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How to avoid problems with the new top-level domains

One of the biggest restructuring efforts in the history of the internet has been taking place since March 2013. Before this, websites were divided into a limited number of generic top-levels domains (TLDs) like .com or .info, and country-specific domains like .co.uk or .us. This all changed after hundreds of new domain endings were launched. Even at the turn of the millennium, it was obvious that the existing system wasn’t growing at the same rapid speed as the internet. After years of going back and forth on the issue, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) finally made up its mind and relaxed the address allocation.

This non-profit organisation based in Los Angeles, USA, has been entrusted with allocating domain names since the 1990s. The decision to expand the TLD name options was made in summer 2011. The gradual introduction of new generic TLDs should relax the domain market and enable users to register short and precise internet addresses despite increasing demand in the future. The result was the introduction of an application phase in which suggestions for new address endings could be accepted. Every term was theoretically an option as long as it complied with ICANN’s guidelines. This freedom led to controversial suggestions like .guru, .sucks, and .wtf as well as other numerous lengthy proposals.

Limitations when registering

ICANN’s decision to loosen address allocation proved to be popular. Just a few months after people caught wind of the decision, they turned to the administrative offices with their applications, which included businesses, cities, and communities as well as non-profit organisations. The suggestions included trademark domains like .apple or .bmw, regional references like .london and .nyc, as well as general terms like .love, .blog, and .shop. But in the midst of rejoicing about of this new-found freedom, there was worry about whether competing companies or critics would already own the ending you wanted for your brand name, product line, or business segment.

The organisation, which is advertised by ICANN as a domain name registry, is ultimately in charge of deciding the availability of a domain ending and the usage guidelines. The result was a lengthy discussion whereby different stakeholders claimed certain top-level domains for themselves and consequently tried to stop others from using them. . Among the new top-level domains, you can find numerous domain endings that private users haven’t made available or have only been given limited availability to. These include brand nTLDs, for example. Others are awarded to certain stakeholders or non-profit organisations after a community application. Regional endings, on the other hand, can only be used for sites that actually have something to do with the geographic place they’re named after.

  • Brand nTLDs: brand domains include nTLDs that are intended to be used exclusively by brand owners. With the expansion of the TLD namespaces, numerous businesses are seizing the opportunity to purchase a license for the use of proprietary domain endings. Around a third of the applications processed by ICANN account for businesses and organisations that want to register their own name domain as administrators. This includes companies like Apple, Google, and BMW. When applying for a brand domain, many businesses aren’t just thinking about the benefits of an individual TLD. They’re also concerned about cybersquatting: a practice that involves someone else occupying a domain ending. This nuisance has inspired businesses to register their own name domain. Since brand nTLDs aren’t offered by conventional providers, there’s no risk of private users accidently registering a trademarked name.
  • Domain endings with CPE status: the ‘community priority evaluation’ (CPE) was introduced by ICANN to allow stakeholders to protect popular endings against large corporations. If a community application is submitted to ICANN, it is given priority over conventional applications. This can only happen when the applicant can prove that the majority of the affected community supports the application for the domain. This process isn’t successful with every applicant.
    A list of current and successfully completed applications as well as rejected applications can be found on the ICANN website. Site owners generally make domains with CPE status available when they are part of the community or are specific industry. This is how .hotel endings focus solely on hotels, hotel chains, hotel associations, and hotel marketing organisations. In order to prevent your own domain from being blocked, or to avoid legal disputes, users should check relevant community domains in advance to see if they fulfil the necessary requirements.
  • Regional nTLDs: domains containing regional references have become very successful over the last few years. New domain endings like .london and .nyc offer the benefit of presenting an offer in a regional context, allowing site owners to directly address the desired readership. In order to register an nTLD, website owners usually have to prove that they have a residence or a registered business in the appropriate region. This helps safeguard against the nTLD being misused. It’s often possible to register a domain through a local trustee that’s acting as a registrant for the actual holder.
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Controversy when allocating new top-level domains

Customers pay a monthly fee for registering a domain. Supplying address suffixes is a profitable business for administrators of popular nTLDs. Endings expected to be quickly snapped up are the most expensive, putting wealthy businesses in particular at an advantage as they are equipped to pay millions of dollars in licensing fees. There are many non-profit organisations that would like to reserve some of these new domains for themselves. The efforts of individual businesses to occupy general nTLDs as brand domains is an additional factor that can potentially lead to conflicts. ICANN’s guidelines basically eliminate the exclusive use of common language terms. In the past, the decisions from administrative agencies were of the source of irritation.

Amazon was not so lucky with its own brand nTLD

The online mail order business, Amazon, didn’t have much luck when it came to registering its own domain. When applying for the .amazon ending, the business had to submit an appeal issued by the nations bordering the retail giant’s rainforest namesake: Brazil and Peru. These countries intended to use this ending to inform people about environmental issues regarding the Amazon River and the rights of the indigenous people. The alliance insisted that ICANN give geographical categories special protection.

Problematic nTLDs

Among the freely available nTLDs, there are some options that could prove to be fertile ground for legal disputes. These are domain endings that have the potential to defame businesses, brands, or individuals. The ones highlighted in media reports include .sucks, .porn, and .wtf. To prevent injunctions from being issued, website owners should exercise caution when using such domain endings.

.sucks – an annoying domain

‘This sucks’ is generally used to express discontent about a person or a circumstance. The domain operator Vox Populi sees the .sucks domain as an opportunity for businesses to establish a dialog with customers and consumers. Trademark owners fear that these domains will be used for defamation purposes and try to stop them from being released through defensive registration. A similar behaviour can be observed among celebrities. The singer, Taylor Swift, apparently reserved the .sucks domain containing her name as well as the .porn equivalent as a precautionary measure. Critics accuse providers of such domain endings of extortion due to the high registration prices they demand.

Why defensive registration is unnecessary

Domain endings like .sucks, .wtf, and .porn are only problematic when used in combination with brands or proper names. Although a site like www.monday.sucks is totally harmless, a site like www.brand-name.sucks could damage the brand’s trademark rights if the site is not operated by the brand itself. Check out our step by step guide on domain registration for more information on the topic. The company doesn’t necessarily have to register the address themselves in order to protect the brand’s rights. ICANN has two efficient methods available for this: Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) and Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS), which protect against unlawful domain registrations. The Trademark Clearinghouse serves as a central register where brands can be recorded. If a new top-level or second-level domain is proposed that matches an existing data set in the register, the appropriate brand owner will be notified. Brand owners can have internet addresses suspended via the uniform rapid suspension if someone tries to register a similar domain or misuses the registration process.

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