In the past several days, I have been confronted with a quirky issue. Let me explain the background with a hypothetical example, because I don’t want to name any specific details of the actual case.
Last year, ICANN (the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers) published the list of new top-level domains (TLDs) that are expected to launch in the coming years. Some of these new top-level domains are oversubscribed — for example, 9 groups are listed in ICANN’s applicant listing for “dot book“:
Number String  Applicant Location  Community?  Geographic?  Primary
Contact Email Application
ID Application Status IE Result Application
Updates Objections GAC EW String
291 BOOK Top Level Domain Holdings Limited VG – – Mr. Antony Van Couvering Tas.Minds.Machines.firstname.lastname@example.org 1-1038-7319 In IE – Yes – – Yes Yes
357 BOOK NU DOT CO LLC US – – Jose Ignacio Rasco email@example.com 1-1296-97422 In IE – – – – Yes –
769 BOOK Charleston Road Registry Inc. US – – Sarah Falvey firstname.lastname@example.org 1-1099-17603 In IE – – – – Yes –
890 BOOK Amazon EU S.à r.l. LU – – Ms. Lorna Jean Gradden email@example.com 1-1315-44051 In IE – – – Yes Yes –
996 BOOK R.R. Bowker LLC US – – Ms. Sharon L Lubrano Sharon.Lubrano@bowker.com 1-1020-75316 In IE – – – – Yes –
1464 BOOK Global Domain Registry Pty Ltd AU – – Mr. Jeremy Ebbels firstname.lastname@example.org 1-1132-20461 In IE – – – – Yes –
1546 BOOK Double Bloom, LLC US – – Daniel Schindler email@example.com 1-1361-60591 In IE – Yes – – Yes Yes
1758 BOOK DotBook, LLC US – – Ms. Annie Callanan firstname.lastname@example.org 1-2029-6966 In IE – – – – Yes –
1878 BOOK Bronze Registry Limited GI – – Mr. Geir Andreas Rasmussen email@example.com 1-1217-96477 In IE – Yes – – Yes Yes
I actually know some of the applicants for “dot book” personally; R.R. Bowker, LLC is a well-known player in the publishing industry; and almost everyone on Earth is familiar with 2 of the applicants — Google and Amazon. But one company is not listed: Facebook.
Why do I find this surprising? Well, in fact I don’t. But just several days ago, I became informed of a court case in which one well-known company is actually claiming that the top-level domain is in fact part of its brand name — in other words: that would be analogous to Facebook (i.e., Facebook, Inc.) claiming something like “we have the right to use face.book — and no one else may use that domain name”.
I find this rather odd. Likewise, a company that goes by the name of “NewsCorp” could claim that it has the exclusive right to the domain news.corp; perhaps a company by the name “Meine Maus” could even claim the right to use the domain name meine.ma.us? (note that presently www.state.ma.us is administered by the State of Massachusetts, and other departments of the government of Massachusetts administer other subdomains of ma.us)
Personally, I would find this absolutely ridiculous. In my opinion, any country that has a somewhat functioning legal system needs to become aware of repercussions of granting private companies the right to “take control” of the country’s top-level domain that way. Beyond the simple and straightforward abdication of the country’s sovereignty, such an act would also undermine the entire trust a country’s population has built up in the legal system of that country. Millions of Germans visit “dot de” addresses every day, trusting that a “dot de” address is a sign that German law applies to “dot de” domain names.
If any country were to abdicate control of the country’s namespace online, wouldn’t that undermine the trustworthiness of that country? Or at least of that country’s top level domain? Who would do business with any business online, if they do not know whether the domain name in question has any rule of law behind it?