ICANN Dot-Anything: Rethinking the Scope of the New GTLD Expansion, Its Effect on Government Regulation, and Its Impact on Trademark Owners

Posted: 14 Feb 2012 Last revised: 9 Jun 2014

Date Written: December 18, 2011

Abstract

Just like the technology world prepared for Y2K, the dot-com centric way of Internet addressing is preparing to change. Instead of typing www.dot.com into your web browser, you will be able to enter www.dot.anything. This is because the organization in charge of domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has approved plans for the introduction of new generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) extensions. This dramatically increases the number of TLDs, with familiar domain extensions like .com, .org, and .net, from the current 22 to an unlimited number of TLDs. ICANN is rewriting the nomenclature for web addressing. More importantly, the expansion is likely to place an undue burden on government regulation and negatively impact trademark owners.

During ICANN’s incorporation in 1999, careful consideration was given to its technical functions, its obligation to the global public interest and its governance over the Internet. These considerations are captured in Article IV of ICANN’s Articles of Incorporation and its Bylaws. Originally, the primary role of ICANN, which was incorporated as a “nonprofit public benefit corporation,” was to assume technical responsibility for the operational stability of the Internet. However, ICANN quickly realized, and subsequently announced that it was necessary to begin making policy decisions related to its technical function. In 2002, ICANN amended its Bylaws, a decision that was approved by the Board, and ICANN was allowed to start creating domain name policies by a vote of the Board, irrespective of consensus among the various stakeholders. The extent to which the ICANN board should be able to independently create these “technically related” policies has been a source of much controversy, intensified by debates surrounding the recent expansion of gTLDs.

This Note examines whether ICANN’s rationale for expanding gTLDs to increase “consumer choice,” contradicts its charter to “lessen the burden of government” in regulating the Internet. Part I outlines the scope and legal framework under which ICANN was chartered. Part II explores the structure of the Domain Name System and discusses the justifications for and against gTLD expansion. Part III reviews ICANN’s planned gTLD application process and the proposed trademark protection mechanisms. Part IV determines the challenges the gTLD expansion may face and highlights the new burdens it will place on regulation and the impacts it will have on trademark owners. This Note concludes with proposals on how ICANN can comply with its charter.

Suggested Citation

Awakessien, Ukeme, ICANN Dot-Anything: Rethinking the Scope of the New GTLD Expansion, Its Effect on Government Regulation, and Its Impact on Trademark Owners (December 18, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1987632

Ukeme Awakessien (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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