Domain Name Lessons
September 4, 2008
I first outline a brief history of free file-sharing
technology, then draw some general and domain name lessons, then
outline the what, how, and why that make your activism effective
Music Download Background
Napster was the first online music file-sharing
service and was created by Shawn Fanning in 1999 while he was attending
Northeastern University in Boston. The service, operating under
the domain name napster.com, allowed people to easily share MP3
format music files with each other, thus leading to the music industry's
accusations of massive copyright violations. Grokster, a similar
technology, was created in 2001. However, the original Napster service
and Grokster were shut down in 2002 and 2005, respectively, by court
orders resulting from music industry lawsuits.
Sensing the vulnerability of Napster's centralized
technology, Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis, and Priit Kasesalu (the
team that later created Skype and Joost) launched Kazaa in March
2001. With Kazaa, there is no central server: Tom in Berkeley directly
accesses Jose's computer in Mexico for a Bob Marley song. Within
twelve months, more than 250 million copies of Kazaa had been downloaded.
Kazaa's revenue, however, came from centralized selling of ad space
on its downloaded software. Thus, although there were no centralized
computers to host the songs, the ad revenue was centralized.
With legal pressure from the music industry,
Kazaa, based in the Netherlands, was sold to a company based on
the South Pacific island of Vanatu—beyond the reach of the
U.S. and European legal systems. After Kazaa was chased out of Vanatu,
an unknown hacker erased the parts that served ads and distributed
the new software version online as Kazaa Lite (also known as K+),
thus developing an even more decentralized technology. Now millions
began downloading K+. A similar free music-sharing software is eMule,
a descendant of eDonkey that is more decentralized and open source
than anything anyone in the music industry had seen.
Reflecting the general hunger for privacy and
secrecy, Share is the name for a closed-source P2P application being
developed in Japan by an anonymous author.
- Because Napster and Grokster were centralized,
legal action against them could succeed. A decentralized system
is far less vulnerable.
- Fighting Napster only benefited lawyers, as
free download continues.
- Becoming decentralized and going underground
diminish return to software developers but increase the benefits
Domain Name Industry
The domain name industry is decentralized and
atomic in that anyone from anywhere in the world can register a
domain name, keep the ownershp name and address private, and host
it from a country where the U.S. and European legal systems don't
apply. Thus, legal action will only drive domain owners further
By shifting underground, domain name owners would:
- Become hard to track. A
cooperative IP regime, on the other hand, reduces incentives
to go underground and thereby makes content and brand violations
easier to control. Domain owners are more likely to cooperate
with a trusted third-party monetization entity than with brand
- Increase domain
tasting of brand names to cover any additional cost from moving
further underground. On the other hand, under a cooperative IP
regime a cutoff date can be assigned to eligible domain names,
reducing any incentive to register brand domain names under the
umbrella of a cooperative regime.
What can be done?
The domain name industry should get the message
out to Internet users and brand owners that:
- Indiscriminate legal action exasperates the
problems associated with the use of brands in domain names.
- A solution cannot come only from the side of
the domain name industry; a cooperative solution is imperative.
The domain name industry is serious about fighting
illegal use of brands in domain names.
How should our industry react?
- Initiate media campaigns.
- Openly discuss solutions in domain name conferences,
as they are also attended by the media and brand owners.
- Lobby Congress through the Internet Commerce
Association (ICA) and
- Discuss the problem and possible solutions
in domain name forums and other relevant forums.
- Take action against current monetizers that
continue sponsoring obvious domain name violations.
Why Take Action?
- Industry can face tough unwarranted legal restrictions
such as the Anti-Phishing
Consumer Protection Act of 2008 (APCPA).
- Domain name values would drop.
- Internet user experience is diminished for
which our industry is blamed.
Nevertheless, action will send a clear signal
to registrants under future TLDs that the industry will not tolerate
such bad behavior.
Indiscriminate legal action by brand owners against
those who register domain names that incorporate their brands can
backfire by driving further underground domain name registration
and Web site-hosting.
Our industry can and should take proactive measures
to limit or prevent such consequences. A cooperative IP regime between
brand and domain owners is a viable solution.
Topic tags: cybersquatting, trademarks