Domain Name Sanity

The cost of domain names has long been one of my bugaboos. I see a domain as a business license, a necessary cost that (for the sake of business) should be kept as low as possible. The asset value of a domain name lies in the business built around it, not in the name itself.

In theory, the price is $35 per year, but speculation has thrown theory out the window. The value of domain names can be measured in the millions, and the equivalent of ticket scalpers (many now owned by the same companies selling the names) are the big players. It’s a direct conflict of interest. Unless you’re making money as a speculator, the whole thing is a mess.

Lots of solutions have been proposed, including raising the initial price of domain names. (Why should movie studios get separate domains for each movie when they can just brand movie names to the studio — spykids.miramax.com instead of www.spykids.com?) (Great movie by the way — take the kids.)

But the ultimate solution may be simple rules. When NeuStar Director of Law Jeff Neuman testified before Congress last month on the domain name question, he said .biz addresses would go to trademark holders only and would first be checked against a registry of trademarks. Elana Broitman of Register.com said .pro addresses would go to named professionals only, like lawyers and accountants.

Yesterday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was scheduled to vote on a new agreement with VeriSign that restricts its monopoly to .com and could put registration of .org names under the control of people representing only nonprofit groups. Yet registrars (eager for fees) have been pushing these names on anyone willing to pay for years, and those who advise on domain names have been pushing clients to register in every top-level domain (TLD) available.

Naturally, some .org domain holders (those that aren’t really nonprofit organizations) are gearing up for a fight. Organized as HandsOffMy.org, they oppose anything that might take away their current names.

Well, no one should have their name taken away from them if they’re doing all their business under that name. But cybersquatting is a tax from the market that profits no one but the speculator. It costs real money that could be spent on building businesses and hiring people.

There are two ways to end it.

We can flood the market with so many new TLDs that the market for names crashes. Technically, that’s very feasible, but it puts the owners of current businesses in a bind. Must they throw new money out the door to cover each possible set of letters after the dot in their names, or should they risk a competitor seeking to confuse consumers by buying amazon.whatever?

The other method is to impose and enforce rules on who can own what domain name. This is the direction ICANN is going in. Everyone will be able to get a domain name cheap, but only to do what the domain name says they are doing.

The problem there is that people change. I might put up personal essays in my .name domain, then start charging for writing and consulting services. Am I then in violation of my domain name agreement?

Someone is going to have to answer that question. That’s how, bit by bit, ICANN is being pulled into becoming the first world government.

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