Run free little root zone

Hard core for core neutrality

The other main concern broached at the session concerned attempts by the American trademark community to broaden its reach to include potential new TLDs, thereby constraining the rapidly expanding gTLD space. Trademark law professor Christine Farley from American University, who had flown in uninvited just to speak at this session, gave an excellent overview of the current state of American trademark law and how that might impact developments in the TLD area.

As far as Professor Farley is concerned, extending TLDs from their traditionally geographic scope to one of universal acknowledgment is a kind of virtual land grab by the America trademark industry. Professor Farley noted the example of Delta Airlines vs. Delta Faucets vs. Delta Dental - who really owns "delta"? She also reminded the audience that there really is nothing that hasn't been trademarked somewhere, and if we grant new acknowledgment of trademarks at the TLD level - a topic under serious consideration at ICANN - the end result will be more trademark confusion, rather than less.

That wasn't the only argument against this idea, either. As Wendy Seltzer, formally of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also noted, granting trademark rights in TLDs opens the approval process to what she referred to as the "heckler veto", which is almost the inverse of the cybersquatter - in this case using misapplied trademark principles to hold back the ongoing expansion in gTLD options for consumers, rather than using existing trademarks as extortion tools.

Here at El Reg, we have argued in the past for consistent, clear principles for gTLD approval. There is no reason for governments to require ICANN to do their dirty work for them - if they want to prohibit certain kinds of behaviors there is no reason to censor it at the root zone level, thereby censoring the entire universe of internet users, rather than only their own citizens. The best way for ICANN to avoid the appearance of impropriety is to stand firm on the principle that its only mission is the technical stability of the internet, and leave the content decisions to national governments.

Of course, the root zone has always been restricted - after all, there used to be just .com. But if ICANN truly wants to fulfill its stated mission of expanding competition in the TLD area, it should stand back and focus on its core mission of preserving root zone stability, avoiding only those TLDs that are confusing or disruptive to the zone itself.

Accountability has been the buzzword of the day - and in this context, accountability means ICANN should stick to its guns and fulfill the responsibilities it was set up to handle. Core neutrality is a principle worth fighting for.

Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office

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