Domain Name Dispute Puts Dot-Ca in the Spotlight

By Michael Geist
Michael Geist

My weekly Law Bytes column (freely available hyperlinked version, Toronto Star version) focuses on the recent Canadian parliamentary discussion on domain name disputes. As discussed about ten days ago, the impetus for governmental interest in domain name disputes and Internet governance is the registration of several domain names bearing the names of sitting Members of Parliament by the Defend Marriage Coalition, an opponent of same-sex marriage legislation. The resulting websites, which include donboudria.ca and davidmcguinty.ca, include MP contact information, photos, and advocacy materials. The domain name registrations led to a heated, if somewhat misleading, debate in the House of Commons earlier this month. One MP argued that the registrations might constitute identity theft (they do not), while another indicated that the government does not own, regulate or manage domain name registrations (the government indeed does not manage domain name registrations but it does hold ultimate authority over the dot-ca domain).

The column argues that the Members of Parliament that have had their names used for anti-same sex marriage sites would be unlikely to succeed under the dot-ca domain name dispute resolution policy. I review each of the elements of the CDRP and conclude that a complainant would have a tough time with each of the three requirements.

The column concludes by noting that the incident has implications for the policy, for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, and for how Canada's politicians interact with the Internet.

Despite (or perhaps because of) its protective approach to free speech, some may argue that the Canadian policy has failed to find the appropriate balance. As the saying goes, hard cases make for bad law. This is a hard case and there is a danger that protections that have earned worldwide acclaim might be scrapped, leading to bad law.

The case is also likely to put the spotlight on Canadian Internet Registration Authority. While some MPs assumed that the government had no role to play in the management of Internet domain names, the reality is that many countries do provide active regulatory oversight over their national domain name systems. The Canadian authority is a well-run, successful organization, but MPs may put it under their microscope to ensure that dot-ca is fairly managed on behalf of all Canadians.

Most tellingly, the case has forced MPs to consider how they use the Internet to interact with the public. Last week the speaker of the house concluded that the case "raises important issues in an era where communications technology is ubiquitous and the demand for accessibility grows daily more aggressive" and called on the standing committee on procedure and house affairs to "explore, at a minimum, the ramifications of new communication technologies, including the Internet, as they affect members in the performance of their duties."

Since the chair of that committee is none other than Don Boudria, hearings seem likely. A handful of domain name registrations have placed the domain name issue on MPs' radar screens and may ultimately lead to significant new policies on how the Canada's politicians interact with the Internet. 

By Michael Geist, Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law. Visit the blog maintained by Michael Geist here.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, Internet Governance

Comments

Re: Domain Name Dispute Puts Dot-Ca in the Spotlight mike straw  –  Jun 15, 2005 9:28 AM PDT

actually, i tried to participate in the bulleting board for the cira upcoming election, discussing these issues, but my entries were censored; no explanation why:
here is what i wrote:
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while cira has done a great job technically managing the .ca domain space so far, its policies and marketing practices are clearly aimed at the benefit of a small special interest group domain squatters and registrars. i have seen board members trying to take credit for the reduction of the wholesale .ca price. good ridance! these cronies are only looking after their own interest and demanding credit for it also. as a .ca domain holder i find it alarming the rate at which the .ca namespace is being "polluted" due to domain squatting. a simple dns check reveals that 85% of all .ca domains resolve to some search advertising blanket (that's right people those nice guys peddling insurance quotes, performance enhancing drugs and the like). the same guys who fill your mailbox with spam. the same guys who sit on the cira board and set policy today. the same guys running for election this time around! (just for fun i also noticed that the biggest search blankets account for 73% of all .ca domain names). so where does this lead us. well, it is simple math. as the .ca price per domain drops, so does the following business model become more lucrative i register 10,000 domain names at $10 each a year. point them all to the same page filled with advertising. every click to this ad page yields 10c, so if i get 100 people to go to one of this domains in a year i break even! nice and square. then comes the more juicy target of a legitimate business wanting to register an easy to remember .ca domain name. since i have hoarded all the good domain names i am the monopoly here, not cira. want to try and stop me? huh. i've got 10,000 votes. i can elect whoever i want to this board. in all fairness cira must have increased the wholesale domain name price when demand for .ca domains increased instead of doing the opposite. (that is if a board with the interests of the canadian internet public in mind was in place). alas! while i am all for the increase in popularity of the .ca namespace, i want this popularity to come from legitimate domain registrants i.e those that own an online business not those campers who want to make money using the policies of this non-for profit organization. because really for me it is insignificant cost for my business activities, whether my domain name costs $10 or $50. the only people the price drop matters to is those who want to control the supply of .ca domains. it is funny how the cira main page proudly announces "dot ca domain growth strong!". it should instead say "dot ca squatting growth strong!" because that's what it is. go look for yourselves. instead of fulfilling its mission as "managing .ca namespace as a national canadian resource" cira has squandered the .ca namespace as an increasingly polluted national resource. it is a sad state of affairs, but all those registrarsquatter cronies in the board take notice! .ca registrants are getting fed up with this situation and we will go up to our elected officials in the canadian government if need be to remove our cira board squatters and bring this registry back under the control of the canadian public. don't think that people are not noticing your agenda! i for one am voicing my opinion and if the moderator of this bulletin board cares about democracy and freedom of speach they will allow this opinion to be shared here. regards, mike.
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Re: Domain Name Dispute Puts Dot-Ca in the Spotlight Frank C. Watson  –  Jun 20, 2005 9:23 AM PDT

Interesting problem.  I believe we do have a right to protect our good names from public abuse.  If the CIRA rules do not provide that protection then it is the Governments duty to intervene.

I did vote in the CIRA election and tried to vote for persons who seemed to have the public interest at heart.  Mike Straw raises a legitimate concern that should be addressed.  Is CIRA really all about selling as many .ca domain names for as low a price as possible without concern for intent?