For or against Google's and Amazon's new gTLD "landgrab"?

Stephane Van Gelder of NetNames reports on the latest developments in Internet governance

On 13 June this year, when ICANN revealed the 1930 applications it had received in the first round of new gTLDs, some names immediately stood out. Often linked to generic terms, two applicants in particular caught industry watchers' eyes: Charleston Road Registry Inc., aka Google, and Amazon EU SARL, aka Amazon.

Google originally applied for a whopping 101 TLDs (they have since withdrawn three applications due to them clashing with geographic names) and Amazon 77. These include, for Google: baby, blog, car, cloud, dad, day, docs, family, film, gmbh (the equivalent of "ltd" in German), here, home, kid, live, love… and for Amazon: audible, author, book, bot, box, fire, free, game, hot, mail, map, room, safe, talk, tunes, you…

ICANN's new gTLD program was never designed to allow prospective registry operators to "hoard" strings for themselves. But as the GNSO, ICANN's policy making body for generic domains, progressed with designing the program's foundations, it became clear that "brand TLDs" would be a major focus.

When ICANN came to work on implementing the program, i.e. turning the GNSO's guidelines into actual rules for applicants, provisions were made to allow for "exclusive use" by registry operators of a TLD.  In short, closed, brand TLDs were given a green light.

But for some, Google, Amazon and other volume applicants have pushed the boundaries of this closed TLD concept too far. A letter co-signed by registrar industry insiders and meant for ICANN, argues that "generic words used in a generic way belong to all (…). It is inherently in the public interest to allow access to generic new gTLDs to the whole of the Internet Community, e.g., .BLOG, .MUSIC, .CLOUD. (…) In contrast, to allow individual Registry Operators to segregate and close-off common words for which they do not possess intellectual property rights in effect allows them to circumvent nation-states’ entrenched legal processes for obtaining legitimate and recognized trademark protections."

This debate - should individual entities own generic terms? - is as old as the Internet itself. It has raged on through registrations of generic terms in .COM and all other TLDs. It has been the focus of heated discussions in the run-up to the new gTLD program launch, with some arguing that going up one level in the domain system hierarchy only makes grabbing generic terms even worse, because these then become de facto keywords on a global scale.

But is that really the case? Why complain more about Amazon bidding for a Dot Book than about Barnes and Nobel owning The Internet's naming system is all about choice and the beauty of it is that there is always an alternative. A different name, a different TLD, a different space…

It will be interesting to see what registry operators do with their TLDs, whatever their business models. But why pre-judge applications that have kept within the boundaries of the ICANN new gTLD rulebook?

Is that the case for Google's and Amazon's generic TLDs? That is for the program evaluators to decide. Their work is expected to end in June 2013. If, at that time, those applications have been deemed acceptable, then good luck to them.

But just as the existence of has never prevented any book enthusiast or book-related business from being on the Web, we doubt that awarding Dot Blog to Google will shut out all other blog operators from the Internet.


Written by Stéphane Van Gelder, Registry Relations and Strategy Director, NetNames

24 September 2012