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Domain Name

DOMAIN NAME

A domain name identifies an Internet Protocol (IP) address, or series of addresses, on the Internet. Each site on the Internet is assigned a series of 11 or 12 numbers, known as an IP address. Addresses are translated via a Domain Name System (DNS) server into domain names, which simply are the names assigned to the numbers. The main reason for the DNS is to make Internet addresses easier to remember. For example, 134.167.21.147 is the IP address for the domain name techcorps.org, the Internet site for an organization known as Tech Corps. The.org suffix is considered a top-level domain for organizations such as non-profit associations. Other common top-level domains include.edu for educational institutions,.gov for governmental bodies,.com for companies,.mil for military organizations, and.net for network administrators. Internet sites operating in countries other than the United States attach two-letter top-level domains, such as.ca for Canada and.jp for Japan, to the ends of their domain names. To secure a domain name, those wishing to create an Internet site simply must verify that the domain name they desire is not in use, via a firm such as Checkdomain.com, and then pay a fee to register that name.

In 1995, the number of top-level domain names registered totaled roughly 100,000. By the spring of 1999, more than 7 million domain names had been registered. That number jumped to 28.2 million by the end of 2000. As the level of domain name registration intensified through the mid-and late-1990s, issues such as the unapproved use of trademarked names arose, prompting calls for legislation dealing with domain name registration. In 1997, the Clinton administration started pushing for the creation of international policy standards regarding the assignment of domain names and the resolving of disputes over domain name rights. At the directive of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Dr. Jon Postel founded Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 1998. ICANN is a U.S.-based, private, non-profit association overseeing Internet infrastructure issues, including addressing protocol and dispute resolution. It replaced the government operated IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), a unit of the Internet Society and Federal Network Council that had been handling the assignment of domain names and other Internet protocol parameters.

DOMAIN NAME DISPUTE RESOLUTION

One of ICANN's first tasks was to begin developing an international dispute resolution policy for domain name disagreements. The resulting Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) stipulated that entities using one of the three most common top-level domains.com.,.net, and.orgmust resolve any trademark-based domain name squabbles via litigation, arbitration, or formal agreement before a registered name could be transferred or canceled. In 1999, the organization approved two domain name dispute resolution service providers: World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and National Arbitration Forum. The following year, ICANN selected two more dispute resolution services providers: eResolution and CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution. To have a case reviewed by these arbitrators typically costs $1,500.

In the late 1990s, pop singer Madonna was one of several celebrities to file a complaint over the use of a trademarked name in a domain name by an unauthorized agent. Madonna alleged that Dan Parisi used her name to attract viewers to his pornographic Web site at www.madonna.com. According to an October 2000 article in E-Commerce Times, Madonna was required to demonstrate that "the domain name registered by Parisi was identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which Madonna has rights; Parisi had no legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and the domain name had been registered and used in bad faith." Because Parisi could not satisfactorily justify his use of the word "Madonna" in his domain name, a three-member panel of WIPO came to the conclusion that the defendant was using the trademarked name to lure Internet users into visiting his site in hopes of finding information related to Madonna. As a result, WIPO found in favor of Madonna in October of 2000, and ordered Parisi to transfer the domain name rights to the entertainer.

Large corporations also made use of UDRP. In 2000, the Esquire.com domain name was transferred to publishing house Hearst at the behest of WIPO, which also ordered several domain names using the Harry Potter trademark to be transferred to AOL Time Warner.

Offering additional legal options to U.S.-based trademark holders is the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, a federal law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1999. Those found guilty of cybersquattingattempting to use a trademark in a domain name to profit from it, either by capitalizing on name recognition or by selling the domain name to the trademark holder at an elevated pricecan be fined up to $100,000 in damages. According to the April 2001 issue of the San Diego Business Journal, the act "differs from the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process in that it is a court proceeding, rather than an administrative proceeding, and is U.S. law rather than internationally enforced policy."

DOMAIN NAME DISTRIBUTION AND REGISTRATION

Along with developing dispute resolution policies, one of ICANN's primary roles is to oversee the distribution of Internet domain names and the assignment of IP addresses. The organization also is responsible for ending the domain name registration monopoly held by Herndon, Virginia-based Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) since it had agreed to take domain name assignation responsibilities from the U.S. government in 1993. Established in 1979, NSI was the first privately owned firm to offer domain name registration services. In 1995, NSI began charging a fee for domain name registration services. Each Internet site registering a domain name with NSI pays $70 for the first two years, and $35 per year thereafter.

Verisign bought NSI in March of 2000, taking over NSI's joint business of both selling domain names and controlling the registries, or master lists, of.com,.org, and.net addresses. Shortly after its formation, ICANN started accrediting new domain name registrars, such as Register.com, to compete with NSI. All registrars are required to adhere to the UDRP, and those who register for a domain name also must accept the terms of the UDRP. By signing a subscriber agreement, registrants declare that, as far as they know, their domain name, as well as the way in which it will be used, in no way violates trademark law. They also agree to participate in a dispute resolution proceeding in the event of a complaint.

NSI continues to control the three largest top-level domain registries. In mid-2001, ICANN announced its intent to introduce three new top-level domains over the next several months. The.biz domain will be operated by NeuLevel. Register.com will oversee the.pro domain, which will be split into three different domains:.med.pro for doctors;.law.pro for lawyers; and.cpa.acc.pro for accountants. The registrar of the third new top-level domain,.info, is yet unnamed. ICANN plans to launch four additional top-level domains by 2002.

FURTHER READING:

"Domain Monopoly's Days are Numbered." Reuters. April 12, 1999.

"Domain Name." In Ecommerce Webopedia. 2001. Available from e-comm.webopedia.com.

Hoisington, Michael J. "A Perfect Domain Name Within a Business's Reach." San Diego Business Journal. April 2, 2001.

"ICANN." In Ecommerce Webopedia. Darien, CT: Inter-net.com, 2001. Available from e-comm.webopedia.com.

"ICANN." In Techencyclopedia. Point Pleasant, PA: Computer Language Co., 2001. Available from www.techweb.com/encyclopedia.

Mahoney, Michael. "Madonna Wins Domain Name Dispute." E-Commerce Times. October 17, 2000. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com.

Posnock, Susan T. "Conquering Cybersquatters." Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management. April 2001.

"Scramble for New Internet Domains Begins." United Press International. June 22, 2001.

"Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy." Marina del Rey, CA: ICANN, 2001. Available from www.icann.org.

SEE ALSO: Cybersquatting; Dispute Resolution; ICANN (Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers); URL (Uni-form Resource Locator)

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