WASHINGTON — The best part of Wednesday’s U.S. House of Representatives hearing on domain names may have happened when Anjali Hansen, an attorney for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, spoke. You could hear the frustration in her voice.
The three letter BBB is universally known and it is Hansen’s mission to protect it. The organization is the registered owner of bbb.com, bbb.org, bbb.biz, bbb.info and probably other top level domains, as well. By owning those names, the BBB can thwart cybersquatters .
But the Bureau may never get a chance to own bbb.xxx — despite Hansen’s efforts.
Hansen told lawmakers at the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing that she was unable to register bbb.xxx. ICM Registry, the company that operates the .xxx domain, “was allowed to reserve bbb.xxx as a premium name that it can later auction off to the highest bidder. We could not even defensively purchase our own trademark,” she said.
Critics say that the frustration Hansen feels will be felt by many others once the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) launches its plan next year to create potentially hundreds of custom top level domains, such as .hotel, .cloud, or .server — almost anything imaginable.
Applicants will pay US$185,000 for right to register these top-level domains, and an annual fee of $25,000.
ICANN faced criticism at the hearing and was told by some members, including U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo and Doris Matsui, two California Democrats, that they didn’t think the plan is ready for prime time.
The hearing also got a little personal.
Rep. Cliff Stearns, (R-Fla.), felt that US$185,000 was too high and well out of reach of many businesses. To make a point, apparently, about ICANN’s own budget needs, he asked the person testifying for ICANN, Kurt Pritz, the senior vice-president of stakeholder relations, what his salary is.
“I was making US$248,000 a year and I got two 15 per cent raises in the last several years,” said Pritz.
“Tell me, how much your salary is today?” asked Stearns. Including bonuses, about US$395,000, said Pritz.
ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom over US$800,000 a year. (House and Senate member salaries are paid US$174,000, though Congressional leaders are paid more.)
Pritz defended the system, but more broadly argued that the additional top-level domains are needed to meet the demand of a growing planet. The cost is justified by the amount of work it will take to vet applications, he argued.
ICANN also believes that it has developed ample protections to give trademark holders, organizations, corporations, and others, the opportunity to challenge proposed top-level domains.
In the case of the .xxx domain, for instance, registrations began with a “sunrise period” that allowed trademark and brand holders to apply for their corresponding .xxx domain names. ICM Registry, the company that runs the domain, recently reported that it had received more than 80,000 applications for domain names during the sunrise periods.
But even with mechanisms such as sunrise periods, the plan to expand top-level domains has many critics, who say the new domains will require trademark owners to conduct defensive registrations and constant policing for infringements.
And then there is the particular frustration felt by the BBB.
Eric Menhart, a Washington-based attorney who specializes in Internet-related legal issues, said the use of the three generic letters, BBB, isn’t automatic infringement in the way, for instance, the use of Xerox.xxx might constitute infringement.
Menhart said if a bbb.xxx domain is used for nothing that has to do with the Better Business Bureau, “then you are probably not going to have a trademark infringement.”
In a response to questions, Stuart Lawley, CEO of ICM Registry, said that .xxx isn’t an attractive target for infringers nor is it likely to cause consumer confusion.