ICANN Introduce New Top Level Domain Names

Has the web been transformed? Is “co.uk” or “.com” boring? The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has decided to relax regulations on permitted Domain Names. Three years of negotiations has brought about this change in the face of the internet, so typical Domain Names (the last part of a website address) can have a much wider range of custom domains.

The Internet’s Domain-Name System (DNS) allows a user to refer to web sites and other resources using easy-to-remember domain names (such as “www.icann.org” or “www.thuk.co.uk” ) rather than the all-numeric IP addresses (such as “192.0.34.65”) assigned to each computer on the Internet.

Each websites ‘Domain Name’ is made up of a series of character strings (called “labels”) separated by dots. The first part of the domain name is “www.” meaning “world wide web”, the centre part is usually a description to make the site easy to remember, a company or organisations name and the end part is referred to as its “Top-Level Domain” (TLD), for example, .uk, .com or .org.

Domain names are the key for helping computers find websites and route e-mails. There are currently about 250 domain name suffixes, most of them for specific countries such as “.fr” for France, .co.uk for The United Kingdom. General-use names include “.com” and “.net.”

In 2000, two years after its designation by the U.S. government as the authority for overseeing Internet naming policies, ICANN approved seven new names, but only “.info” and “.biz” were truly for general use with the balance being restricted domains for example .coop for co-ops.

This means from early 2009  it will be possible  to  have  new top level domains  by using words such as .love, .hate or .city, or proper names.

At first these new top level domains will be limited to certain businesses and other major organisations such as city councils and large NGO’s and charities. Officials in Berlin are among those who have vociferously campaigned for the new rules, believing that selling .berlin web addresses would have a positive impact for tourism in the German capital.

However there are fears that relaxing the system in this way will  lead to more cyber squatting, where criminals register brand names to make money off their popularity, or even make it easier for criminals to pose as banks or other legitimate organisations – to steal credit card or bank details.

There are a lots of unanswered questions for example who has the greater right to .apple the computer company Apple Inc or the surviving Beatles Apple corps Ltd? All applications will need to be approved by ICANN itself, but buying the right to use one of these new names is not going to be cheap. These new domains are expected to cost in the region of £250,000 added to this will be the cost of bidding for, setting up and running the domain.

It certainly looks like there will be plenty of work for Intellectual Property Lawyers and for companies with the technical skills and experience in setting up and running a top level domains.

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