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ICANN snubs critics, opens domain extension floodgates

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The process has recently come under fierce criticism, largely in the United States, as a result of a campaign orchestrated by the Association of National Advertisers, which has been fighting the new gTLD programme almost since it was finalised by ICANN last June. ANA's new Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight spin-off has some 102 trade associations and 59 individual companies among its membership.

CRIDO's supporters believe that a massive expansion of the domain name universe will lead to an increase in phishing, fraud and cybersquatting, increasing legal costs for big brand holders and forcing them to apply for "dot-brand" gTLDs defensively.

The organisation successfully lobbied for hearings into ICANN in both houses of the US Congress, which led to a number of concerned letters last month from congressmen to the Department of Commerce, the government agency tasked with overseeing ICANN.

ICANN has also received demands for special protection from 28 intergovernmental organisations including the UN, World Intellectual Property Organisation and World Health Organisation, and a warning about "infinite opportunities" for cyber-fraud from the US Federal Trade Commission.

"Never before has ICANN faced this level of public scrutiny and concern by policy makers at the highest levels of government and from stakeholders which have, heretofore, been all but ignored by ICANN," ANA president Bob Liodice wrote to ICANN on Monday.

ANA called for ICANN to implement a "do not sell" block-list of trademarks and IGO names that would eliminate the perceived need for companies and organisations to defensively apply for gTLDs.

ICANN has yet to formally respond to any of these written complaints, but Beckstrom and other supporters of the expansion have said that the new gTLD programme already contains trademark protection mechanisms and that defensive gTLD applications are unnecessary.

"No reasons were given for delay," Beckstrom said yesterday, explaining ICANN's decision to stick to its 12 January launch date. "No new information has come in in the last few months."

He described the continuing objections as "a sign of a healthy multi-stakeholder model – the debate never stops", and noted that "the greatest reason it's taken so long to develop this programme was our attention to intellectual property issues".

New gTLDs created by ICANN will have more trademark protection mechanisms than those available for popular extensions such as .com and .org, but arguably they're not as strong as those adopted by ICM Registry, which recently launched .xxx for porn sites.

Indeed, some lobbyists such as the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, have called for new gTLDs to be obliged to offer brand owners defensive registrations for a one-time fee. This was available in .xxx but will not be available in new gTLDs unless registries choose to offer it.

While the "do not sell" list proposed by ANA is currently not under consideration, the US Department of Commerce recently did an about-face and told ICANN that it plans to reopen the debate about trademark protection mechanisms in May, when all the gTLD applications have been filed.

Lawrence Strickling, the department's assistant secretary with most direct oversight of ICANN, told the organisation that "it would not be healthy for the expansion program if a large number of companies file defensive top-level applications when they have no interest in operating a registry".

Many companies in the US are operating under the misconception that defensive applications for "dot-brands" will be necessary to prevent cybersquatting, according to sources, which is not the case.

Strickling has previously warned that if the US government is perceived to oversee ICANN with a heavy hand, it will give "ammunition" to other nation states that want develop their own internet policies.

ICANN will begin to accept applications from a minute past midnight (GMT) on Thursday in Blighty, which is just after 4pm (PST) today in its home state of California.

Recent developments in the US have not been sufficient to derail the programme but they have been enough to increase the uncertainty about what trademark protections successful new gTLD registry applicants will be forced to implement. ®

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