted from the Registry database during the one-year period of the WLS subscription (e.g. for non-payment of the renewal fee) the subscriber will automatically become the new Registrant of the domain. This system is intended to reduce the technical problems arising when batches of expired names are released by the Registry for new registration.
One implication of this new service for intellectual property owners is that domain name speculators could soon be buying rights on trademarked domains with the knowledge that they would be guaranteed registration of the domain were it ever to lapse. This highlights the importance of having in place an appropriate domain name registration policy.
There are also some issues that need to be addressed before the service can be launched. For example, would domain name holders be able to discover the identity of the person waiting for their domain name and what if that person were a known infringer?
It may even be a good idea for domain name owners to buy up the wait list right on their domains as an insurance policy against a fault in the renewals process, particularly if the domain name is of considerable value.
There has been significant resistance to the new service. The WLS requires the approval of ICANN before it can be launched. So far this has not been forthcoming. The WLS was due to launch on 20 March 2002. Although ICANN has already rejected Verisign’s original proposal, Verisign has submitted an amended proposal and a final decision is expected in June.
Nigel Miller is a partner at City law firm Fox Williams. He is also joint Chairman of the Society for Computers & Law.
© Fox Williams 2002