Your Domain May Be Available…
...if a corporation sets its eyes on it. At least that seems to be the pattern emerging from ICANN, the nonprofit organization which governs the domain name system, the mechanism of the Internet which translates "c4.net" into a numeric address which computers can use to deliver e-mail, view a web site, or just about anything else you care to do on the Internet.
Without the domain name system, the Internet ceases to function in almost any practical way. This is why it scares many individuals, companies, and other countries to know that it is controlled by a small group of "directors" who are part of a private, unaccountable organization sanctioned by the United States government.
We'd like to envision ICANN as a benevolent dictator, somehow stringing together a hodgepodge, global telecommunications network with relatively user friendly names like "microsoft.com," "cnn.com," and "ge.com." However, ICANN has shied away from anything resembling a democratic process or open disclosure. At its best, the decisions it makes seem arbitrary and controversial. At its worse, we have the latest decision from ICANN.
Some time ago, ICANN instituted the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP), a way for trademark holders to protect their trademarks from "cybersquatters," people who purchase domain names, like "Pepsi.com," which infringe on international trademarks. Cybersquatters hold the domains ransom until the afflicted corporation pays up.
That was before the UDRP, which theoretically protects companies from trademark infringement. However, the UDRP was just (mis)used to take the canadian.biz domain from a Canadian citizen and handed over to Molson. That's right, the beer company. Some fool in the trademark office gave Molson the trademark to the word "Canadian" in 1998. Now I don't know about you, but I thought the word "Canadian" was a little too general to qualify as an international trademark. But, I guess, "Canadian" is the international word for beer, and we all know that the only beer that comes from Canada is Molson. Right?
Bad, hangover-waiting-to-happen, Canadian beer, maybe, but not "Canadian."
This article discusses some of the more recent atrocities perpetuated by ICANN, which included stealing these domains from their rightful owners under the guise of international trademark law:
- guess.biz - Taken by the clothing manufacturer
- heel.biz - Taken by a company of the name Herba est ex luce (HEEL). Who?
- parents.biz - A French magazine patented "parents" in 1979. I would think my parents could claim prior art.
- peachtree.biz - Taken by an accounting software company.
- switchboard.biz - Taken by an apparent fly by night .com that will probably be gone in a few months anyway.
- buffy.biz - As in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
- timely.biz - Taken by a company that manufactures door frames.
For most of the names above, I can't even imagine which companies could possibly claim the domains interfered with their international trademarks. But of course, I'm still trying to come to grips with the fact that Molson could have trademarked "Canadian" just 4 years ago. Makes me wonder who owns "American" or "United States" -- or my name. It certainly calls into question whether or not any one of us has any real hold on our domain should a money grubbing corporation decide that they want it.