Will “.com” soon be a thing of the past? – Sophie Pugh

10 05 2015

domains_com-history-comAnyone now applying for a domain name for a new website is no longer restricted to using “.com”, “.net”, “.co.uk” or any of the other domain name suffixes that we have become so familiar with. Instead, they can choose from a wide variety of alternatives, including “.city”, “.London”, “.company” and “.university”.

This has recently hit our headlines because of reports that Taylor Swift, the well-known singer songwriter, has bought the domain names “TaylorSwift.porn” and “TaylorSwift.adult”. Whilst some publications speculated that Taylor Swift might be considering a career change, most applauded her for her savvy attitude to protecting her online reputation. By purchasing these domain names herself she is preventing “domain squatters” from doing so. Domain squatters can be a real problem; they register a domain name using a trade mark belonging to someone else with the purpose of getting a monetary benefit from it. A domain squatter registering “TaylorSwift.porn” might do so in order to increase traffic to that particular site and then sell the domain name to Taylor Swift at a later date for a greatly inflated price when she is desperate to have it removed from the internet.

Taylor Swift is not the only one to be taking such precautions. Microsoft, for example, has also bought “office.porn” and “office.adult”.

These new domain name suffixes are going to have a big impact on the way in which we search for information online.

It is likely that the introduction of certain domain name suffixes, such as “.healthcare”, will make internet searches more reliable. Having “.porn” may also make it easier for parents to block certain websites. If unique domain names are adopted by companies and managed well it could be an exciting way to fight against counterfeit goods, compete against rivals and control the company brand.

If, for example, Nike established a “.nike” domain name used only by the Nike brand, it might be a valuable tool in establishing a seal of authenticity online and would help them and customers to identify imposter websites. It will also allow countries who use non-western alphabets to use their own characters in the domain names of their websites.

There is of course a flip side to this. Individuals and companies should keep a close eye on proposed new domain names in case others try to apply for names which threaten their brand or which infringe any of their trade marks.

“.sucks” is a good example of one such domain name suffix which is likely to cause problems. It is currently available at a premium price and will become generally available on 1 June 2015. It is being advertised as creating a space online where consumers can voice their opinions and criticise businesses and brands. Companies that sell domain names are recommending that all trade mark owners register matching “.sucks” domain names, just as Taylor Swift has done with “.porn” and “.adult”, to protect their brands from unwanted and unwarranted criticism.  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has asked the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate whether the registry running the .sucks domain is acting illegally and the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing.

If you are concerned about these developments or interested in exploring any element further, ICANN provides detailed guidance on its website.

Sophie Pugh is an associate in the Defamation & Reputation Management Team and the Cyber Investigation Unit at Collyer Bristow LLP.

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