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An alliance of 87 business groups and companies has formed to protest next January’s planned expansion of the 22 generic top-level domain names, such as .com and .org, to an almost limitless number. The resulting organization is called the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight. On Nov. 10, the Association of National Advertisers, the coalition’s leader, wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary John Bryson asking the agency and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to persuade the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) “to postpone the opening of the top-level domain application window.” On June 20, ICANN’s board approved a plan to allow generic top-level domain registration of almost any word in any language starting on Jan. 12, 2012. “ICANN’s decision was not made in the public interest, does not promote consumer trust, and does not benefit the public, as required in the Affirmation of Commitments between ICANN and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration,” states the letter sent by the coalition. The letter claims that expanding Internet addresses would force the businesses “to spend ever-greater amounts of time and resources simply to protect their brand” and “increase the already unacceptable level of fraud and identity theft on the Internet.” In 2010, arbitration cases involving claims of cybersquatting, or improper use of trademarks in Internet domain-name registrations, reached record levels. New domain name dispute filings jumped by 24% in 2010 at the National Arbitration Forum to 2,177, up from 1,759 cases in 2009. Cases climbed by 28% at the World Intellectual Property Organization to 2,696 in 2010 compared with 2,107 filings in 2009. The coalition wants the Internet address expansion delayed until ICANN can demonstrate that the plan would accomplish the following objectives: enhancing consumer trust; boosting Internet security; creating extensive economic benefits across many sectors; and showing that the benefits will outstrip the costs of generic top-level domain expansion. Signatories to the letter include two-well known intellectual property groups: the Intellectual Property Owners Association and the American Intellectual Property Law Association. Forty companies also signed the letter, including American Express Co., Ford Motor Co., General Electric Co. and The Procter & Gamble Co. The letter cc’d a half dozen Commerce Department officials and 17 members of Congress. Members of Congress who received copies of the letter include Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) and ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) of the House Committee on Appropriations. The coalition also copied several Senate and House Judiciary Committee officials. On the Senate side, the list includes Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking minority committee member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), along with Chairman Al Franken (D.-Minn.) and ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) of the Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. On the House side, the recipients include Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D.-Mich.), and Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking member Mel Watt (D-N.C.). of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet The coalition also sent copies to Chairman John “Jay” Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, along with Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, was also copied. “We believe that this is a very significant issue that is not being treated with the importance it deserves,” said Dan Jaffe, executive vice president for government relations for the Association of National Advertisers. The coalition believes that the current domain name expansion program “will have billions of dollars of impact on Internet brand holders,” Jaffe said. Large companies, with significant resources are “still highly concerned” but it’s going to have an even greater impact on small businesses, charities and foundations, Jaffe said. “It basically affects everybody that has a brand that matters.” Jaffe said his organization participated in the comment period for the proposal, but “it has come to the point where it looks like sending up warning flares and making concerns known is not going to be heard, and we have to find some other way to get the attention of ICANN.” Jaffe’s association has also recently talked to 10 other groups that have expressed interest in joining the coalition. “We are starting to more and more show that a very, very substantial segment of the Internet community is far from pleased and is displeased [by this plan].” A spokesperson for Goodlatte said the Congressman “has previously expressed concerns about ICANN’s rollout of the [generic top-level domain] program due to concerns about ICANN’s ability to enforce their own policies on all these [domains] and concerns expressed by IP owners. He is hopeful that the Commerce Department will take swift action to try to delay this program.” Grassley, Upton and Waxman were not immediately available for comment, according to spokespeople. The other members of Congress who received the letter did not respond to a request for comment. Neither the Department of Commerce nor the National Telecommunications and Information Administration responded to requests for comment. ICANN’s board overwhelmingly approved the expansion after six years of careful study, discussion and debate by the entire ICANN Internet community, said spokesman Brad White. White said ICANN’s Aug. 9 letter to the Association of National Advertisers told the organization that ICANN consulted with businesses; Internet service providers; intellectual property holders; governments; domain name registries and registrars; and Internet user representatives from around the globe. “Specifically, it evolved from 45 comment periods encompassing 2,400 comments and analyses,” White said. “There were 55 explanatory memoranda or independent reports and seven drafts of the Applicant Guidebook.” “We’re still extremely concerned about this procedure,” said executive director Q. Todd Dickinson of the American Intellectual Property Law Association. “It’s burdensome. It’s costly. It hasn’t been given significant thought. We really support the goals of the people who organized the petition.” Sheri Qualters can be contacted at [email protected].

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