An effort to dramatically expand the number of Internet suffixes beyond those already in use—such as .com, .net, and .org—met with bipartisan resistance on Wednesday in a House Judiciary subcommittee.
During a hearing before Judiciary’s Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (better known as ICANN) said its proposal would pave the way for hundreds or even thousands of additional suffixes, resulting in more choices and innovation.
But critics suggest that ICANN, a non-profit based in California, would reap a financial windfall at the expense of companies and non-profits that would be forced to “defensively” register their websites with the new suffixes to protect their trademarks.
“I would ask that we balance the costs and benefits of this proposal before a final decision is made to go forward,” said Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who joined members from both parties in urging ICANN to delay final implementation until concerns about trademark infringement, identity theft, and increased business sector costs can be adequately resolved. While he doesn’t oppose a limited expansion of Internet suffixes, the specifics of ICANN’s approach are troubling to him, he said.
With Goodlatte and other hearing participants projecting that ICANN could earn tens of millions of dollars in additional fees, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., asked: “Where will all this new money end up?”
Kurt Pritz, senior VP of stakeholder relations at ICANN, said strong safeguards would be in place to protect trademarks, including the ability of parties to object to the adoption of new suffixes. He said ICANN would constantly evolve its plan in an effort to respond to concerns that might arise.
But Goodlatte challenged him on those points, noting that ICANN has not taken any preemptive steps to ensure that “legitimate businesses” and non-profits such as the Red Cross and the U.S. Olympic Committee would not be victimized as a result of the changes.
Trademark holders are worried about a flood of knock-off sites designed to confuse consumers. For example, Coca Cola could have headaches if someone were to register “Coca-Cola,” with the suffix .soda, to create a new address, www.Coca-Cola.soda, not affiliated with the company.
Echoing Goodlatte’s concerns was ranking member John Conyers, D-Mich., who said: “I’m worried that the benefits will not outweigh the concerns raised by stakeholders." Conyers recommended a follow-up hearing on the matter and called for ICANN’s proposal to be “held up.”
“This has such enormity—the scale of it, the magnitude of the change, the implications for the public, that it behooves everybody to take the time necessary to make sure that we do our best to get it right,” agreed Mei-Lan Stark, senior VP for Fox Entertainment Group, who testified on behalf of the International Trademark Association.
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