The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) today demanded that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) withdraw its plan to allow 1,000 more generic top-level domains.
In June, ICANN said it would allow up to 1,000 new top-level domains, or TLDs -- the part of a web address to the right of the dot, such as .com and .net. This would make way for any kind of TLD, including brand names or business sectors, such as .coke or .soda. ICANN has been working on the proposal for several years.
The IAB protest follows one earlier this month, when the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) came out against the plan.
In a press release, Randall Rothenberg, CEO and president of the IAB, charged that, "ICANN's potentially momentous change seems to have been made in a top-down star chamber. There appears to have been no economic impact research, no full and open stakeholder discussions, and little concern for the delicate balance of the Internet ecosystem.”
On August 9, ICANN responded in a letter to the ANA, pointing out that multiple public meetings and at least 45 lengthy public comment periods were conducted, and the resulting thousands of comments had been publicly posted. The letter also gave point-by-point examples of how the ANA's concerns had been addressed.
According to the IAB, TLDs such as ".coke, .jetblue, .cnn, .facebook or .verizon, would come at an extremely high cost to publishers and advertisers, and would also offer “cyber squatters” an opportunity to harm a brand’s integrity and/or profit greatly from their bad-faith domain registrations."
While it would cost advertisers $184,000 and change to register each of their brand names as TLDs, the real danger to them is second-level domain name registrations, according to attorneys at Mayer Brown LLP, a global law firm with an intellectual property practice.
Each of the top-level domains, such as .soda, could spawn its own mess of trademark-infringing secondary domain names, according to Mayer Brown partner Michael D. Adams.
Because of the enormous cost and technical challenge of becoming a TLD registrar, "The risk to brand owners that somebody is going to get a .coke who is not affiliated with Coke is rather small," Adams says. "Not impossible, but rather small. However, as the registrar for .soda, I can let anyone have coke.soda."
Because of the possibility for so many brand-infringing domain names, Adams says, "The cost to protect on the second level could be extraordinary." While intense price competition has driven the cost of domain name registration in the United States down to less than $10, he says, the new registrars will be able to set their own prices.
So far, ICANN is not backing down. It has to balance the concerns of big brands with the desire of existing and would-be registrars to have a bigger inventory of names to sell. Domain-name registrars have been clamoring for more TLDs practically since the internet was invented.
In his letter to the ANA, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom warned, "Please be advised that ICANN will vigorously defend the multi-stakeholder model and the hard-fought consensus of its global stakeholder participants, its duty to act in accordance with established bottom-up processes, and its responsibility to the broad public interest of the global Internet community, rather than to the specific interests of any particular group."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
March 19, 2014