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UN, IMF join opposition to ICANN top-level domain plans

Sod the economy, cybersquatting is the true threat

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Intergovernmental organisations (IGOs) like the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund have joined the ranks of the opposition to ICANN's proposed expansion of domain names.

The web address overlord is planning to allow companies and organisations to establish generic top level domain names (gTLDs) from January next year, so strings like .hotel, .restaurant or even .un and .imf will be viable as new gTLDs.

"The IGO community concerns relate to the increased potential for the misleading registration and use of IGO names and acronyms in the domain name system under ICANN's significant expansion plans," lawyers for the organisations wrote in a letter to ICANN seen by Reuters.

Critics of gTLDs warn that the expansion will lead to cybersquatting, where addresses like .cocacola are snapped up and then the Coca-Cola company has to pay millions to get it back or put up with it being owned by someone else.

It will cost $185,000 to register a gTLD, meaning the cost of gathering up all the addresses that a company has to protect (.cocacola, .coke, .dietcoke, .fanta, coke.cocacola, coke.coke, etc ad nauseaum) will be prohibitive.

The US Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has been one of the leading opposition voices on gTLDs, forming the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO) to fight the plan.

According to the ANA, 100 organisations from around the world have joined CRIDO and signed a petition to the US Department of Commerce opposing the gTLD programme.

Last week, US senators recommended that the roll-out of the new system should be scaled back till 2013 after hearing from critics of the plan.

"The ICANN programme would pile billions of dollars of cost onto a challenging global economy, resources that could be much better spent on job creation," Dan Jaffe, ANA executive VP told the hearing.

"This is not merely a bad policy choice but a serious threat to the legitimate interests of both companies and consumers on the internet. We believe both the decision and the process ICANN followed are fundamentally flawed and the roll-out should be delayed," he added.

However, ICANN argues that the plans have already been working towards roll-out for six years and during that time, concerns about trademarks and brands were taken into consideration.

"Not only were the comments of my fellow witnesses received and considered during this time, their recommendations were largely adopted," said Kurt Pritz, ICANN's senior VP of stakeholder relations, in a blog posting after the hearing.

"A long and careful deliberative process produced this programme. World-class experts on intellectual property, economics and internet security developed solutions and those solutions were reviewed by the internet community and vetted by governments."

"New gTLDs will have even greater safeguards than the TLD registries that exist today and will include enhanced protections for trademark holders. The new environment will sharply reduce the need for defensive registrations," he added.

Some of these protections include 'uniform rapid suspension' - a quick way to take down infringing domain names and a trademark clearinghouse, where brands can protect their trademarks for all new gTLDs with one registration.

The US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Communications and Technology is due to hold a hearing on ICANN's plans today at 9am EST (4pm GMT). ®

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