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Who the hell does WIPO think it is?

It's a case of shrewd corporate takeover

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We worried yesterday that WIPO's approach to "cybersquatting" was something very different to the legitimate resolution of Web address conflict - especially since every big company appears to be able to name what URLs they want and (for a small fee) pull them off their previous owners.

Well, with the predictability of anything that makes people money, it's worse than we feared. What we're looking at here is a coup by WIPO over every other body set up to resolve Internet argy-bargy. And how do you run a coup? You get either the military of the money-makers on your side. Seeing as there isn't any Internet military, it has gone for the fat and rich corporations.

WIPO has failed to provide its guide book on how to decide domain names disputes, due today. It announced the deadline a while ago when it was only one of several such agencies. Now, however, having successfully pulled the world's corporations into its court, it has flexed its muscles and said it will only produce the guidelines on 15 September.

How has it done it? Very simply. One rule of domain name argument is that the complainants can decide which body to take its dispute to. Is it any surprise then that big, powerful companies choose WIPO when it has a crystal-clear policy of favouring Goliath over David. So great has its popularity been that the unwritten agreement that country-specific domain names would be dealt with locally has been blown out the water while companies all over the world turn to WIPO to give them a free hand.

It has been almost forgotten that ICANN remains in charge of all domain names. But then with something as provenly inefficient as ICANN, WIPO's Stalinist approach was probably something that was welcomed. It has made up its own rules regarding famous people's names, places and trade names (as opposed to trademarks) and got away with it because of the resulting publicity and backing by important folk.

WIPO's second review is due to cover these grey areas, plus the dodgy topic of acronyms, but then when things are going so well, why risk losing ground? This is the problem with having such a weak, consensus-based controlling authority as ICANN. For anyone with a modicum of commonsense, it appears a little odd that a company is entitled to take any Web address that features its name (it doesn't even have to be spelt correctly). But by failing to stamp its mark, ICANN has effectively given control to the most bulshy of those working under it.

As it stands, there are four agencies capable of settling URL disputes: WIPO, NAF (National Arbitration Forum), eResolution and the CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution (CPRADR). But then when most of the cases are thrown at WIPO, the others bodies become transparent (and The Reg is as guilty as everyone else in this respect - but then we are a news service and aren't responsible for running the Internet).

This issue is even more important when you consider the expected eventual release of more top-level domain names. Without some form of control and with what looks like will continue to be a spinless ICANN, we can only expect the worst. We always knew the dream of a completely free Internet would never last but is it not in everyone's interests to stop the takeover of this revolutionary medium while we still can?

Related Stories

The sick world of knowledge behind cybersquatting
It's a cybersquatting extravaganza!
New body to end cybersquatting (WIPO's start point)
Users come last in ICANN elections scramble
ICANN not up to the job?

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