>>>>> A precedent-setting
international ruling could make thousands of privately owned Internet addresses
based on city or other place names easy pickings for
governments around the world.
An arbitrator acting under a controversial new international system for resolving
domain name disputes and combatting so-called "cybersquatting" has stripped a
controlled by a Spanish woman and her husband of http://www.barcelona.com
,a moniker she registered four years ago for a tourist site, and awarded
the city of Barcelona.
ruling is believed to be the first involving a geographic name since the
new dispute resolution system was launched Jan. 1 by the Internet Corporation
Names & Numbers (ICANN).
observers figure that if Canadian governments start to pursue Internet
strategies more aggressively, the decision could have implications for
owned by well-established players.
include http://www.canada.com ,controlled by newspaper publisher Southam
Inc.; http://www.toronto.com ,controlled by BellActiMedia, Torstar
and Ticketmaster Online-City Search Inc.; and http://www.alberta.com and
several similar addresses controlled by telecommunications and Internet
provider Telus Corp.
the Barcelona ruling, reportedly being appealed to the U.S. courts, arbitrator
Marino Porzio said the domain name, controlled by Concepcio Riera and her
Juan Noguerras Cobo through a U.S. company they set up in May, contravened
three key rules established by the ICANN:
name was "confusingly similar" to trademarks held by Barcelona's city council.
city had "better rights" and "more legitimate interests" in the name than
Ms. Reira and Mr. Noguerras Cobo.
couple was using the name in "bad faith" because they had registered it
in part to prevent Barcelona from doing so and because they eventually
planned to try to
some sort of a payment from the city.
University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, who specializes in Internet
and other intellectual property law, dismissed the ruling as wrong-headed.
a dangerous, dangerous precedent," he said. "It's certainly possible [that]
other arbitrators will increasingly rely on this decision."
Geist fears the ruling may open the door to domain name grabs by governments
at any level around the world -- even when the current owners are not
-- that is, people who register domain names based on trademarks in the
hope of reselling them for big bucks down the road to the trademark
main objection is that the ".com" designation for Web sites is short for
"commercial," and should therefore be restricted to commercial enterprises
the realm of a particular city or country or state."
already have their own designations, which include country and/or provincial
components. For instance, the federal government's main Web site is
, the Alberta government's is http://www.gov.ab.ca , and Toronto's is http://www.city.toronto.on.ca
Prof. Geist, Bruce Annan, president of electronic media for Torstar Media
Group, which owns 45 per cent of http://www.toronto.com ,dismissed the
argument in the Barcelona ruling. Growing familiarity with the Internet
means "more and more of us [are] going to know that if we go to anything
it's going to be a business, not the government."
Annan indicated he is not concerned that the Toronto government may be
contemplating similar action against the Web site Torstar and its partners
doubt this is any kind of a precedent," he said.
he acknowledged that the ICANN dispute resolution system is still unfolding,
and "it's still pretty chaotic out there."
U.S. company whose ox could be gored if more major cities around the world
go on the warpath is Mail.com Inc. of New York, an Internet e-mail service.
the numerous domain names it owns are .coms for such places as Tokyo, Singapore,
Berlin, Rome, Paris and Spain's capital, Madrid.
Holly Lehr said in an e-mail yesterday that the company is familiar with
the Barcelona decision, but that the facts in that dispute are "unique"
to any of Mail.com's city domain names."
she also noted that rulings under the ICANN dispute resolution system can
be reviewed in court and said a "timely court action" by the owners of
will "stay the ICANN decision."
from Barcelona Sunday said this is what Ms. Riera and Mr. Noguerras Cobo
have in mind. The Spanish couple now own the domain name through
Inc. of New York, and the company said it will appeal the ruling to the
U.S. courts because it figures it stands a better chance of success there.