Critics slam new policy on contested domain names

Seeking to clarify a murky area of cyberspace law, Network Solutions, the company that assigns domain names to Internet sites in the US and elsewhere, has revised its policy over who has the right to use contested Web site addresses.

Seeking to clarify a murky area of cyberspace law, Network Solutions, the company that assigns domain names to Internet sites in the US, has revised its policy over who has the right to use contested Web site addresses.

The new policy, agreed upon with the US National Science Foundation, states that where a dispute arises over use of a domain name (the characters appearing after the "www" in an Internet address) Network Solutions will give preference to the party that holds "a certified copy of a federal registration certificate" for the name, or a US trademark.

However, some observers say the new policy, which has been revised once already since it was written 13 months ago, will do little to quell disputes because, they say, it flies in the face of established US law. "The entire policy is based on some misconception of trademark law," says David Maher, an attorney at Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal in Chicago. "The policy makes no distinction between registered and common law trademarks."

In American law, Maher says, when a company adopts an original trademark or tradename it acquires, in most cases, common law rights to its exclusive use. "There is no requirement in American law to register a trademark," says Maher, who is also cochair of the International Trademark Association's Internet issues committee. The new policy, he says, runs roughshod over parties who may claim common law rights to a tradename.

"It's a very complex problem with no easy solution," Maher says. "Right now, they'd probably be better off having no policy at all."

Network Solutions says in a statement that its new policy "maintains and strengthens a balanced position between the competing demands of trademark owners and domain name registrants."

"The revised policy also precludes domain name registrants from obtaining a last minute, instant trademark to use as prima facie evidence of their legal right to the domain name," the statement reads.

Network Solutions is internationally known as the Domain Name registrar for InterNIC, and provides worldwide registration for addresses and names within the .com, .org, .edu, .net, and .gov domains.

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