The IAHC's plan to introduce seven new top-level Internet domains has hit its first major snag - in the form of a lawsuit from a small US company which claims it has had rights to one of the proposed top-level domains - .web - for more than six months.
Image Online Design has filed suit in a California court alleging that the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) knowingly violated an agreement it had with Image Online Design over the .web top level domain, one of the seven new domains proposed by the IAHC. The company, which operates a private registry business called .Web has asked the court to recognise its "first and prior use" of the .web top level domain.
Image Online Design claims that under the auspices of the IANA, it has registered names under the .web domain since August 1996, but sources familiar with the IANA say that it has yet to delegate the .web name.
The company's Website includes pages detailing the services .Web offers, including "registration of domain names under the .web Top Level Domain. Please be aware that at this time, these domains are not available in the 'traditional' root servers." Information on the .Web pages has been updated within the past three weeks, and details relating to registrations under the .web domain were modified over the weekend. The company charges $35 annually for names under .web. It is said to have "registered" around 1000 names - many of these are speculative, but some mirror real sites.
According to the statement, the decision by the International Ad-Hoc Committee (IAHC) to use the .web top level domain as part of a newly organised domain name system is an infringement of an agreement between IANA and Image Online Designs that gives jurisdiction of the .web name to the latter. IANA, a government funded project housed at the University of Southern California, is the top authority that currently oversees the distribution of domain names and Internet address space. The 11-member IAHC, meanwhile, was set up late last year with the charter to revamp the domain name system and draws two of its members from the IANA. It announced its plan to rework domain names on Feb. 4. Under the IAHC's plan, IANA would delegate seven new, generic top-level domain names that would be distributed by up to 28 domain name registries around the world.
Peter Mott, who runs a commercial registry service in Auckland, has been following the dispute and says IO Design's case is based on its claim that IANA officials gave it the right to register names under .web as an "experimental" domain. One IANA official, Bill Manning, is said to have been the prime mover in granting the right.
"It was deemed to be an experimental domain. There have been others, like .corp and .earth - and I would expect that the people handling those would have a case too if the IAHC had picked one of those among its new domains," says Mott. "US law tends to favour the concept of prior use in general, so it really comes down to what was said at the meeting."
The IAHC plan may also soon strike trouble with other alternative registrars who feel that it exceeded its brief in dictating which domains would be used, rather than leaving the choice to the market. On the other hand, it proposal has the blessing of IBM, among other enterprises keeping a close eye on the Web's transformation into an ever more commercial network.
"The growth in .com is extraordinary, and to have a little more differentiation, it's a good idea," saysd John Patrick, IBM's vice president of Internet technology. Patrick says he expects the IAHC proposal to win widespread industry acceptance.
"I don't see why not. Just like TCP/IP itself and all Internet technologies, it's had a broad public scrutiny. It wasn't somebody cooking it up back in a corner."