Blog Post

Will Governments Get To Veto New Web Domains Like .Gay?

The non-profit organization that assigns IP addresses and related internet names, ICANN, will be rolling out a system offering new “top-level domains” over the course of 2011 and 2012. That means web sites could end in almost anything-from brand names like .coke or .ford to place names like .chicago or .nyc. And the Obama administration is pushing for giving the world’s governments veto powers over those new top-level domains which could create flash points over new domain names such as .gay. The proposal by the U.S. government, which comes as the Egyptian government was able to essentially shut off internet access for several days, has gotten some negative reaction.

The suggestions over how to manage top-level domains were created by the U.S. Commerce Department and published last week by Milton Mueller, a professor at Syracuse University who studies internet governance. In the same blog post, Mueller notes that an application for a .gay top-level domain is already in the works, and says that it’s already clear that government officials in “a couple of conservative Arab countries” will object to .gay, which could well lead to the the domain getting killed. “Welcome to the 17th century,” writes Mueller.

Steve DelBianco of NetChoice coalition told CNET that the Obama administration’s concern for better control comes because they were stung by the acceptance of .xxx as a top-level domain for porn. Those government officials now want a mechanism they could use to “stop an objectionable domain.” One could also imagine governments around the world blocking identity-group or geographical names in political conflict zones, with various nations moving to keep domains like .palestine or .kurdistan off the internet.

Meanwhile, big brands are also concerned about controlling the use of their trademarks in top-level domains, while the Internet Commerce Association, which represents a wide pool of domain-name investors, worry that the Commerce Department proposal will disadvantage small business by giving trademark owners too much control over how domains are distributed. And the recorded music industry sent a letter last month saying it is concerned it will be too easy for pirate sites to set up shop at a music-themed domain like .music.