Owners of domain names that use the words "Maori" or "television" could be in for a nasty surprise - unless they're used by the Maori Television service, the names are potentially illegal.
Former InternetNZ councillor Steven Heath bought the domain name tv.maori.nz after watching the hikoi march through Wellington recently.
"I thought 'I know it's sitting there, I'll buy it and donate it to Maori Television since they're a charity now'.”
Heath says he was surprised to see Maori TV not buy a .maori.nz domain name for its site - .maori.nz is the world's only ethnically-related second level domain (2LD).
However Maori TV communications manager Sonya Haggie says there is no question of having the name donated - Heath shouldn't have it at all.
"We're protected in that respect. Nobody is allowed to buy domain names that could be mistaken for ours."
The Maori Television Service Act 2003 contains a specific section on the "protection of names" which says: "No person may be incorporated or registered under any other enactment or in any other manner using the following names…" and includes "Maori Television Service", "Te Aratuku Whakaata Irirangi Maori" and "any other name that so resembles the names ... as to be likely to mislead a person".
Haggie says that would extend to domain names and anyone trading under a potentially misleading name or trying to sell the domain name to Maori TV would find themselves running afoul of the law.
Auckland-based barrister and IT specialist Clive Elliot says it's quite surprising to see such a clause included in legislation. "Particularly in regard to a commercial venture like this one."
Elliot says he doesn't know of any other company that has to be protected in this manner.
"I know the [New Zealand] Rugby Union tried to protect the silver fern logo but I don't think that has happened."
Elliot wonders if the clause could be invoked if someone who is of Maori ethnic origin set up a website devoted to television using such a name.
"That would be interesting I think."
However Maori Television hasn't managed to buy www.maoritv.co.nz or www.maoritv.com, both of which are owned by an Auckland-based music producer, Stephen Guntrip, who points to his band The Managers from the latter name. Guntrip did not immediately return Computerworld Online calls.
Maori Television's own website, a .com, is designed to attract the younger audience, says Haggie.
"Because the Maori population is skewed towards youth we wanted to attract their attention with the website."
Haggie says the company has no plans to implement a .maori.nz site or even a redirect to the existing site but is "supportive" of the idea of the .maori.nz 2LD.
Heath says he wonders how the section of law would apply to any other .maori.nz names in future. The Domain Name Commissioner, Debbie Monahan, says registrants who buy domain names are treated on a "first come first served basis" and that .maori.nz is unmoderated.
"However registrants do agree to certain terms and conditions when they register a name and that includes not trampling on property rights or using the name for illegal purposes".
Monahan says anyone with an issue over a domain name should take up that issue first with the registrant and then, if they get no joy, with the registrar.