Legal Conundrums in Domain Name Expansion

This summer, ICANN – the non-profit organization that oversees website domain names – will be releasing generic names for web domains. The new names will replace ‘.com’, ‘.edu’, ‘.org’, and the other suffixes and allow newly registered sites to use normal names like ‘.apple’ or ‘.home’. While the proposal seems simple enough, there is already some controversy.

Applications are already streaming in for the new suffixes, and some are already causing controversy, especially regarding cultural, geographical, and religious issues. ‘.catholic’, ‘.islam’, and ‘.gay’ are going to clearly lead to disputes. Saudia Arabia has already objected to names regarding sex, gambling, and religion.

Now ICANN is facing the issue of whether to move beyond administration of domain names, and get into the business of content oversight. These issues were discussed by University of Houston Law Center professor Jacqueline Lipton. “It is problematic because ICANN doesn’t really have, nor does it necessarily want, the power to regulate international law relating to intellectual property and freedom of expression, but no one else does either,” explained Lipton.

If ICANN were to move down that path, it would be a major blow to the freedom of the internet. ICANN would be forced to create a series of rules about what can and cannot be published under certain domains. It would require censorship and violate the principals of free communications over the internet. Ultimately, expression over the internet would be subject to the pressure of governments that do not share the enthusiasm for free expression, even more so that it already is.

Domain Pulse – Law Professor’s Thoughts on Domain Extensions