The New Zealand government has come under fire for spending $1 million of tax-payers money on buying the domain NewZealand.com from previous owners Virtual Countries. That's one million New Zealand dollars, but it still equates to a healthy £350,000.
The figure only came to light this week following an angry parliamentary question by MP Rodney Hide. However, tourism minister Mark Burton thinks it's a good deal and has some facts to back it up: "There is no question that this domain will provide an invaluable portal for commercial entry into New Zealand for those interested in tourism, commerce, and industry," he told Parliament.
Here comes the justification: "The South African government offered Virtual Countries $10 million for SouthAfrica.com. It has also been reported that Korea.com was sold for $5 million to True Net, Korea's largest Internet service provider." That's alright then.
Except what Mr Burton didn't mention of course was that the $1m price tag included a premium because the government had already tried to take the domain by force at domain arbitrator WIPO - and was actually found guilty of domain hijacking.
In November last year, a WIPO panel of three unanimously decided that the New Zealand government (acting under the name of The Queen) not only had no rights over the name (no trademarks, see) but had acted in bad faith and was guilty of reverse hijacking. Just a month earlier, a dubious decision again by WIPO had handed the domain NewZealand.biz to the government.
The decision to go to WIPO was foolish. The South African government had tried to set a precedent by taking SouthAfrica.com off Virtual Countries two years earlier. With WIPO's unstinting bias towards powerful and rich people, it seemed like a good bet. Virtual Countries was obviously worried because it went straight to the law courts to try to get the matter settled there.
However the UDRP rules were laid down for trademark holders so even WIPO was unable to bend its rules. The South African government didn't get its domain and despite apparently offering $10 million for it, it is still owned by Virtual Countries.
Once all this has happened, New Zealand suddenly decided it would go to WIPO to get NewZealand.com off Virtual Countries. Not the brightest move. It should be grateful that the company only forced it to pay NZ$1 million.
Of course, things will be different in the future. No doubt embarrassed by not being able to accommodate out the most powerful person in its arbitration system, WIPO has now suggested numerous comical changes to the domain rules including, guess what, that countries would be given precedence over country-named domains. Those rules are currently being argued over in ICANN but despite the force of logic, they will most likely go through.
So why didn't the New Zealand government hold off until WIPO new rules are implemented and save itself a small fortune? Because, ironically, it had argued against the exact proposals that would have handed the domain over for a few hundred dollars. Oh dear.
So, basically, if the government had bullied less and thought more, it could have saved its citizens nearly one million dollars. You also have to question whether the domain is really worth that. Why did the government want it so badly? It can easily set up whatever .nz domains it wants. We suspect a classic case of ignorance and "I want, I want, I want" government thought-processes.
Incidentally, Virtual Countries has also just beaten off an attempt by the Puerto Rican government to take control of PuertoRico.com. Do they never learn? Or can we also look forward to Algeria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Ecuador, Morocco, Nepal, Nicaragua, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey all trying their hand against Virtual Countries in the next few months? Let's hope so.