UN warns against fraud through new web domains

The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a United Nations agency, has joined the chorus of concern about the impending introduction of new domain names for the internet.

In a letter to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the non-profit US-based group responsible for internet addressing system, WIPO claims the new domain names will lead to trademark abuse, confused consumers and undermine public trust without rules to curb fraudulent practices by "cybersquatters" and domain registrars.

At the moment there are 12 domain names (such as .com and .net), but ICANN plans to allow public and private organisations to create their own domain names, so this site could become .questex, for example.

The main worry - expressed  by big businesses towards the end of last year - is that they won't be able to protect their brands and trademarks. There are great worries that so-called cybersquatters will register .nike, say, then try to sell the name to the sports shoe maker for a hefty sum or sell trainers from the website or make money from advertising on the site (on a pay per click basis).

The Financial Times reports that the problem has been made much worse by ICANN permitting practices such as automated domain name "˜tasting', whereby users can register an unlimited number of domain names during the free trial period to see which sites bring in the most pay-per-click" advertising revenue.

ICANN has agreed in principle that WIPO will handle challenges by trademark holders to proposals for new top-level domains, but says stronger rules are needed to stop criminal behaviour.

This includes deliberately or knowingly registering web addresses that violate trademark rights or failing to put in place reasonable procedures for protecting such rights. Sanctions for breaching the rules could extend to injunctions to cease registrations of particular names or even cancellation of the registrar's contract with ICANN, the FT says.