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    Government Advisory Committee (GAC) Name Rights Battle Takes a New Turn: Part 1 - GAC's Power Grab
    posted by Mueller on Thursday October 11 2001, @12:10PM

    ICANN’s still-unsettled structure received yet another warping last month when the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) voted to intervene directly into the process of introducing new generic top-level domains. The results have serious implications for the future direction of ICANN. It calls into question ICANN’s status as a bottom-up, private-sector organization and points toward its gradual absorption by governments as an international regime under their direct control.





    It should be noted that under recognized international law, governments have no intellectual property rights in their country names. And in its second domain name process, the normally aggressive World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) pulled back from expanding the UDRP to embrace rights to geographical indicators. The WIPO Final Report refers to “evidence of the widespread registration of the names of countries, places within countries and indigenous peoples as domain names by persons unassociated with the countries, places or peoples,” but concluded that “these areas are not covered by existing international laws and a decision needs to be taken as to whether such laws ought to be developed.” WIPO’s caution was prodded in part by business trademark holders concerned about the potential confusion, and possible erosion of their rights, that might be caused by proliferating claims to names by governments, regions, and administrative entities.

    The lack of a recognized claim in international law did not deter the GAC, however. At the Montevideo meeting GAC issued a request that “the names of countries and distinct economies…should be reserved by the .info Registry in Latin characters in their official language(s) and in English and assigned to the corresponding governments and public authorities, at their request, for use. These names in other [non-roman] character sets should be reserved in the same way as soon as they become available.”

    Surprisingly, ICANN did not brush aside this claim, as it might have done only two years ago. Instead, ICANN’s Board passed a resolution one day after it received the request from GAC (setting a new Olympic world record in “community consensus-formation”) bowing in part to the GAC’s wishes. Specifically, the Board authorized Afilias to implement a freeze on any new registrations of ISO-3166-1 country codes under .info, and instructed Afilias to challenge any existing registrations made during the Sunrise period. These arrangements seem to have emerged from informal negotiations between GAC and Afilias. ICANN’s President also agreed to come up with an action plan.

    The implications of these actions upon the structure of ICANN’s decision making and policy formation process should be clear. Fundamental policy decisions about who has the rights to names are being advanced at the 11th hour by an entity (the GAC) that under the original concept of ICANN simply does not have any policy making authority whatsoever. And yet, ICANN’s management and its pet registry contractors are rolling over nicely. It would seem that GAC has finally – as some of us predicted it would – stepped directly into the role of a 4th Supporting Organization; a Supporting Organization that seems to be “more equal” than others, especially the DNSO.

    The President’s action plan made the situation even worse. It proposed to keep the 327 country codes under .info in the deep freeze while a “discussion group” was formed to explore “appropriate ways” of dispensing the names. Did the proposed discussion group include members of the Domain Name Supporting Organization, nominally ICANN’s official body for formulating domain name policy? It did not. It included members of the ICANN Board, representatives of GAC, Afilias, and WIPO.

    The DNSO was patted on the head and told to go off and ruminate on “possible approaches for longer-term arrangements concerning the use of geographic names within DNS.”

    In the next installment of this (exciting?) series, the DNSO’s reaction will be covered.


     
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    Name Rights Battle Takes a New Turn: Part 1 - GAC's Power Grab | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 5 comments | Search Discussion
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    Re: Name Rights Battle Takes a New Turn: Part 1 -
    by jberryhill on Thursday October 11 2001, @01:56PM (#2819)
    User #3013 Info
    It will be most fascinating to observe the spectacle of a technical coordinating body making such decisions as to whom to award "Afghanistan.info", the first country appearing on the ISO list. Are we to understand that ICANN is holding it in trust for the Taliban? Will a California corporation convey control over "Iraq.info" to Mr. Hussein, and "Libya.info" to Mr. Qaddafi, in contravention of U.S. law relating to providing services to those coutnries?

    The ISO list includes "Palestinian Territory, Occupied", but no "Palestine". Which name shall they reserve? Shall ICANN recognize "Tawain, Province of China", or simply "Taiwan"?

    Which government shall control "Puerto Rico"?

    To whom shall we award "Cyprus.info"?

    These and similar questions are the precise reasons why Dr. Postel did not engage in the business of determining who is the recognized government of a coutnry, nor did IANA consider TLD's to be national assets of some kind. As Dr. Mueller notes, the action plan refers to the WIPO2 final report, but it is apparent that no one responsible for the resolution appears to have noticed that the WIPO2 report reccomended against this kind of nonsense, nor did anyone notice that it was the "final" report of the Second Domain Name Process. To read the plan, one would come away with the impression that WIPO made no recommendations of any kind. The action plan calls for the question "to having the matter addressed" in the WIPO2 process. It has been.

    Now that WIPO has accused ICI, Roche, and other pharmaceutical companies of "abusive" domain name registrations of INN's (e.g. alcloxa.com), watching them dictate to the people who have, not only lawyers, but guns as well, should provide a new level of comedy.


    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
    Re: Name Rights Battle Takes a New Turn: Part 1 -
    by Jon_Weinberg on Thursday October 11 2001, @04:06PM (#2822)
    User #16 Info | www.threecats.net
    Some additional background: GAC's request comes in the context of a near-unanimous refusal by UDRP panelists to order transfer of names in the form of countryname.com or cityname.com to representatives of governments. Governments have argued that they should get these .com domain names because they are more worthy holders of the names than are the private individuals or companies that actually registered them. They have, quite properly, lost. The concept that each domain name has a single, most worthy holder, and that the architecture of the DNS should be designed to funnel the name to that holder, is alien to the historical development of the domain name space. While the UDRP does transfer domain names to trademark holders, ICANN added that mechanism on the theory that it was nothing more than an inexpensive way for trademark holders to vindicate pre-existing legal rights, external to the domain name system, that the trademark holders would otherwise be able to vindicate in national courts. Governments have been able to assert no comparable legal rights.



    It's precisely because governments have been unable to prevail under the UDRP in seeking SLDs in .com, that they've chosen another route to get the names in .info. And so far, they're succeeding; by order of ICANN, names such as formeryugoslavrepublicofmacedonia.info and southgeorgiaandthesouthsandwichislands.info have been placed off-limits to registration, at least through March 2002. (You can see the complete list here.) But the vision of the DNS this embodies, one in which central authorities have power to select the deserving recipients of particular names, is far different from the vision that now controls in the unrestricted TLDs. If governments want names for official sites outside of the ccTLDs, let ICANN establish a chartered TLD for official government sites, and leave the unrestricted TLDs unrestricted.

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