Personal Rights and Domain Names

There has been much attention to the rights of free speech vs. the trademark rights of corporations on the Internet. One of the major players is the Domain Name Rights Coalition (DNRC), a working group of the Association for The Creation and Propagation of Internet Policies (A-TCPIP). They are currently lobbying the Department of Commerce for changes to their Technical Management of Internet Names and Addresses green paper to ensure that the rights of small businesses and individuals who may not have federally-registered trademarks still have rights to second-level domain names. Part of the concern is the policies instituted by Network Solutions that:

  • give trademark owners a priori rights to domain names,
  • protects them against litigation costs, and
  • provides a resolution policy for the domain holder and the contesting party to follow

The DNRC opposes these policies because:

  • they do not require any substantial evidence of trademark infringement, but simply evidence of a trademark equivalent to a domain name,
  • equate trademarks and domain names, despite court cases to the contrary,
  • place a majority of responsibility on the domain name holder to defend his domain name,
  • provide non-trademark holders little rights of expression through the top-level domains controlled by Network Solutions, and
  • do not bind DNRC to many of the procedures in the agreement, which simply lists actions they "may" take.
  • provide a dangerous precedent of trademark supremacy for other top-level domains (such as .us or other TLD's suggested by the green paper)

There is also substantial concern that proposed policies of the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) which is to be the successor to Network Solutions in managing the domain name registration process may also have similar problems. A major proponent of these "conflict resolution policies" is the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The DNRC and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are leading proponents of keeping the Internet open and accessible to all, including the domain name registration system. The EFF asserts in "Re: Request for Comments on Issues Addressed in the WIPO Internet Domain Name Process (WIPO RFC-2)":

We believe that the provision of Internet domain names is fundamentally a human rights issue, not an intellectual property issue. All discussions on how to protect the rights of intellectual property holders in the domain naming system are starting with the flawed premise that those rights are superior to those of the public-at-large. No one group of intellectual property holders' interests should outweigh anyother group's, or outweigh any other rights held by individuals and the public.