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Wipo Ruling Could Wipe Out Domain Names

by Dinah Greek

A well-meaning proposal from the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) could threaten the existence of many domain names and websites, a domain registrar has warned.

Wipo wants to expand what is known as the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to include country names and government organisations. If the proposal becomes policy, anyone who owns a domain name that includes a country name or acronym of a government organisation could be forced to drop the domain name.

For example, a company's ownership of a domain could be challenged by a government agency in another country which has the same initials. Francis Gurry, assistant director general and legal counsel at Wipo, told vnunet.com that the proposal is a good idea in general, especially for organisational acronyms. But he admitted that including country codes under the UDRP was more difficult to justify. "We are only talking about people deliberately misleading others. This proposal would stop people illegitimately registering these names," he said.

"Country names are more difficult as people use a country name quite legitimately. This is why the proposal only covers future registrations, not those already registered." The proposal has met with opposition. The US government has pointed out that there is no basis in international law for protecting these identities, and there are fears about registrars being exposed to significant liability. There are also concerns that the policy could be extended to cover other well-known and accepted abbreviations or geographical areas.

Public, charity and community groups that use well known geographical or town names as part of a domain name could be affected if a government wanted to take the new guidelines literally. Ken Sorrie, director at registrar Internetters, said he was concerned about the proposal.

"Some could say that Wipo's powers already extend too far and damage innocent people," he said. "My concern regarding this proposal, if approved, is that it could be the start of a slippery slope leading to subsequent proposals to protect city and town names and other geographic domain names. Where do you stop with the definitions?"


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