ICANN enters damage control over domain expansion

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ICANN enters damage control over domain expansion

Defensive spending on new TLDs expected from Thursday.

Internet domain name regulators have played down fears by the United Nations and other international bodies that a planned expansion of possible Website addresses could cause them problems.

The world body, the International Monetary Fund and 26 other organisations last month wrote to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, asking it to stop addresses like ".un" or ".imf" from being seized by cybersquatters.

ICANN, an independent non-profit body, is due to begin accepting applications on Thursday for a hugely expanded number of options for top-level domains -- the code to the right of the period in a URL, such as ".com" or ".org."

"We're very sensitive to those concerns," ICANN president Rod Beckstrom told reporters, referring to the objections by international bodies. "We'll be responding to that letter."

Beckstrom said that if anyone applied for a top-level domain using a trademark or service mark owned by someone else, the owner could file a complaint to a panel of intellectual property experts, who would decide who had rights to the term.

"If (those who registered the domain) have no rights to that term, then you're in a very good position," he said. "So you don't need to apply for the term for a top-level domain because you're concerned that someone who has no rights might apply."

Private corporations are also worried about increased potential for Web addresses falling into the wrong hands.

A top executive of the US Association of National Advertisers, Dan Jaffe, has warned there might have to be enormous "defensive spending" by companies to buy up each version of their name.

Purchasing a top-level domain will cost $US185,000, but Beckstrom said that with annual fees to ICANN added in, the cost would rise to over $US400,000 over the first 10 years in payments to ICANN alone.

In their letter to ICANN, the international bodies said: "The IGO (intergovernmental organisation) community concerns relate to the increased potential for the misleading registration and use of IGO names and acronyms in the domain name system."

Jamie Hedlund, ICANN vice president for government affairs, said that while international organizations did not have trade marks for their names, terms protected by international treaty would receive the same protection as trade marks.

"If the United Nations is protected by treaty, (and) someone applies for dot-unitednations, they'll have lost their $US185,000 application fee because ... they don't have the right to use that name," he said.

ICANN, based in Palo Alto, California, was created in 1998 by the administration of former US President Bill Clinton to take over domain name regulation from the US government.

It reported to the US Commerce Department until 2009 but says it is now an international non-profit organization representing the world's 2 billion Internet users.

Beckstrom described the application period, which will run from Thursday until April 12, as "the most significant opening in the history of the domain system" and said it was designed to promote competition.

ICANN says the exercise could raise the number of generic top-level domains from about two dozen now to hundreds.

(Reporting By Patrick Worsnip; editing by Todd Eastham)

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