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EU solicits anti-cybersquatter advice

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The European Union is looking for suggestions about how to deal with cybersquatting as it prepares to launch the .eu domain, Matthew Clark writes.

The European Commission's Internal Market Directorate-General is looking for help from businesses or individuals that have faced cybersquatting in the past. In this vein, the Commission has launched an on-line questionnaire for interested contributors wishing to provide information. The deadline for submission is 31 October 2002.

According to the EU, the survey is part of the Commission's Interactive Policy Making Initiative and its results will feed into the consideration of public policy rules for the European Union top-level domain (TLD), .eu. "We want to prevent abuses by 'cybersquatters' of the future .eu top-level domain, without hindering legitimate Internet users. This consultation will help us do that," said Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein.

The EU is expected to put plenty of emphasis on .eu when it launches, and any corruption of that TLD could damage the suffix as a brand. "The future .eu top-level domain will be a good tool to increase Europe's visibility on the Internet," Enterprise and Information Society Commissioner Erkki Liikanen said. "Clearly, we must ensure that as many Europeans, businesses and organisations located in Europe as possible can benefit from it. Cybersquatting could prejudice our efforts to make .eu one of the engines to boost Internet use and e-commerce in Europe."

Announcing the consultation, the European Commission admitted, "There are many situations in which different parties will want to use the same domain name to promote themselves or their businesses on the Internet." But the EC also said it was concerned about individuals with no connection to a name and no legitimate interest who try to register names in "bad faith" in the hope that they will be able to make a profit.

Before it passes laws to deal with cybersquatters, the Commission said it wants to know how those who may be affected think these rules should operate, and the organisation is seeking the views of governments, public authorities, businesses of all sizes and individual citizens.

Last year, Dublin-based Afilias launched one of the newest TLDs, .info, and fell victim to thousands of cybersquatters. Hoping to avoid this problem, Afilias had introduced what is known as a "Sunrise Period", whereby organisations with legitimate claims to a name could capture new .info address first. But users simply provided bogus information on their applications and circumvented these measures.

By January 2002 Afilias was forced to submit thousands of challenges to many of these registrations in a process that was managed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). By July the company had re-released around 17,000 domain names to the public, which were re-possessed in the Sunrise Challenge Process in a program called Land-Rush 2.

"It would be possible for the EU to prevent this kind of thing," explained Roland LaPlante, chief marketing officer at Afilias. "They could do it if they required trademark documentation in their own sunrise period. But the more documentation they require, the longer it will take to process applications," he said. These actions would also cause the cost of new registrations to increase and would seriously delay the launch of .eu to the general public, LaPlante explained.

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