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TLDs, CJD and Other Mad Cows

Philip Sheppard

"At every crossroad on the road that leads to the future, tradition has placed against us ten thousand men to guard the past". These were the words of Stanley Prusiner in 1992 describing the opposition to his radical discovery of what he called prions, the causative agents of a clutch of baffling brain diseases. These include kuru, affecting New Guinea cannibals, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (CJD), and BSE or mad cow disease.

And today these guardians of the past are in place again at the crossroad that leads to a future of thousands of top-level Internet domain names.

The guardians were last heard of in Washington using the blunt weapon of a press release to garner support. They were then seen giving testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in early December. Among the guardians of the past was oddly the YMCA, being not the voice of youth with a future but the voice of non-coms with a past.

The battle cry these guardians were making was a complaint about the cost of protecting the intellectual property of their names. Given the lengthy process leading to a slew of rights protections mechanisms embedded in ICANN's new TLD programme, their complaint seems odd and out of touch with the realities of the process.

Every trademark owner has the right to object to a possibly infringing application for a new top-level domain name, in much the same way these rights owners object every day to potentially infringing trademark applications made to trademark registries the world over.

Moreover, the guardians fail to realise that rights protection is not an objective itself but a strategy toward an objective: that of maintaining trust in the brand. And trust in the brand may arguably be best maintained by applying for a new TLD rather than complaining about it.

Trademark managers have had a rotten time in the past decade of domain name growth. They have identified horrors and been tripped up on the way to identify the perpetrators of those horrors as WHOIS records proved meaningless, proxy services protected the criminal, and national laws demonstrated their geographical and jurisdictional limitations. Meanwhile, technology marched on allowing bad actors to, in many cases, get away with their actions without sanction.

The root cause of this rotten time for trademark managers was a lack of control. They were forced to set-up as tenants renting a spot called a web-site in the company of dodgy .com neighbours. There was also trouble lurking in the lift — or dangers on the way to the web-site — in the form of the typo-squatting muggers. And to this dark place, to this web-site, were invited their loyal customers.

Lift up your heads oh downtrodden ones. Be of good cheer ye guardians of the past. For a rational rights protection strategy can be part and parcel of an expansionist new TLD strategy as you take back control. In your own TLD you do not sell counterfeits, credit card payments are safe, supply-chain data is secure, trust is restored. Here you start to not only feel safe, but look safe as well.

Back at the crossroads perhaps the ten thousand will change their minds and let us pass. Not just for the .brand, but for the satirical magazine, and the dairy lover too. .mad .cow anyone ?

By Philip Sheppard, Director of Policy, Governance and Public Affairs, Sedari
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