July 20, 2012

It is big news – Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) name expansion. ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers began accepting applications earlier this year for establishing Internet domains and received close to 2000 applications. This is a HUGE deal for businesses and organizations to turn their brand names into domain names, such that web addresses would not end on .com but rather .thebrandname. So “dot whatever” is up for grabs for those with resources, as participating in the process towards owing a gTLD name is non-trivial – just the cost of the application is $185,000. The existing system has twenty one gTLDs, such as the familiar .com, .net, .org and the contemplated expansion is the largest by far. Some of the more interesting name applications received by ICANN include names such as: .security, .pizza, .vodka, .gay, .yoga, .porn, .sex, .google, .wtf, .web etc. Here is a link to the list of gTLD applications:

Using the Internet is as much a part of our lives now as drawing breath. However, I was never really clear on how it all works – who regulates the Net? Government? International Organization? I got curious and set out to dig in and do some research.

Interestingly, it turns out that “no government entity comprehensively regulates the Internet, nor does any statutory scheme for regulation exist.”  ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a private non-profit organization is the governing body of the Internet and governs the complex DNS – the Domain Name System. “Although ICANN is purportedly an independent nonprofit organization, the U.S. government retains ultimate control of the DNS through unique contractual arrangements between ICANN and the DoC [Department of Commerce].” I am not surprised that the international community is less comfortable with this situation and has been calling for an international body to control the DNS rather than a US-centric organization. Building consensus is never easy, let alone global consensus which is certainly non-trivial. ICANN being a private organization and lacking in traditional enforcement powers usually possessed by governmental agencies,  , seems to be regulating the universe of DNS with consistency and uniformity. However, legal issues related to ICANN’s governance of DNS abound and are only going to increase as issues get even more complex and financial stakes increase. In researching this issue, I came across an interesting analogy, an author has referred to the expansion of TLDs as the “technological land-grab occurring on the internet” and has analogized it to the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 when Congress legalized land-grab and encouraged the settling and cultivation of previously uninhabited western territories. This is a fascinating, complex and enormous subject and this blog barely even scratches the surface of the issues involved. I am suggesting some Westlaw searches for those interested in delving deeper into these issues. I am curious to see how ICANN will evolve and what will come into place as more international regulation and enforcement will necessarily have to become a basis of internet regulation.

Research References:

  • WestlawNext suggested search in Secondary Sources: PR,TI(I.C.A.N.N.)
  • Classic Westlaw search in the TP-ALL database: PR,TI(I.C.A.N.N.)
  • WestlawNext suggested News search for articles related to the present expansion of gTLDs: DA(2012) & g.T.L.D. T.L.D. Top-Level-Domain & I.C.A.N.N.
  • Classic Westlaw search in ALLNEWS database: DA(2012) & g.T.L.D. T.L.D. Top-Level-Domain & I.C.A.N.N.
  • There are a lot of great resources on Westlaw for research related to the Net:
    • INTERNET: Internet Law and Practice
    • LOTIN: Law of the Internet
    • GLILR: Internet Law Researcher
    • ITLDR: Internet and Technology Law Desk Reference
    • SOITL: Scott on Information Technology Law
  • Sources specifically relied on in this blog:
    • Reece Roman, That If Icann Can’t?: Can the United Nations Really Save the Internet?, 15 Syracuse Sci. & Tech. L. Rep. 27;
    • Brian W. Borchert, Imminent Domain Name: The Technological Land-Grab and Icann’s Lifting of Domain Name Restrictions, 45 Val. U. L. Rev. 505, 506 (2011); and
    • Lori J. Parker , Issues Litigated Against Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and ICANN-Accredited Registry Operators for .com and .net Top Level Domain Names, 32 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 561 (Originally published in 2008)
    • Management of Internet Names and Addresses, 63 FR 31741-01
    • David R. Johnson et. al., A Commentary on the Icann “Blueprint” for Evolution and Reform, 36 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 1127, 1146 (2003)