NEW U.N. study says untrademarked domain names are unprotected


Tuesday, September 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


GENEVA (AP) _ A new U.N. study says little can be done under current international law to prevent cybersquatters from using the names of world leaders and even countries as the addresses of their private Web sites.

That means tunisia.com is owned by a U.S. company, afghanistan.com is based in the Caribbean, while the Champagne region of France _ which jealously protects its rights over the word ``Champagne'' on sparkling-wine labels _ has no rights over champagne.org, owned by an American company.

The current system, drawn up by the World Intellectual Property Organization, has allowed celebrities like Madonna and companies like Microsoft _ both trademarked names _ to win rights to their web names from squatters who had registered them in hope of reselling for a fortune.

The World Intellectual Property Organization, which adjudicates disputes over Internet names, has received more than 3,000 complaints of cybersquatting over the past 21 months and has resolved more than 80 percent using trademark law. But WIPO says in its new study that it is much more difficult to protect non-trademarked personal, geographic and brand names.

``Political and religious leaders and scientific personalities can't claim, because they make a noncommercial contribution to society,'' said Francis Gurry, WIPO's assistant director-general. ``There are no norms dealing with this at the international level. There is evidence of misuse and we suggest the international community has to decide if it wants to prohibit it.''

WIPO started its study last July at the request of Australia, the United States and European countries that were concerned about controlling domain names. It will present the conclusions to its member governments at the end of September.

The problem of trying to regulate domain names for towns is especially difficult because of the number of towns with the same name. Even governments trying to claim the domain name of their countries are having problems _ there is currently a legal dispute between South Africa and Seattle-based Virtual Countries Inc. which owns southafrica.com and offers information about nature, geography and tourism.

Gurry said there was no international consensus on the issue.

``On the one hand you have a school of thought that the Internet is a different place and ought not to be bound by rules that were made for a pre-internet world,'' he said. ``But on the other hand you have a strong school of thought that it is a bad precedent for new technology to rewrite rules that we established for good reason.''