Web adds seven new TDLs

The Internet may or may not be getting bigger, but at least its address book is.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved seven new top-level domains (TLD) just over a year ago, and they will soon appear on a computer screen near you. And with their arrival, laws governing the Internet may soon be getting a serious workout.

The seven TLDs are .biz, .info, .name, .pro, .aero, .coop and .museum. Yet, despite the variety it is the .name phenomena that has several intriguing possibilities. It is being touted as an individual’s digital identity, as users can create a personal Web site and e-mail address. Pre-registration ended on Dec. 17 and was to take effect on Jan. 15. The approach of assigning the names was done much as with an e-mail account, in that it was on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The system works on a two-dot system, Frank Smith’s domain name would become frank.smith.name, and his e-mail address would become frank@smith.name.

Individuals have to register with an accredited ICANN registrar, the official registry.

Vancouver-based registrar DomainPeople.com said it received approximately 1,000 pre-registrations for the sunrise period. “All you’re doing is protecting your name so that no one else can get it,” said Karim Jiwani, general manager for DomainPeople. For individuals who only want the domain name, fees are US$25 per year, while with the e-mail address, it is US$35 per annum.

The most common problem is likely to be an over-lapping of names. To prepare for this near certainty, ICANN and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) have created a dispute resolution service whereby people who register for the same name will be asked to prove their identity. Interestingly, people who initially register are not asked to show proof.

Since the advent of the Internet, laws governing copyright have extended to e-books, digital recordings and to compilations of work. It is understood that what appears on a corporate Web site is protected, but for a large amount of information which appears on the Internet, who or what laws govern it is unclear. Under jurisprudence, .name will be protected under the trademark heading of intellectual property law. But the question remains: is the genesis of this domain name intended to protect individuals or organizations? For one law professor, the answer is clear.

“Canadian law has long recognized that people have an interest in using their own name. It allows trademark holders to challenge if you register a .name and it’s not your name. It (also) allows all those trademark holders on the books to do a defensive registration,” said Daniel Gervais, law professor at the University of Ottawa. He said liability issues will arise because with registrar’s operating on a first-come, first-gets basis, litigation is often a result.

He added that while improvements have been made to the laws governing copyright, countries such as Canada need to enforce the 1996 WIPO Treaty on Copyright. Wile it was signed, it was never enforced.

As the phenomena passes through the early adoption stage, Robert Fabian, an independent consultant in Toronto, has mixed views. On the one hand, he said that the big advantage is that from a business perspective, e-mail addresses will be “independent from a service provider.” But the legal side is slightly more complex.

“Domain names don’t recognize national boundaries. What kind of legislation ought to govern dispute resolutions? I don’t think we know,” he said.

Whatever the legal outcomes and the number of name disputes to be filed, for Jeff Roach – who created familyRoach.com four years ago – the self-indulgence of having his name incorporated into his Web address has had a simple, yet meaningful, purpose.

“This is a good way for anyone who wants to reach us and to keep in touch with us. There’s a paging feature on the bottom of the page (so) my wife and I actually page each other,” said the e-business strategist for FCS (Fundy Computer Services Ltd.) in Saint John, N.B. He originally wanted roach.com but that was already taken and then tried for roach.ca but said a company in Ontario had already claimed it. He added the family posts pictures on the site and uses it as the family’s photo album.