NZ Net group to fight for domain name rights

A row is brewing over international plans to restructure the way domain names are registered, and the Internet Society of New Zealand (ISOCNZ) is determined to be in the middle of it.

"The proposed policies impact upon our national sovereignty, legal system, business certainty, privacy issues and economy," says Sue Leader, executive director of ISOCNZ, who plans to hold a summit to discuss New Zealand's position at the end of April.

US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will hold a meeting in Berlin on May 25 to discuss a variety of changes to the way domain name registration will occur, and ISOCNZ believes countries like New Zealand may be cut out of the loop.

ICANN is a nonprofit organisation that was formed to take over responsibility for the IP (Internet Protocol) address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management and root server system management functions from the US government. Issues ICANN hopes to address in May include problems with trademarks and domain names, which falls under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) jurisdiction. A meeting of IP professionals is being held in Wellington on April 12 and 13 to discuss issues they wish to present to ICANN in Berlin.

"There has been a move to get IP constituents from around the world together to establish a position which can be presented to ICANN in May," says convener Bill Howie, a former president of the Asian Patent Attorney Association. A number of meetings will be held worldwide to ensure that IP specialists in each region get their say.

The New Zealand Intellectual Property Office will be kept informed, but is not seeking an active role in the discussions.

High on the list of things to be discussed is the issue of trademarks. "There is an interface between domain names and trademarks," says Howie, who points out that the Internet is based on a less formal, laissez-faire style which is alien to the structured world of intellectual property law.

A representative from ISOCNZ is scheduled to attend, but ISOCNZ's leader would like to see more involvement from the IT side of the equation.

ICANN classifies countries in one of two categories -- either "open" or "closed". Open countries, of which New Zealand is one, take a first-come-first-served approach to domain names, while closed countries, like Australia, have a strong regulatory infrastructure. ICANN would in effect take control of open countries' registration procedures, to which ISOCNZ is opposed.

"New Zealand would lose its ability to resolve disputes in the New Zealand courts," says a paper prepared by Patrick O'Brien for ISOCNZ. "Registrars and name holders will be mandated by ICANN to direct all disputes to a global disputes process managed by WIPO."

Peter Mott, director of ISP 2Day and a member of ISOCNZ's council, says there is a potential problem, but he believes ISOCNZ leadership is making too much of the issue.

More details of the conference can be obtained at http://www.isocnz.org.nz/

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