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Who owns the rights to the Internet domain name “www.free.shop”? Depends on whom you ask. According to New.net, the Pasadena, Calif.-based domain registry, the domain “free.shop” belongs to one Tariq Ghafoor of Tempe, Ariz. He registered the name for one year in March of 2001. But according to Namespace, a New York-based domain registry, the domain “free.shop” has been registered to Morgan Flom, a self-described “URL merchant” based in Choctaw, Okla., since June of 2000. A similar disagreement exists over “www.europa.travel.” New.net says it belongs to Dave Vranken in the Netherlands; Namespace says Dan Ohlemacher of Escondido, Calif., has owned it for nearly two years. Welcome to the chaos of “generic” top-level domains. As more companies enter the business of registering domain names that are outside of the few top levels authorized by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), such as “.com” and “.org,” there is increasing confusion and bitterness about which names belong to whom. The burgeoning Babel could have very fragmenting effects on Web users. Though none of the above parties are yet running a site at free.shop or europa.travel, if and when they decide to do so, a given Web surfer might unwittingly be guided to one or the other, depending entirely on where he or she lives. That’s because, unlike a .”com,” “.net” or “.org” address, the generic top-level domains (or TLDs) do not correspond to a universally accessible Internet protocol address. Rather, they correspond to name servers operated by the companies who register the names. So, for example, New.net this year has made 30 TLDs available, from “.arts” to “.sport” to “.xxx.” In order to see a site operating with one of those names on a server controlled by New.net, a Web surfer must either be using an ISP that has made an arrangement with New.net, or have configured a Web browser to view those sites. Otherwise, nothing will appear. For several years, some officials at ICANN have warned of the potential chaos that could stem from the development of “alternative roots,” which provide competing domain names. But the organization appears powerless to stop the proliferation of such systems. And alternative root providers argue that they are providing a valuable service that can respond better to marketplace needs than ICANN, which has taken years to expand the number of TLDs available. This does not mean, however, that all the alternative root companies exist in harmony. The people behind Namespace have been providing TLDs since 1996, and they greatly resent what they see as encroachment from well-funded latecomers (New.net is backed in part by Idealab.) “I believe their practice is predatory against our customers,” charges Paul Garrin, founder and CEO of Name.space Inc. “They’re creating balkanization.” In April of this year, Garrin filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing New.net of creating “confusion in the marketplace” and “inflicting irreparable harm” on Namespace. The FTC does not appear to have acted on this complaint to date. New.net says that Namespace is “the pariah of the naming community,” in the words of Steve Chadima, the firm’s chief marketing officer. Chadima argues that any dispute that arises between those who have registered a given name with different companies can be handled through standard dispute resolution procedures. Related Articles from The Industry Standard: NextWave May Hop on Disputed Spectrum Getting to Know You Cutting Europe’s Red Tape Copyright � 2001 The Industry Standard

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