ccTLDs, gTLDS, and Making Sense of ICANN’s Alphabet Soup
A new Internet land rush started this week, as the .co extension became available. This extension is what is called a ccTLD, or a country code top level domain, for the country of Colombia. It has become popular with businesses and corporations, as well as with trademark owners with .co in their names. Other popular ccTLDs that have had a similar mainstream appeal have been .tv for the country of Tuvalu, and .me for Montegnegro. The .co domains went on sale Tuesday through registrars such as GoDaddy, and many of them have been snapped up. This is only the beginning, as the Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers, or ICANN, the organization charged with regulating domain names and other addresses on the Internet, is preparing to make available generic top level domains, or gTLDs in the near future. ICANN also approved the top level domain .xxx earlier this year for adult web sites, which will go on sale next year.
So how does this affect you and your entertainment enterprise? You’re probably familiar with the existing domain name extensions, such as .com, .net, and the need to register the domain name of your band or project to protect your space on the Internet. So let’s say you registered the domain yourbandname.com, and have set up your web page on that domain. You may have registered the misspellings of the domain, or other top level domains to cover the bases. Well when the new gTLDs become available, you could wake up and find someone has registered the domain dot.yourbandname, or even yourbandname.sucks. It is a real possibility that trademark owners and brand managers are concerned about, and several rounds of rules and dispute procedures have been released for public comment and revised by ICANN. For now, the best approach to this is to keep an eye on what domains are made available and register domains relevant to your brand.
The .sucks and related domains are a real concern for trademark owners and brand managers, as well as free speech advocates. Look for a future post on these gripe sites and how they interact with new gTLDs, I’m actually fascinated by the intersection of this area of the Internet and the law after looking into it. In some instances, when trademark owners have gone after operators of domains disparaging their company, such as verizonsucks.com, it has only served to generate more gripe sites and attention to them. It’s a similar problem for companies who end up with parody accounts on Twitter, such as @BPGlobalPR that have popped up and certainly not operated by the actual company. It’s not an immediate concern, as the process of applying to operate a top level domain to sell registrations with the extension .sucks has to be approved by ICANN and costs $45,000, but stranger things have happened on the Internet. And if it was approved, there are people out there who would find the relatively low cost of registering a .sucks domain to be worth it to express their distaste for a company or product. Just as an example, I love my Oakley eyeglass frames, but there’s a guy with a page out there devoted to getting Oakley to change how the end of the earpiece is shaped because he poked himself in the eye with the end of his one day.
Managing your brand online is important, and requires constant monitoring, including the opening of the new top level domains, as well as social media sites. Setting up a Google alert for your brand name isn’t a bad idea to help with this process. The decision of how to proceed if someone is using your name, or mark is one that differs depending on the strength of the mark and how vigorously you want to be in protecting it. Look for more tips in the future. I’d be interested in hearing from you on these issues as well.