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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Paul Garrin wants you to have .sex right now if you want it — and .food, .art and .music along with it, too, if you like. But there’s a little problem. Actually, make that a big problem, as in the faceless organization that rules the World Wide Web with a digital iron fist.
The East Village alternative Internet pioneer — who coined .nyc, .gay and .chat, as well as those above — has filed a federal antitrust and trademark-infringement suit against ICANN, charging that the secrecy-shrouded, domain name-granting body has blocked his company’s propietary address extensions from wide use on the Web.
“Name.space’s TLDs [top-level domains] have been shut out of the DNS by ICANN and its predecessors, and forced to operate its own network of TLDs,” the suit states, “thereby effectively blocking and quarantining name.space TLDs and its registrants’ domains from the majority of Internet users.
“Because of ICANN’s conspiracy,” the suit charges, “name.space has lost millions of dollars in potential revenue.”
ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is the nonprofit entity set up by the government to administer the Web.
Name.space was founded by Garrin, a visual artist who videotaped the 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riots before going on to become an Internet entrepreneur.
Before ICANN even existed, Garrin and his company originated 482 top-level domain names — including .film, .now and .sucks, in addition to the potentially lucrative .nyc. They have kept these so-called “expressive” TLDs operating since 1996, albeit on an alternate Domain Name System, or DNS, outside of the main “Root” that is surfed by most Internet users. A control panel adjustment does allow computer users to access this alternate root, but it’s an extra step most people don’t know about.
“Practically speaking, for 99.9 percent of the world, the Root is the Internet,” the suit states. “Domain names under name.space’s TLDs were by default not universally resolvable on the Internet, thereby eliminating any chance of name.space competing… .”
Currently, the number of TLDs — other than country code TLDs — “has been arbitrarily limited to 22,” the suit says, though adding, “There are no financial, technical or other constraints to adding new TLDs to the current architecture of the Internet via access to the Web.”
Fourteen of the 22 TLDs are “sponsored top level domains,” such as .gov and .edu, and are restricted to users who must have a criterion to use them, such as working in government or education. Eight more TLDs are “generic top level domains,” such as .com and .net, that permit anyone to register.
In 2000, ICANN opened a window to expand new TLDs and solicited applications. The application fee was $50,000, and name.space applied for 118 TLDs under that one lump fee. ICANN dragged its feet and never acted on the application — but didn’t deny it either. Garrin’s suit states that one ICANN committee member scoffed of name.space’s application, “We’ll wait them out.”
Ultimately, only seven new TLDs were approved in 2000 — the generic TLDs .biz and .info and the sponsored TLDs .aero, .coop, .museum, .name and .pro.
Earlier this year, from Jan. 12 to April 12, ICANN again opened a new round of applications for TLDs. This time, ICANN charged $185,000 for each individual TLD application, not allowing multiple applications under one fee as before. So if name.space had resubmitted all its proposed TLDs from 2000 it would have cost a whopping $22 million just to apply.
“As a result of the 2012 application round’s procedural and financial barriers created by ICANN, name.space was unable to participate in the 2012 application round, and continues to seek delegation of its 118 TLDs from its 2000 application,” the suit states.
The suit further charges that applicants in the 2012 round have applied for TLDs that are among the 482 that name.space “has operated and promoted continuously since 1996 and in which name.space has exclusive trademark rights.” Garrin and his partners believe ICANN intends to authorize some of these TLDs, which would violate name.space’s trademark rights.
The suit seeks “injunctive relief” and unspecified damages for “ICANN’s wrongdoing…in an amount to be proven at trial,” adding, “Plaintiff name.space, Inc. hereby demands a trial by jury.”
Garrin has said that if name.space got the right to use .nyc and its scores of other TLDs on the main Root, the company would use part of the profits from its sale of domain names (Web page addresses) for a significant social mission. This could include, Garrin has said, putting laptop computers in all public schools, as well as buying back the former CHARAS/El Bohio Cultural and Community Center, the old P.S. 64, on E. Ninth St. and Avenue B, in order to restore it as a community center.
Within the past few months, Garrin has received some support from local politicians, calling for an investigation of name.space’s stalled application, plus specifically the .nyc ownership issue — this in light of the fact that the city is now moving ahead in trying to purchase this TLD from ICANN.
On July 27, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney wrote to the federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Garrin’s behalf.
“I would like to understand why ICANN never acted on [name.space’s] original application [for the 118 TLDs in 2000] and why so much time has been allowed to elapse without any action being taken,” Maloney wrote. “It seems to me that this would not be fair to require Mr. Garrin to refile when he had no control over ICANN’s processing of his application. Please review Mr. Garrin’s concerns and advise me as to your conclusions.”
Similarly on July 10, Councilmember Rosie Mendez wrote to the commissioner of the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to question New York City’s contracting with Neustar to apply for, operate, administer, manage, maintain and market the prospective TLD .nyc.
“Mr. Garrin’s basic contention is that the contract between DoITT and Neustar conflicts with name.space’s prior rights to the .nyc domain,” Mendez wrote. “The facts — as presented to me by Mr. Garrin — are compelling and certainly bear out the need for a clear investigation and response from DoITT.”
On July 20, DoITT’s commissioner wrote back to Mendez, saying, “On April 6, 2012, DoITT submitted a proposed contract with Neustar to the [New York City] Comptroller for registration. That contract has been registered and, pursuant to it, an application to operate a .nyc TLD has been submitted to ICANN. Name.space operates in an area of the Internet that is known as an ‘alternate root zone’ without accreditation or oversight. U.S. courts have held that operating in an alternate root zone does not give the operator any rights to a particular name space or TLD.”
Garrin said his suit has resulted in an injunction against applications by others — including Google and Amazon — for 189 TLDs that are conflict with name.space’s entire portfolio of TLDs, including those outside of the 118 TLDs that name.space submitted to ICANN in 2000.