WIPO loads dice in domain dispute conference

The coup continues

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WIPO made sure its views on domain name disputes were made clear at an international meeting in Geneva on Monday by stacking pro-WIPO speakers against critics.

Of the 20 speakers that gave their views at the one-day conference, two spoke of things unconcerned with dispute resolution, one was just tosh, and three don't have their notes posted on the Internet so we don't know what they said (interestingly one represented the African contingent and another the Asian contingent).

But of the 14 remaining speakers, nine were strongly pro-WIPO and its uniform domain resolution policy (UDRP), three were anti and the remaining two stood back from expressing an opinion.

The "WIPO conference on Intellectual Property Questions Relating to the ccTLDs" was a barely disguised attempt by WIPO to get countries from around the world to sign up to its resolution policy. The policy has seen WIPO virtually monopolise domain disputes in the last year and given it unnecessary influence in the Internet world - in much the same way as ICANN.

But while the global top-level domains like .com, .net, .org are beholden to UDRP, the country domain names like .uk, .de, .se are free to decide their own policy. Of the 80 or so country codes, 18 have already signed up to it and now WIPO wants everyone else to. The argument is that the Internet would be better off with one ubiquitous system and WIPO rolled out three of its own people to make the case.

Also speaking were the deputy legal counsel for the Motion Picture Association and the director of industrial property department at L'Oréal. You won't be surprised to hear that they also supported WIPO's approach (in fact, some pronouncements sounded almost fascistic). WIPO also found support from the people behind the .tv domains, who are running the domains purely as a profit-making exercise. And then other bedfellows are the Chinese and Phillipines (with reservations) who, as you know, are both renowned for their civil rights and heavy support for democracy. The Mexicans have just adopted UDRP but have already expressed reservations.

And in the blue corner

Going against WIPO were the Swedish, who have set up a strong but fair approach, as Scandinavians are wont to do; the British, who were originally behind the formation of country codes and have a dislike of ICANN and WIPO arrogance; and CENTR, which represents two-thirds of all countries and has been working on a softer resolution process for some time.

Why is this important and why should you care? Because in the last six months or so, the issue of domain name disputes and so-called cybersquatting has shifted from a reasonable and fair system into one that values large corporates and famous people over everything else. How else can you explain companies' ability to take control of domain names, seemingly with ease, if a domain even features a company name, trademark, product etc etc - even if it's spelt incorrectly?

And what of www.companyxsucks.com? Despite freedom of speech, the first amendment and all that, companies have been plucking these like cherries too. Famous people? New movies? The same. Internet domain names are rapidly becoming another corporate possession.

And most of this movement is down to WIPO and its UDRP policy. While UDRP is strong enough, WIPO has also chosen to interpret the rules into its own indomitable way. By being celebrity and corporate-friendly, the domain resolution body (one of four ennobled by ICANN) has managed to take the lion's share of the market and virtually all the publicity surrounding interesting cases.

But WIPO, like ICANN, is not content with just a part of the Internet, it wants it all. The attempt to override different countries' cultures and mindsets for personal gain should be resisted at all costs. Don't take our word for it. The VP of Internet Architecture for AT&T, John C Klensin, opened the conference and gave a balanced overview of the whole ccTLD situation.

He broadly stated the arguments, pointing out the advantages of a single policy but also warned strongly that making the system generic would unreasonably increase costs, impose an international regime where a national one would be more appropriate, eliminate safeguards and be a step backwards in evolution.

Nearly all people at the conference agreed that the Internet needed to be made more international. Klensin says that to make this work, we would have to preserve the "global uniqueness" of country domains. Hear hear.

P.S. We were intrigued to find WIPO using its almost-unknown www.wipo.int URL rather than the URL is uses the rest of the time www.wipo.org. Funny that. ®

Related Link

The conference site

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WIPO reinvents itself as part of UN
WIPO still kissing famous people's arses

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