Years in the making, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) is finally expected to release thousands of new generic top level domain names (“gTLDs”) for the Internet this year. As can be expected, the process has not been without controversy and some confusion. Specifically, the applications for .AMAZON have raised concerns over domain names that function as a company name and also have significant alternative meanings in common language, geography or culture.
The website Amazon.com is a global household name. Launched in 1995, the online retail store now employs 91,300 people, has a market cap of $119.16 billion, boasted $61.09 billion in revenue in 2012 and is publicly traded on the NASDAQ. In addition to selling virtually any product a consumer may need, it is an especially innovative leader in the publishing industry with products like Audible.com and the Amazon Kindle. As if these tangible and digital products were not enough, Amazon is venturing into the original programming business with Amazon Studios. It is also a significant player in the virtual infrastructure world – providing a platform for millions of companies. That Amazon is a force to be reckoned with is an understatement.
So it seems fair to award Amazon the vanity domain name given its immense global presence. But should it own the .AMAZON gTLD over interested parties in South America who are associated with the Amazon River and Rainforest? After all, the Amazon River did originate over 11 million years ago. So what guidelines does ICANN have to address this issue? Should all vanity domain names that couple as well-known geographic locations or other commonly known items (consider the company Apple versus the fruit) be barred altogether?
ICANN originally expected that battles over vanity domain names would be settled via private negotiations or auctions. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), a significant organization that assists ICANN with controversial gTLD debates, has chimed in stating that “further consideration may be warranted” for considering whether .AMAZON should be allowed and that this issue will be discussed further at the ICANN meeting in Durban, South Africa in July 2013. This means that the .AMAZON application will certainly face delays going forward and may be barred altogether if a consensus can’t be reached.
The argument against Amazon.com owning the .AMAZON gTLD is in part presented by countries in the region – particularly Brazil, Peru and others who are part of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (ACT). These countries assert that private corporate ownership would thwart public interest groups who use the Internet to aid their work, which includes the protection of the Amazon Basin environment and advancement of indigenous rights. Another similar dispute with the same foundational issues is being led by Argentina against the retail clothing store Patagonia for the .PATAGONIA domain name.
The outcome and decision over the .AMAZON gTLD will be watched closely by all parties, and by ICANN stakeholders, as it is probably the most visible vanity TLD. The arguments made by the ACT countries are likely to garner public support/sympathy and present a PR/messaging problem for ICANN – i.e., does ICANN want to appear to disenfranchise groups working to protect the Amazon Rainforest? Further, the GAC will have to provide more direct commentary at some point in the future, in order to justify its recommendation that .AMAZON and several other applications not pass beyond the Initial Evaluation stage and be “considered” further. More specific points/objections by the GAC could provide some cover for ICANN, or, there could be an agreement worked out that would benefit the ACT countries and their public interest groups working to protect the Amazon Basin – a PR win for everyone – including ICANN...