WID: Congress Should Address Cybersquatting Issues in New gTLD Program, Business Groups Say

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Congress has an obligation to take a hard look at ICANN’s new generic top-level domain (gTLD) programs, said Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., at a Wednesday event sponsored by the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA). Marino is vice chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, which has investigated new generic top-level domains in the past (WID May 5/11 p1). “I’m sure there will be hearings” to ensure Congress understands the expansion of the Internet and to ensure rightsholders can protect their trademarks amid that expansion, he said.

Educating Congress and the public on the issues on new gTLDs is critical, Marino said. “There are still many senior members in the House and Senate that simply rely on their staff concerning anything to do with computers or the Internet,” he said. “They have a rough time figuring out how to turn the computer on, let alone what the ramifications are.” He said members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees had a better understanding than most of the gTLD expansion and the corresponding concerns over trademark rights and over cybersquatting problems. “We have to make sure we have all the players at the table, we have all the information, and we do what is going to be most efficient and the most effective,” he said. “We’re determined to do this right,” even if it has to be done slowly, he said.

The problem of cybersquatting is going to “explode by at least 2,500 percent,”* when new gTLDs go live, said CADNA Director Josh Bourne. The event was timed to kick off a monthlong education campaign about new gTLDs, sponsored by CADNA and the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB). Bourne pointed to existing problems with cybersquatting, saying phishing activities cost banks and credit card issuers $2.8 billion yearly, and cybercrime costs global businesses over $500 billion, according to a July study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (http://bit.ly/16ni8oi). “These issues really target trademark owners, because trademark owners provide the fodder for abuse,” since their domains are trusted by consumers, he said. “Infringers really know this. The problems are huge, but we know business isn’t keeping up with it.” Neither consumers nor businesses know enough about the program to trust it, let alone to protect themselves, he said. “A little helping hand from Congress would go a long way” to educating consumers and businesses, he said.

CADNA will start a letter-writing campaign and continue to seek a sponsor for a revision to 1999’s Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), it said. CADNA’s proposed revamp would establish stronger deterrence for all violators, including establishing liability against an affiliate, representative or other entity acting in concert with the registrant, including registrars and registries, it said. It would also amend the damages provision in ACPA to award damages of at least $25,000 per domain name targeted by cybersquatters. “Congressional action is needed to stop cybersquatting to ensure a positive consumer experience,” said CADNA.

ACPA reforms could offer a better deterrent to the cybersquatting that CBBB deals with regularly, said Anjali Hansen, deputy general counsel. “We don’t usually use the ACPA because of the costs involved, so we would really appreciate better rules” that could act as a deterrent, she said. The bureaus have substantial issues with cybersquatters and trademark violators, when fraudulent companies use their symbols and names to try to lend legitimacy to their websites, she said. CBBB is committed to raising awareness of the new gTLD program and its potential problems through its network, she said. “Millions of consumers come to us for scam alerts and information about the marketplace, so we will be getting this information out to consumers.”

Cybersquatting has been a big concern for AARP, said General Counsel Leslie Nettleford. She said she expects more concerns as the new gTLD program rolls out, and has developed a “brand protection strategy team” at AARP to proactively address the problem. She lauded new protections like the Trademark Clearinghouse and Uniform Rights Suspension mechanisms, but said further education for consumers was still necessary.

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy had applied for .pharmacy to address “global concern about illegal online drug sellers distributing products that endanger patient health,” said Melissa Madigan, policy and communications director. The executive committee “feels it’s extremely important to create a place where patients can go that they will be confident will be selling them safe drugs,” she said. Madigan pointed to research the NABP had conducted that showed over 10,000 websites are in conflict with U.S. federal and state pharmacy laws. Just 94 sites it surveyed were accredited or approved through various approval programs like e-Advertiser, she said. The group plans to restrict .pharmacy domain names to legitimate operators that adhere to pharmacy laws where they are located and where their patients reside, it said. The string is on hold under advice from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, she said, but the group expects a target launch in April. “ICANN just needs to realize the GAC advice just doesn’t apply to us.”

CADNA’s first goal for its “Know Your Net” campaign is to raise awareness about new gTLDs, as well as stories about the real impact of cybersquatting, said CADNA Communications Director Yvette Miller. It released a series of best principles for businesses navigating the new space, including recom- mendations they defensively register domains that users are likely to visit, and maintain clear and consistent branding and naming conventions across their domain portfolio. Consumers should “stay alert and be skeptical” said Miller, navigating to recognizable domain names and learning to recognize signs a website might be cybersquatted. The National Cyber Security Alliance also has high hopes for campaigns to continue public education on cybersquatting and other Internet safety issues, said Emily Eckland, director digital awareness. The NCSA wants to “educate Internet users on all things Internet safety,” she said, es- pecially since a majority of Americans agree that a safe and secure Internet is crucial to U.S. economic security.

— Erin Mershon (emershon@warren-news.com)

Clarification: Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse Director Josh Bourne clarified Thursday that at a September event on cybersquatting he meant to say that ICANN’s new generic top-level domain program is going to “explode by at least 2,500 percent” (WID Sept 19 p.15).