July 8, 2014
The Obscure World Of Internet Domain Names
Some people and organizations made millions of dollars from buying up Internet domain names and a lot of choice names are still held by so-called cybersquatters that are hoping to make a killing. Now an unholy row has kicked off following proposed changes to the process and at the forefront of the objections is the French wine industry. So exactly what has popped the corks of the Gallic grape crushers?
All domain names are controlled by ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This non-profit organization mixing public and private sectors was set up in California in 1998 and has effectively kept the keys to the lucrative kingdom of domain naming in American hands since that time. That is, until this year when the US agreed to relinquish its sole control. ICANN has been in the process of releasing a lot of new names and some very desirable ones are up for grabs. Top of the shopping list for many big players are the new “generic top-level domains” — the highly desirable “gTLDs.” ICANN suddenly has a new trove of treasure to dispense. These gTLDs mean the old constraints of .com, .org, and .net and so on will go. New extensions could include .google, .amazon, .abc — you get the picture, I’m sure.
What worries many, and the French in particular in this case, is that the online protection of brand names will become much harder. The concern is that if companies do not buy up all the domain names relevant to their product, then it will be offered up for general sale. This means a likelihood that Internet chancers could snap them up and try to extract a big profit. Over 2,000 applications have been received already and these include the likes of .beer, .london and .luxury.
The extensions .vin and .wine will be released by ICANN as part of the program. So, imagine for a moment that a company buys up the .vin extension. It can then resell it to an organization that can use the name bordeaux.vin, perhaps, or even champagne.vin, even though it has no connection to those regions. French wines are a classic example of how regional products are identifiable and unique. There is a well functioning “appellation” system — only wines grown in a specific region can call themselves Champagne, for example. The same applies to food. There is an international agreement on these “geographical indicators” that protects the naming and marketing of area-specific products. This could be undermined by the new gTLDs.
There is a lot at stake here. The Financial Times reports that 13 companies, including Google and Amazon, are in competition for the .app extension. There could be some big bucks thrown at this one — and then there are other generic names that a lot of organizations would like to control, such as .music, .search and so on.
Several countries are complaining about ICANN’s perceived lack of transparency and accountability and want to see it restructured and set up under international law. France, Britain, Spain and the EC have demanded that the process of releasing the .vin and .wine names be halted pending discussions and claim that trade talks between the US and Europe are under threat — they are talking tough.
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