Sunrise/Sunset Rules and the ISTP Namespace

In advance of our first Anti-Piracy Forum meeting, I want to describe our proposal for the management of the ISTP namespace. This is by no means cast in stone. However, I think it provides a good framework for discussion on how we can think about the namespace management issues. Let's gain a common understanding of the problems with the ICANN-manged namespace and how a privately managed solution can be implemented.

Understanding the Current State of Affairs

First, we should review how the current naming system on the Internet operates. The domain name system evolved out of a government and academically sponsored entity and ultimately emerged as Network Solutions. In the process the industry evolved. First, top level domain (TLD) name registrars, like Network Solutions, acted as the only registry for the network. In other words, if you wanted a .COM or .EDU TLD name, you had to go to Network Solutions. Later, companies like Tucows, Enom, and GoDaddy came onto the scene as retail registrars. The business changed into wholesale "registries" who operated the backend system to resolve the domain names into IP addresses and retail "registrars" which allowed consumers to obtain and manage their name mappings.

Of course the registration of domain names has brought on a number of challenges for businesses. Most notably, copyright and trademark rights have become a major issue. Originally, ICANN attempted to restrict domain name holders from registering names that might infringe on a copyright or trademark. With the advent of retail registrars, it has become practically impossible to stop. In fact, today, it is assumed that practically all possibly infringing names have been registered. With close to 100 Million domains names now in use and more being registered or reserved, this is probably a fact.

ICANN did a very smart thing with this issue by pushing it to World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The WIPO now offers a service to resolve disputes and with some interesting success. Thus, copyright and trademark holders have a resolution process although it may be an expensive and lengthy one. Some, in the Internet community, now claim that there are much more pernicious issues. Specifically, "cybersquatting", "typosquatting", and "domain tasting", now challenge us. Cybersquatting refers to individuals registering names simply to hold them. They don't actually plan on necessarily offering a website or even using the domain for email. Instead, they see it much like ocean front real estate. Some day the domain property is going to be worth a great deal of money. Typosquatters actually attempt to monetize domain names. Services, like Google's Adsense for Domains offer individuals with the ability to offer up pages that earn click through revenue for the holder. I'm told, through the grapevine, that one individual has amassed such an empire of these type of domains that he now makes (U.S.) $100,000 a day from them. Obviously, this kind of money is going to attract a lot of attention from entrepreneurs.

Domain tasting and front running is another issue. Recently, Network Solutions itself has been accused of variations on this practice. ICANN, due to its bureaucratic and political nature, requires registrars to provide 5 days for an individual to return a purchased name. Entrepreneurial "domainers" have figured out how to take advantage of this loophole by "purchasing" massive numbers of domain names and then returning the ones which don't offer monetizable value. Front runners are the registrars who record which names are potentially popular with individual registerers and then hold onto them if they don't get purchased. They then charge higher fees for the name to individuals who may want to purchase them in the future or monetize them on their own. While both of these practices may be considered to have questionable business ethics, ICANN and most others in the industry suggest that they are legal and may be permitted.

Finally, the terms of service for domains, and associated property rights have become another major issue. As I've written about before, ICANN has very little authority to shutdown blatant pirates and others who may be subjecting the media companies to abuse. Instead, the media industry has to leverage bodies like the WTO to shut the pirates down. Virtually any organization can hold a domain for almost any purpose. Due to the complex and worldwide nature of domains and the associated country TLDs, a name must be issued with few restrictions. Local customs, laws, and business practices dictate their use. Practically speaking, ICANN cannot and should not have much influence. A privatized namespace, like ISTP's, on the other hand can be much more restrictive. Clearly defined property rights for the ISTP name and very specific language in the terms of service agreement can effectively stop the abuse.

Letting the Free Market Reign

I don't see many problems with the current paradigm. Copyright, trademarks, cybersquatting, typosquatting, are all now being either effectively handled or simply part of the natural "domainer" business landscape today. What can and should be changed, however, are the terms of service agreements. Pirates can be effectively blocked from using the "premium" Internet while allowing every other legitimate user on it. This approach offers us the openness of the best-effort Internet like we have today with some essential anti-piracy protections for the media industry.

Proposed Sunrise / Sunset Rules

InterStream proposes to put forward a Sunrise / Sunset period to allow domain name holders to more easily transition over to the ISTP namespace. More detail can be found in our wiki. The following diagram should provide you with a quick visual understanding:

 

In essence, InterStream wants to make it possible for the existing domain holders to easily certify their ISTP names and enable the "primary" holders (i.e. .COM, .NET, etc.) to have the first opportunity at getting the "root" ISTP name. InterStream is currently working with a major domain name registrar to enable this process and is interested in working with others as well.

Large business and governmental bureaucracies will never allow the media industry with the flexibility to modify rules to thwart piracy. We believe a small privately run approach is much better for the market and ultimately the Internet. Let us know what you think or simply show up at our upcoming forum (to be announced).

Jeff Turner

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