The .amazon argy-bargy is STILL going on – and Uncle Sam has had enough with ICANN

Will Amazon finally get hold of its internet namesake?

Amazon

Analysis Enough’s enough. That was the message from the US government this weekend at an international meeting where the creation of a new internet space – .amazon – was again the subject of heated debate.

“The United States does not support further intervention that effectively works to prevent or delay the delegation of .amazon and and we do not believe that it is required,” its representative told a meeting of governments in Montreal, Canada, organized by DNS overlord ICANN.

The intervention came after Brazil’s government representative argued that the long-running dispute between South American governments and the US online retail giant be extended again to allow for a “mutually acceptable solution” to be reached.

That negotiation has been going over for over a year with no sign of resolution but Brazil promises that this time will be different. As it did last time. And the time before that.

Agreement seems unlikely however. While arguing that the eight ACTO (Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization) countries felt there was room for a “possible compromise,” if an independent mediator was hired to negotiate the issue, Brazil also stated that the word “Amazon” was its “birthright”. The current plan to approve .amazon and give it to the US retailer would “run roughshod over the concerns and cultural heritage of eight nations and tens of millions of people,” it said.

It’s been seven-and-a-half years since Amazon applied for its online namesake with DNS overseer ICANN and initially everything seemed fine: dozens of other companies had applied for, and been given permission to run, their company names as separate pieces of the internet.

But that all changed following Edward Snowden's revelations of mass surveillance by the US, including of the mobile phone of Brazil’s then-president. Suddenly, Brazil – later joined by other governments – was appalled that anyone would consider use of the name “amazon” online.

It made a big fuss and the US government decided to stay out of the way, which led to the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) asking ICANN to reject the application. Which ICANN then did.

How about 'no'?

But both groups had reckoned without Amazon’s determination. The company spent years and millions of dollars going through ICANN’s cycle of review processes before a panel of independent judges finally decided that the decision to kill .amazon wasn’t valid for the simple reason that neither the governments nor ICANN had ever given an actual reason for denying it.

That led to an extended period of negotiations between ACTO and Amazon that went nowhere, finally prompting ICANN’s Board to tell its CEO to sort out the issue personally. The CEO’s efforts to even hold a meeting kept being put off; one time after he had flown to Brazil and was waiting in a hotel room. The ACTO countries blamed a crisis in Venezuela for not being able to discuss things that time.

And so, fed up, ICANN finally stood up to the governments and said it was going to approve .amazon and give it to Amazon – but only after yet another comment period and making it clear it was prepared to delay the decision again if asked.

That was back in March. But despite what looked like determination on ICANN’s part in May, the issue has continued to drag on.

ICANN took until September to put out Amazon’s “public interest commitments” – effectively how the web giant will run the .amazon registry – for review, going out of its way to make the public comment period difficult to find; presumably in an effort to limit input.

Regardless, Brazil and others found the comment period and sent in furious responses claiming that approving .amazon would be equivalent to an “expropriation from the Amazon countries and ACTO of their right to use and be recognized by the name ‘Amazon’.”

Groundhog Day

At a meeting of governments on Sunday [slides here [PDF]], Brazil tried to throw another spanner in the works, calling for the GAC to formally “advise” the ICANN Board that it must hold off approving .amazon and instead hire an independent mediator to start the process all over again (see video at 22 minutes in).

It was at this point that the US government (35 mins in) – which persistently tires of ICANN’s preference for delay and process over resolution – stepped in. “The United States does not support further GAC advice on the .amazon issue. Any further questions from the GAC to the Board on this matter we believe is unwarranted,” its representative stated.

As for Brazil’s “birthright”, it was sick of that argument too. “We are unaware of any international consensus that recognizes inherent governmental rights and geographic names. Discussions regarding protections of geographic names is the responsibility of other forums and therefore should be discussed and those relevant and appropriate forums.”

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And just to make things really clear: “It is the position of the United States that the Board’s various decisions authorizing ICANN to move forward with processing the application are consistent with all relevant GAC advice.”

The US was supported by Israel but then, reflecting global politics more than the .amazon issue, representatives from China, the European Commission (EC), Switzerland, Portugal and Belgium all weighed in. They all argued for more negotiation, and the Portuguese government went so far as to argue that approving .amazon without more negotiations would set a “terrible precedent.”

As things stand, as the ICANN meeting continues, Brazil has conceded it won’t be able to get formal GAC advice telling ICANN that it has to prepare yet more negotiation. But whether ICANN follows its own process and hands .amazon to Amazon over the objections of other governments is – yet again – undecided.

One indication that ICANN is going to fall back on its death-by-process default is that it has not added the .amazon issue to its Board meeting at the end of the week. That would have been the logical time to decide the issue once and for all. But it seems that, so long as some governments remain unhappy and are willing to say as much, there is always another way to not make a decision.

Amazon has previously offered millions of dollars in free Kindles and cloud hosting to ACTO countries as a way to sweeten the deal but what those countries really want is the joint-ownership of .amazon, with the US tech giant forced to get their approval before it can make any changes to the registry.

Having been at the end of eight years of delays, you could forgive Amazon for not wanting to partner up. ®

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