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Governments raise concerns about some applications for new 'top level' domains

Governments across the world have taken issue with a number of the applications for new generic 'top-level' domains (gTLDs), claiming that some companies that seek to control the registration of web addresses at the new domains should not be allowed to do so.27 Nov 2012

Top level domains are the suffixes to addresses and include familiar address endings such as .com, .org and .net.

In total the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) has outlined concerns with 242 of the 1,930 new gTLDs that organisations have submitted applications to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for gaining control of. ICANN is the body that oversees the identification of websites.

Last summer directors at ICANN voted to increase the number of gTLDs from the current number of 22. In June ICANN published the full list of 1,930 potential new generic 'top-level' domains (gTLDs) that have been applied for in its first round of applications.

Among the applications that GAC has issued 'Early Warning' notifications of are for the gTLDs .music, .hotel, .rugby, .mobile and .mail.

Another generic application for the .book domain, submitted by Amazon, was flagged for concern. The Australian government said that it was troubled by the idea that the online book retailer would have "exclusive access" to a domain that would relates to "a broad market sector" and that this would "exclude" rivals from using the domain in a way that could have a "negative impact on competition".

The Australian government said that Amazon could address its concerns by laying out "transparent criteria for third party access to the TLD" that should be binding on the company.

"These criteria should be appropriate for the types of risk associated with the TLD, and should not set anti-competitive or discriminatory conditions relating to access by third parties," the Australian government said in its 'Early Warning' notification. "These criteria should form part of any binding contract with ICANN, and be subject to clear compliance oversight by ICANN."

The Australian government also raised competition concerns with Amazon and Google's applications for control of the .search and .cloud gTLDs, the latter which internet security firm Symantec has also applied for.

Amazon's bid to gain control of the .amazon gTLD was also challenged. The governments of Brazil and Peru, with the support of a number of other South American countries, said that Amazon should not be able to assert control over the proposed domain. This was because this would prevent the domain from being used "for purposes of public interest related to the protection, promotion and awareness raising on issues related to the Amazon biome" and "hinder the possibility of use of this domain to congregate web pages related to the population inhabiting that geographical region."

The Australian government also said that Donuts Inc, a domain name registry company funded by "multi-billion dollar private equity and venture capital funds", should not be allowed to control the registration of web addresses rooted at the .finance domain on regulatory grounds.

It said that Donuts "does not appear to have proposed sufficient mechanisms to minimise potential consumer harm" from the "potential misuse" of the domain.

A report published in September by the Washington Post contained claims, attributed to industry groups and industry watchdogs, that Donuts has links with another company that provides services to spammers and other internet abuses. However, Donuts said that it was "eligible" to run all of the 307 gTLDs they have applied. In the comments section of the article the company defended itself against allegations that it "cares little about security", stating that such claims were both "incorrect and irresponsible".

"We have applied for 307 new generic top-level domains (or gTLDs, including .BUSINESS, .FAMILY, .PETS, .WINE and others) which, once awarded, will be administered with significantly more protection mechanisms than exist in current gTLDs and those offered by other applicants," the company said, according to comments posted under the Washington Post report.

Trade mark law expert Gillian Anderson of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said "the GAC 'Early Warning' notifications are not binding on evaluation panels, but it is expected that the GAC Advice which will be issued in April 2013 will follow the Early Warnings, and that the evaluation panels will be strongly guided by the Advice." 

"While it is important to remember that Early Warnings also consist of requests for information, or requests for clarity on certain aspects of an application and are not formal objections to an application, an Early Warning notification issued against an application indicating it should not be approved means it is unlikely to be approved," said Anderson.

Applicants whose applications are subject to an 'Early Warning' have 21 days from 21 November to respond to the warning. Alternatively they could choose to withdraw their application at this stage. If they do so then they will receive a refund of 80% of the $185,000 application fee.

ICANN has already said that it would evaluate the gTLD applications in batches, during with time it would check whether the applied-for domain is "so similar to others that it would cause user confusion" and "whether the applied-for gTLD string might adversely affect [domain name system] security or stability," amongst other things.

As part of the evaluation process new gTLD applicants must set out how they would police "abusive registrations and other activities that affect the legal rights of others" as well as how they would "implement safeguards" to reduce the likelihood of "phishing or pharming."