So I Can Get a domain-name.eruption: ICANN Votes to Open the Floodgates to New Domain Names

By Pierce Harr *

URL bar http://....Always wanted to have your own domain name?  Been hoping to realize your dream of your very own dot.awesome site?  Well, you just might be in luck.  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has recently voted to end restrictions on suffixes for site names.  Previously, there were only 22 generic top-level domain names, such as dot.com and dot.gov, and approximately 250 country leveldomains, such as dot.uk for the United Kingdom.  ICANN will be accepting applications from January 12, 2012 to April 12, 2012 for new generic top-level names.  Applicants should be “an established corporation, organization, or institution in good standing.”  The application fee will be $185,000 and a single year renewal of the domain will cost $25,000, not to mention the inherent bidding for coveted domain names.  ICANN will implement several safeguards.  New domain names that violate an organization’s trademark will not be allowed, so no dot.coke for you, unless you are Coca-Cola.  New domain names also cannot be similar to existing generic top-level domains, such as dot.com.

So what does this mean for the landscape of the Internet as we know it?  ICANN anticipates the addition of several hundred top-level domains per year, with no more than 1,000 being added in any given year.  Several corporations have already signaled their interest in establishing their own domain name, including Canon pursuing a dot.canon domain.  Additionally, cities and other geographic entities have also signaled an interest in purchasing and maintaining their own domain, such as a dot.berlin domain for the capital of Germany.  In fact, localities have shown a strong interest in maintaining their own “brand” online, with London, New York, Paris, Sydney, Rome, and Mumbai also planning on purchasing their own respective domain names.

Not everyone is excited about this “brave new world” on the Internet.  The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has been actively lobbying ICANN on behalf of hundreds of companies and thousands of brands to not go forward with their plans to expand domain names on the Internet.  The ANA believes that ICANN’s actions could result in disastrous consequences for the Internet and the online business community, amplifying issues of brand dilution, consumer fraud, cybersquatting, and overall confusion about what given sites and domains actually represent.  Brand owners will be forced to invest time and capital into protecting their brand name by purchasing and maintaining a new domain name, all the while having to purchase their own brands from ICANN for at least $185,000.

.co internet country code assigned to ColumbiaICANN opening up the domain name game to the whole world will present some interesting questions.  Where will we see the biggest growth in the domain name sector?  Will it be in the localities/communities sector as some have suggested?  Or will the biggest players in this new era literally be the biggest players on the planet, corporations?  They are already shelling out millions upon millions of dollars in marketing; what is another million or two in the grand scheme of things?  Will the introduction of new domain names, such as dot.xxx, incite sweeping government censorship on the domain level, rendering whole portions of the Internet blocked to the public?  Also, how will trademark holdings across various jurisdictions be resolved?  If one business or entity holds the trademark to X in one jurisdiction and another holds the trademark to X in another jurisdiction, who wins in the “international” jurisdiction of ICANN?  These are just a few of the issues that ICANN’s decision will present to the world in the near future.  While there is great uncertainty as to how this explosion of domain names will ultimately impact and potentially change the landscape of the Internet and online business, the possibilities are undoubtedly exciting for some.  For just a few hundred thousand dollars, you too can own your own little slice of Internet heaven.

* Pierce Haar is a second-year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law and a member of the Pro Bono Board, serving as the Special Trips Coordinator.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Peace, War, and Defense from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Upon graduation in May 2013, Mr. Haar intends to practice either criminal law or civil litigation.