Happy Birthday Dot Com

Coming of age?

I was listening to BBC World Service this morning, and they mentioned that the “.com” domain is now 25 years old. As part of the item someone ( CEO Rod Beckstrom?) from ICANN talked about this being part of the internet coming of age.

Since then there have been releases of top level domains for every country, and a number of subject specific domains. But like most things around the internet it has it’s share of misuse, abuse and ‘creative practices’.

Misuse

Country level domains were originally designed for use by the companies and individuals of that country but some country level domains turn out to have handy meanings, sometimes across languages.

  • .nu is the country domain name for Niue, and it’s popular in the Netherlands as “nu” means now, so a radio add that invites you to go to “abc punt nu” gets a nice urgent ring to its slogan.
  • .ws was originally the country domain name for Western Samoa, but it’s now marketing as “dot website”. This has not become widespread and the marketing around it typically looks dodgy almost like a pyramid scheme.
  • .tv stands for television and also for Tuvalu, a country that is rapidly disappearing under rising tides. Its domain name is run by VeriSign who collect every time you sign up for a domain name. When I bought a .tv domain some years ago I was told that the registry prices their domain names based on who’s buying, so big companies are charged more.

Abuse

some of the links on Seimens.com, including one to Siemens.

The most common form of abuse is cybersquatting, where a domain name relating to a brand (sometimes a brand name, sometimes a typo) is bought and held until the company in question comes looking for it. In the meantime a simple site with google ads or other paying links can be set up. Often some of the links will be to the target company – which lets the squatter accurately measure the traffic you are missing out on. Best example of this is one relating to Siemens, try typing in http://www.seimens.com, the page you reach is held by a cybersquatter.

Companies can try to recover such domain names in one of two ways; by negotiating with the cybersquatter directly or going to UDRP.

The negotiation track is best done through an independent third party, I haven’t been through this successfully recently but the costs are likely to be 5,000 to 10,000 euros if your company is a “known brand”, plus agency costs. The advantage is that it can be relatively fast, and the process is unlikely to become public knowledge.

The other route is the UDRP (Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy) and involves lawyers and more time, I’m part way through one at the moment.

‘Creative Practices’

I guess the most famous of these would have to be the .cm domain effort. This involves a deal with the Cameroon government and a sneaky redirect set up. An example of it is discussed on Business Insider where the amazon.cm redirected to ebay (it doesn’t any more). It’s hard to know whether there is any legal action a company can take – since the redirection may not come under trademark law.

I know there are people out there who consider themselves “domainers” and call this legitimate and smart business. I don’t agree, it’s hi-jacking a company’s brand, but because big companies are “the bad guys” it’s easy for domainers to cast themselves as the eternal David in a struggle against multiple Goliaths. In my view this is one area of the internet where the law is well behind the reality, it’s perhaps a rebel teenage phase rather than a true “coming of age”.

cake image small (25) /Sascha/ CC BY 2.0

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