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On Site: Deliberating on ICANN

By Dori Kornfeld

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 43 No. 7, Pages 25-26
10.1145/341852.341874


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In March, international representatives gathered in Cairo to discuss standards for Internet governance at the open meetings of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The groups deliberated over the establishment of an at-large membership, the creation of new generic top-level domains (TLDs), the protection of famous marks, and the management of country-code TLDs.

ICANN is the private, nonprofit corporation formed to assume management of the technical functions of the Internet, previously handled by the U.S. government or its contractors and volunteers. Since its inception in October 1998, ICANN has been responsible for coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS), assigning protocol parameters, allocating Internet Protocol address space, and managing the root server system.

ACM has taken an integral role in representing the public interest within ICANN. In late 1998, the ACM Internet Governance Committee helped found the Non-Commercial Domain Name Holders Constituency (NCC) of the Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO), one of ICANN's three special advisory boards. The NCC's charge is to support noncommercial speech on the Internet and to forge together the interests of noncommercial domain name holders.

The NCC prioritized three issues in Cairo: the implementation of a fair and representative at-large election procedure, the rapid introduction of new generic TLDs, and the assurance that the protection of trademarks does not undermine free speech.

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At-Large Elections

ICANN has been involved in ongoing deliberations to devise a structure for the establishment of a global at-large membership that will elect half of ICANN's Board of Directors. The week before the Cairo meetings, ICANN launched a drive inviting individuals to join its at-large membership. The new at-large members would elect 18 representatives to an at-large council, which then would select nine members to the ICANN Board by September of this year.

ICANN participants expressed overwhelming disapproval of the Board's plan in Cairo. The NCC noted that the indirect election process would eliminate accountability while facilitating capture and that the lack of multicultural information available about ICANN would deter international participation. During ICANN's public forum, NCC members urged the Board to implement direct elections and undertake an education and outreach program. The Board ultimately voted unanimously to institute direct elections for the selection of five initial at-large directors and establish a committee to solicit nominations for the Board positions. It also indicated its intent to provide more informative materials for non-English speakers.

Any individual over the age of 16 with a valid email and postal address can register for the at-large membership free of charge at the ICANN Web site (www.icann.org).

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The Creation of New Generic TLDs

A working group formed in June 1999 to discuss the introduction of new generic TLDs into the DNS. The working group achieved rough consensus that new generic TLDs should be created and that the implementation should consist of an initial roll-out of six to 10 new generic TLDs followed by an evaluation period. New generic TLDs currently under consideration include .biz, .firm, and .union.

Noncommercial and business representatives disagreed over the roll-out phase of new generic TLDs. NCC members favored the rapid introduction of new generic TLDs to satisfy an extraordinary pent-up demand for an expansion of namespace. Certain representatives of the business community claimed new generic TLDs should be established slowly so that consumers are not confused. (Many of these same representatives are attempting to ensure their famous trademarks are given priority in the new generic TLDs.) NCC members responded that individuals will not be confused if chartered (specific) generic TLDs are created, such as .airline or .restaurant.


Intellectual property lawyers and business representatives advocated the creation of a famous marks list, whereby trademarks would be given heightened priority and added protection in the new generic TLDs.


The NCC presented a resolution at the public forum that the ICANN Board should expedite the roll-out of both chartered and undifferentiated (used for a general purpose, for example, .biz) generic TLDs and that at least half of any testbed new generic TLDs should be allocated for noncommercial purposes. In its public meeting, the Board instructed the working group to conclude its deliberations so that action can be taken at the next public ICANN meeting this month.

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Protection of Famous Marks

One of the most contentious matters at the Cairo meetings was whether and how famous marks should be protected in the DNS as new generic TLDs are introduced. (For example, should Time Warner have priority over registration of the word "time" in any new domain name?) Intellectual property lawyers and business representatives advocated the creation of a famous marks list, whereby trademarks would be given heightened priority and added protection in the new generic TLDs. Registrars countered that compliance with a famous marks list would increase their liability and instead proposed that any trademark name (not even a famous name) be permitted to register its name as well as five variations of its name in new generic TLDs during a "sunrise" period, before the generic TLDs become open to the public.

Noncommercial representatives opposed the expansion of trademark protection at the expense of free speech. Kathryn Kleiman, who is co-chair of the working group on famous names, gave a presentation at the public forum and noted that trademark law across the world prohibits the monopoly of generic words. For example, Bell Atlantic should not be granted virtual ownership of the word "bell" in cyberspace.

The Board urged the working group and the Names Council to circulate draft policies for public comment. It also passed a resolution noting that the World Intellectual Property Organization's creation of a famous marks list could facilitate the implementation of policies to protect famous marks. The ACM-IGP believes that support from the Board for the establishment of such a list, despite clear objections from many groups within ICANN, undermines the bottom-up representation process and could enable an unjustified expansion of trademark rights.

Much work lies ahead for ACM and the NCC as ICANN moves forward in its administration of Internet governance. ACM will continue to defend educational and scientific interests and will try to ensure that the Internet continuously develops as a communications medium beneficial to all members of the global Internet community.

A more detailed report is available at www.acm.org/serving/IG.html.

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Author

Dori Kornfeld ([email protected]) is a USACM policy analyst and welcomes questions and feedback.


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