Italy Prepares Crackdown on Cybersquatters

ROME (04/13/2000) - The Italian government yesterday approved a draft law to regulate the use of Internet domain names and to crack down on cybersquatting.

The measure, which officials expect will be approved by Parliament within three to four months, provides for minimum compensation of 30,000 euros (US$28,000) for companies and individuals able to prove that they have been damaged by illegal use of a domain name to which they are entitled.

The law establishes a Registration Authority for domain names, to be based in Pisa, and bans the registration of other people's names or established company and brand names by third parties. It outlaws the sale of registered domain names ending in the ".it" national suffix and establishes that entitlement to a domain name lapses if the Web site has not become active within 90 days of registration.

The new law also extends its protection of the names of Italian citizens to foreign jurisdictions, allowing Italians to take legal action in Italy if their names are registered outside of the country.

Italy is one of the first European countries to move to regulate the management of Internet domain names, although Spain, France and Belgium have already begun to take steps in a similar direction, officials and published reports said.

Italian legislators modeled their draft law on existing U.S. anti-cybersquatting legislation but added an extra layer of protection in that the Registration Authority is responsible for investigating controversial cases and ruling on who is entitled to a particular domain name under Italian law, said Carlo Malinconico, head of the legislative department of the prime minister's office.

"Our line is very similar to the one followed in the United States," Malinconico said. "The law will protect the names of companies, brands, individuals and generic names such as fashion and television. There is an absolute ban on the registration of other people's names and on the buying and selling of domain names."

The popular actress Serena Grandi recently highlighted the phenomenon of individuals registering other people's names when she complained in the Italian press that her own name had been registered without her permission to promote pornographic Web sites in the U.S.

"At the end of the day, this is a subject that should be regulated at the European level," Malinconico said. "The European Union is already working on it but has encouraged member states to move ahead individually, in the meantime.

Obviously, member governments have a better knowledge than Brussels does of their own national situation. The EU will have the task of harmonizing the national legislation at a later stage."

The draft law enjoys considerable cross-party support and should benefit from a fast track through the parliamentary approval process, Malinconico said.

"The Internet is something that belongs to everyone and where everyone enjoys the same rights. But it contains a scarce resource, and that is the domain names," said Giuseppe Rao, an adviser on the information society to Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema. "It is unthinkable that people should trade in a resource that belongs to everyone. That is the logic of this draft law. It seeks to protect those who really want to make use of the Internet and limit the opportunities for those who simply want to speculate."

The proposed law was generally welcomed by industry leaders. Umberto Paolucci, chairman of Microsoft Italia SpA, described it as "useful and important."

Nichi Grauso, a Sardinian businessman who has reportedly registered about 480,000 domain names in Italy and abroad, was understandably less enthusiastic.

He dubbed it "clumsy, inadequate and racist" in an interview published today in the Sardinian daily L'Unione Sarda. One consequence of the planned law, Grauso said, was that many Jews who have a surname that is the same as the name of an Italian city would be unable to have their own Internet domain.

"This measure changes absolutely nothing," he said. "What cannot be registered in Italy can easily be registered in another state on another continent. The Internet is highly complex and impossible to regulate."

Malinconico agreed that the Internet is difficult to regulate and said the government was eagerly awaiting the reaction of experts from the IT community to its proposed legislation. "The last thing we want to do is to damage the Net," he said.

The text of the draft law is available on the Web at http://www.palazzochigi.it/fsi/.

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