ISSUE 398: THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan
Rise of Internet spawns new grey market
for site names bought then resold for a profit June
Let's assume that like many readers, I've got a
business. For purposes of this column, we'll call it My Biz. And let's
further assume that like many readers, I want to get my business onto
the Internet, ideally with a well-thought-out plan, perhaps to post a
sales catalogue, or perhaps just a glorified ad.
I could make arrangements with my Internet Service
Provider to host my Web site on its server, but now it's decision time.
I could simply let my Web address reflect that fact, forcing users to
type in something like www.myserviceprovider. com\mybiz\index.htm.
But it would be much nicer if users just had to remember my company's
name, and type something like www.mybiz.com, and bingo-bango,
my logo is in their face.
For that to happen, I'd have to register my company
name as an Internet domain. That gets it a real Internet Protocol (IP)
address, something like 204.147.042.003. You see, when you type in that
semi-memorable www address, your service provider's Domain Name
Server has to translate it into the valid 12-digit number that is the
real address in order to try to make the connection.
To obtain that precious IP address and register my
proposed domain name, currently I have to connect up with so-called
InterNic, actually Network Solutions Inc., a Herndon, Virginia,
company that holds the contract to act as registrar for the Internet
Society. For a modest, US$50 fee, they will register the domain name,
and ensure that it is distributed to Domain Name Servers worldwide,
enabling all and sundry to find my site.
There are a couple of problems, however.
Recently, InterNic issued its millionth domain name
(up from a mere 3,000 as recently as 1995.) While there are still lots
of potential names remaining, there is a growing shortage. After all, I
don't want just any name, I want my company's name! And names are
organized into so-called domains (the couple of letters at the end of
the name). While the current organization includes domains for
countries (.ca for Canada, for example), and for a range of
organization types (.edu for education, .gov for
government, .org for nonprofit organization), the bulk of the
registrations have been for the .com commercial domain. The
Internet Society is supporting a plan to increase the number of domain
names, but this may simply multiply the problem. I may find myself
wanting to register in multiple domains: mybiz.firm, mybiz.web,
mybiz.info instead of simply mybiz.com.
The Internet Society's proposal may not even fly -- PSINet,
which carries 15 per cent of the world's Internet traffic, has
condemned the plan as a "backroom proposal," and is demanding a more
open process. As well, several governments are reportedly watching
Also, there is a lack of clarity about who should own
particular domain names. While you may use a product or company name,
that doesn't mean that you automatically have the ability to get that
as your Internet domain name. I might find that www.mybiz.com
has already been registered.
Initially, InterNic was simply issuing names to the
first applicant. As a result, battles have been fought over names such
as Avon and Banana Republic. Even Microsoft found
someone had registered Micr0soft.com (that's with a 'zero')
while a 24-year-old student set up a popular Web site called windows95.com.
After widespread complaints and publicity, InterNic has declared that
trademark holders have first priority on those names. This is not a
complete solution, however; for example, trademarks are protected
nationally, while Internet names are international in nature. Can
InterNic possibly search for trademarks worldwide? What if I own My
Biz in Canada, but someone else uses the name in Australia?
In addition, there is a growing grey market for domain
names, as individuals continue to register non-trademarked, but
potentially usable names, then offer them for sale to wannabe users. Www.domain-names.com,
for example, acts as a broker for people wanting to buy or sell domain
names, even offering a public bulletin board for would-be name vendors.
Recently, a group of Vancouver publications (including
this one), hoping to put together a common site, tried to register vancouvernews.com.
Their application via a local service provider was delayed. In the
interim, someone else registered the name. Luckily, the agreed-upon
sale price was relatively modest.
Rumours abound of other grey-market sales as local
companies found their desired easy-to-remember name already taken.
According to Computer Paper publisher Doug Alder, the
publication's masthead has been "raided" -- the names of contributors
were registered without their knowledge or consent on the assumption
that some of them would soon want their own Web sites, and would want
to purchase the right to use their own names! It is a safe prediction
that the chaos and complaints will continue.*