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Domain Names


Like ordinary postal mail, messages sent via the Internet need addresses to help them reach their correct destination. Each computer connected to the Internet is assigned a unique address, known as an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which consists of a long number like "" Such long numeric addresses can be difficult for people to remember and use. Therefore, the Domain Name System (DNS) helps people navigate the Internet by matching IP address numbers to user-friendly names.

For example, when you want to find the United Nations website, you can type into your web browser -- this is much easier to remember than "," the UN's assigned IP address.

To make sure that each domain name corresponds to one and only one location on the Internet, there is a need for some centralized coordination. Until fairly recently, the allocation of domain names was conducted exclusively by a US-based company working under contract with the US government. In order to privatize and internationalize this process and open it to competition, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was created in 1998. ICANN is a non-profit corporation, headed by an international Board of Directors.

ICANN and Internet Governance: Getting Back to Basics (July 2004) - In this paper [ENG][RUS], CDT explains that ICANN has an important but narrow and largely technical role in Internet governance. ICANN should not-and cannot-be treated as a locus of broader Internet governance. The paper offers concrete recommendations for ICANN reform.

Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)

Each country in the world has been assigned a country code top-level domain name (ccTLD), and for each ccTLD, there is a designated manager. For a number of countries, especially in the developing world, the ccTLD manager is a for-profit entity located outside of the country to which the domain name relates. In such cases, it may be desirable to redelegate management of the ccTLD to a local entity, to bring the management of the ccTLD inside the territory of the country involved and to make the administration of the domain name more responsive to the public interest. This GIPI paper outlines a strategy for achieving such a redelegation.

Key resources about ccTLDs, including policies and guidelines of the Internet Corporation on Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), are collected at

A model for redelegation of ccTLDs is the successful process followed for redelegation of .uz (Uzbekistan ) to a local, non-profit, non-governmental entity. The following document gives a full history of the process, with links to all relevant supporting papers and agreements.

For a more academic look at ccTLD policy, see The Neverending ccTLD Story, by PETER K. YU Public Law Research Paper No. 65, from the forthcoming book ADDRESSING THE WORLD: NATIONAL IDENTITY AND INTERNET COUNTRY CODE DOMAINS, edited by Erica Schlesinger Wass (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003) This book chapter recounts the power struggle over the control of the Domain Name System and authority to delegate and administer ccTLDs. It traces how ccTLD policymaking has been transformed from ad hoc, informal coordination to international, contract-based governance. It also discusses the various major players in the ccTLD debate: ICANN, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), ccTLD managers, national governments, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Management of ccTLDs by Member States of the European Union

The vast majority of EU countries use private, non-profit organizations or foundations to manage their ccTLDs. This is clearly the better approach, as GIPI has recommended. Only 2 or 3 EU countries rely on government regulatory agencies to manage their ccTLDs. This short memo [pdf] reviews the status of ccTLD management in European countries and under the relevant EU directive.

The following is an overview of some of the main issues facing ICANN and other stakeholders in the DNS:

Establishment of New Top-Level Domains (TLDs)

The Top-Level Domain is the last element of the domain name. (Example: The TLD of is .org.) There are two types: the "country code" TLDs and the "generic" TLDs. The country code TLD is signified by a two-letter abbreviation - e.g., .ru for Russia, .fr for France. A generic TLD is not limited to a particular geographical area, but it typically represents the type of organization hosting the site. During most of the short history of the Internet, there were only been five gTLDs: .com, .net, .org, .edu, .gov, and .mil (the latter two reserved for use of the US government). The increasing popularity of the Internet has made it necessary to create new gTLDs. ICANN is in the process of introducing seven new gTLDs: .aero (for the air-transport industry), .biz (for businesses), .coop (for cooperatives), .info (for all uses), .museum (for museums), .name (for individuals), and .pro (for professions). In June 2001, the first two of these became operational (.biz and .info).

There are also some parties interested in establishing new ccTLDs. For example, the European Union is engaging ICANN in a dialogue about introducing .eu as a new "country code" TLD.

Intellectual Property/Trademarks

Commercial web sites want to use unique, meaningful names that represent the brand-image they intend to convey to consumers. Consequently, many of these domain names have a significant market value. A problem faced by the DNS which normally issues names on a first-come, first-served basis -- is how to assign domain names that are trademarks or words commonly associated with a company already in existence.

ICANN has adopted standard procedures to notify applicants for a domain name when the name they have chosen is already protected as intellectual property. This is sufficient for resolving conflicts in which the applicant acted in good faith, and did not intend to appropriate the domain name for commercial purposes at the expense of a company who already owns the rights to this name. There has been concern that some applicants purchase domain names for the sole purpose of speculating on their value. This practice has become known "cybersquatting," and some jurisdictions, such as the United States, have enacted legislation to prohibit it. International bodies like WIPO have developed standards for determining when a person is engaging in cybersquatting.

Dispute Resolution

When disputes over ownership of a name arise, ICANN's Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) provides that parties must submit their claim to the courts or to an arbitration agency before ICANN will impose any penalties, conditions, or restrictions on domain name owners. There are four different organizations approved for dispute resolution; all follow ICANN's UDRP rules. To prevail, the complainant must prove that:

  1. the domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the Complainant's trademark or service mark;
  2. the domain name holder has no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name; and
  3. the domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith. - The Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy Legal Information Site


It is generally accepted that a centrally managed database should be maintained to keep information about registered owners of domain names. Since some of this data may include personal information, it is necessary to develop guidelines on effective protection of owners' privacy rights. Both ICANN and WIPO have sought ways of ensuring both individual privacy and the effective administration of the Domain Name System. The Center for Democracy and Technology has issued comments on how these proposals might affect the privacy and other human rights of Internet users.

Domain Name System Governance

ICANN's mission should be narrow and technical. But even technical decisions about who gets which names and numbers can have broader policy implications. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that ICANN's procedures give every Internet user a voice. In response to calls for greater public participation in its processes, ICANN is conducting a study to assess ways to better achieve open governance representing the interests of all Internet users. CDT is coordinating a parallel study, by a working group of NGOs and Academics.

Further resources:

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