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Civil Society Cautions Against ICANN Giving Governments Veto Over Geographic Domain Names

A group of twenty-four civil society organizations and individuals today submitted a joint statement regarding a proposal from an ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) sub-group on the use of "geographic names" in top-level domains. The joint civil society statement cautioned against the adoption of the GAC proposal that would give governments veto power on domains that use "geographic names."

The civil society submission stated that the proposal "would threaten to chill freedom of expression and other lawful rights to use words in domain names, stifle innovation, and undermine the multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance." The group also stated that "the proposal is based on flawed presumptions of law and 'the public interest' and is entirely unworkable from a practical standpoint."

Specifically, the GAC sub-group proposes that "geographic names should not be allowed to be registered as gTLDs, unless requested by the relevant communities where they belong or after a specific authorization given by the government or community to the applicant. The national community and geographic meaning of the requested strings as new gTLDs must prevail above any other interest." The proposal further asserts that ICANN's New gTLD Applicant Guidebook text should be amended to state: "ICANN should avoid country, territory or place names, and country, territory or regional language or people descriptions, unless in agreement with the relevant governments or public authorities." Thus the proposal's proscriptive measures are a dramatic departure from the existing gTLD policy on geographic names that was adopted by ICANN's GNSO and Board of Directors in 2008.

The proposal also re-asserts the controversial 2007 GAC Principle that requires gTLDs to "respect national sensitivities regarding terms with national, cultural, geographic and religious significance." The civil society statement said the proposal sets a dangerous precedent for building government censorship into the DNS. "In other words, it is a bad policy for Internet freedom that should not be adopted," concluded the coalition.

Some of the civil society organizations who submitted the joint statement include IP Justice, the Internet Governance Project, Article 19, Public Knowledge, Electronic Frontier Finland, Electronic Frontiers Australia, the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), Bytes For All (Pakistan), and the Open Institute Cambodia, among other organizations and individuals who are concerned with the proposal's impact on freedom of expression on the Internet.

Other notable comments submitted on the proposal include the analysis from law professor Jacqueline Lipton, Director of the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Technology at the University of Akron School of Law. Professor Lipton advised the GAC Sub-group that the proposal's obligation does not comport with any existing principles of trademark law or other law at the domestic level. "[I]n the absence of legal support for these proposals, ICANN would be effectively creating new law at an international level with no basis for doing so," explained the legal expert whose specialty is domain name law.

The joint civil society statement was submitted in response to the GAC Sub-group's call for community input on its proposal, which published August 2014. Public comments on the GAC Sub-group's proposal are accepted until 31 December 2014 and posted here, and a dedicated discussion session on the topic is anticipated for the ICANN #52 meeting in Singapore in February 2015.

Joint Civil Society Comments on GAC Sub-group Proposal

By Robin Gross, Founder and Executive Director of IP Justice – I am also former Chair of ICANN's Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group (NCSG). Visit Page

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