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ICANN's Domain Name Plan Could Spell Trouble

Companies next year will be able register their own top-level domains, but the price may be more intellectual property litigation and security problems.

The organization that oversees Internet domain names has approved a plan to dramatically increase the number of top-level domains available for use, eliciting objections from critics.

At present, there are 22 generic top-level domains (gTLDs), such as .com, .net., and .org. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN), the non-profit group charged with managing the domain name system, has decided to allow organizations to apply to create custom gTLDs in any language or script, at a cost of about $185,000.

ICANN expects that its plan will lead to the creation of several hundred new gTLDs, such as .canon, which Canon, the Japanese electronics company, has said it is seeking to register. Hitachi is another company that has said it will apply for its own gTLD.

Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of ICANN, in a statement characterized the decision as a way to "unleash the global human imagination" and expressed the hope that "this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind."

Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People For Internet Responsibility and founder of Privacy Forum, believes the plan will serve ICANN and the domain-name industry, enriching the "domain-industry complex" at the expense of everyone else.

"I believe we may see billions of dollars being wasted in ICANN's new gigantic gTLD 'domain name space'--mostly from firms falsely hoodwinked into thinking that new domain names will be their paths to Internet riches, and from firms trying to protect their names in this vastly expanded space, ripe for abuses," Weinstein wrote in a blog post on Monday.

Weinstein argues that the expansion of the domain name space is likely to result in more spamming, phishing, and cybersquatting--the process by which domain speculators purchase domains associated with a brand to profit from searches related to the domain or to profit from the domain's eventual sale to the brand owner.

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), a technology trade group, voiced similar concerns. "This new gTLD program, as currently formulated, represents a significant challenge to trademark and copyright owners," said Scott Bain, SIIA's chief litigation counsel and a participant in ICANN, in a statement. He expects that organizations and individuals with intellectual property interests will have to spend more time and money fighting cybersquatting and policing infringement.

ICANN expects to begin publicizing the coming change in the domain name system shortly and to accept applications starting January 12, 2012.

In the first quarter of 2011, 4.5 million domain names were added to the Internet, according to Verisign, which manages the .com and .net registries, among others. Across all the gTLDs, there are some 209.8 million domain registrations, the company said.

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