The nonprofit group charged with overhauling some of the Internet's key management issues approved a procedure for handling disputes over top-level domain names, or Internet addresses ending with .org, .net and .com.
The nonprofit group, called Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN), approved the procedure in a meeting of its interim board in Santiago, Chile, where ICANN is holding its third general meeting this week, Esther Dyson, interim chairman of the group, said in an interview.
The procedure aims to deal with the problem of "cybersquatting," where one company or individual lays claim to an Internet address -- such as www.companyX.com -- that another entity also claims a right to use. Such instances have proved fairly common and often wind up in court, where there are few precedents for dealing with such cases.
Broadly speaking, the procedure approved, which will be posted for public comment, prohibits "bad faith" or "abusive" attempts to lay claim to Internet addresses. It also provides a mechanism whereby Internet addresses can be cancelled or transferred to their proper owner where a blatant violation has taken place, according to information on ICANN's Web site.
The procedure adopted was proposed by a group of domain name registrars -- the companies that will register Internet addresses under a competitive system currently being introduced by ICANN -- and draws heavily on recommendations made by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, Dyson said.
"The registrars have had a lot of experience with this, they've been doing it for a while, so it makes sense to go with their proposal," she said. Network Solutions , the government contractor that until recently was the sole registrar for the top-level domains, has agreed to the proposal, Dyson added.
In a recent instance of alleged "cybersquatting," a small firm based in Greece that sells books online set up business with the Internet address http://www.amazon.com.gr. Online powerhouse Amazon.com Inc. sued the smaller firm, claiming a long list of legal violations. At the heart of the problem of such disputes is the need to balance the rights of large corporations subjected to such apparent cases of prospecting, against the rights of other small firms who may have a legitimate claim to those valuable names.
Mike Roberts, ICANN's interim president, will now hammer out the details of the procedure and write them up in a draft form, which will be made available for a period of public comment before being signed off on by the ICANN interim board. ICANN hopes to work fast enough to enable domain-name registrars to enact the policy in 45 days, Dyson said.
Public feedback is likely to be plentiful, and the policy approved by the board today hasn't passed without controversy. Critics have complained that it gives large corporations arbitrary power to protect their brand names. Others say ICANN, which was formed by the government last year and has yet to elect a permanent board, should have waited until its full membership is in place before it started making important Internet-policy decisions.
Still other critics have charged that non-U.S. countries are under-represented in ICANN's advisory groups and at-large membership. "There's a lot of outreach to be done," Dyson agreed. "We're trying really hard to make (international representation) broad. There was really good representation here from Latin America, Europe and Africa."
This is ICANN's third general meeting, and the first that it has made open to the public. Much of the proceedings are accessible via Webcasts from ICANN's Web site, at http://www.icann.org.
Dyson characterised the meeting so far as "a lot more cheerful than in the past. We're actually doing things now, while before we just talked about doing things."
The board today also provisionally admitted a group representing noncommercial domain name holders, such as libraries, to its Domain Name Supporting Organisation, which advises ICANN on Internet policy matters. The noncommercial group will be recognised until ICANN considers the matter officially at its next annual meeting of the board in November, Dyson said.
More information about the ICANN's meetings this week in Santiago is available through its Web site, at http://www.icann.org.