Hello, world, and welcome back to DomainSkate for our latest installment of the weekly news roundup. This week’s theme is ICANN’s attempts to make the internet a little less miscreant-friendly, through (a) the still-relatively-new Trademark Clearinghouse, and (b) an ICANN examination and proposal for changes to the WHOIS database.

The WHOIS problem is an interesting challenge that essentially is this: How do you protect the privacy (and therefore safety) of good-faith domain registrants, while easily exposing bad-faith registrants and allowing internet users to know where information is coming from?

Generally, when you register a domain name, for example with a retail registrar like GoDaddy, you have to tell them you who are in some way–a name, email address, and often more, depending on your registrar. This information ends up in the WHOIS database, where anyone can look it up.

Naturally, there are ways to protect your privacy: for example, you can pay a little extra for some privacy, in which case the information can only be found out under certain circumstances (like a UDRP). You can lie about who you are. Or, depending on where you register your domain, instead of your name WHOIS could return the name of the retail registrar –or even the wholesale registry operator they got the domain from.

It’s easy to see where the problem comes in. You our reader, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, don’t necessarily want your private information out there for miscreants to find and mis-use, so privacy is important. But for the miscreants (and I love that this is an official category of people in ICANN’s new report), it is just easy to hide their identities, and they won’t hesitate to do so.

Meanwhile, there are myriad legitimate reasons to know who is running what website and to keep/make WHOIS information public. For example, we should all be source-checking any political information and lobbying that influences us, and we want our academic researchers and journalists to do the same so we can trust their work. You might also want contact information in order to reach out to someone to buy their domain–or, obviously, for the purposes of ending malicious activity on the web.

There are plenty of other challenges with the current WHOIS system as well.  An ICANN working group has therefore done a study and produced a report with suggestions for changes–one which is drawing quite a bit of controversy. The best not-excessively-deep dive into the situation I’ve found is here:

WHOIS Privacy Plan Draws Fire
Krebs on Security
By Brian Krebs, September 16, 2013

In addition, the commentary on the post gives some pretty great examples of exactly the challenges at play.

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Moving on. If you have joined us more recently, you may have heard us mention the Trademark Clearinghouse or “TMCH” (and encourage you to use our TMCH registration services), but you might not know yet exactly what the TMCH is or why it’s helpful for you. This week saw a great overview article from Mark Partridge, Harvard-educated intellectual property attorney:

1,930 Reasons to Watch the Internet: Strategies to Protect Your Brand
Industry Week
Mark Partridge, Partridge IP Law, September 19, 2013

[Tip: click the “print” button if you want to see the whole article on one page.]

Within the context of the new gTLDs coming out, “our focus here… is the challenges presented at the second level – the space to the left of the dot.” Topics include the key benefits of the TMCH and strategies for thinking about and enforcing your company’s domain/brand protection policies.

There were also two interesting find-out-more articles in the New Legal Review, including quotes from TMCH manager Jan Corstens.

Clearing the way for brands in the brave new web
New Legal Review
By Matt Packer, September 17, 2013

A safe house for marks in the domain revolution?
New Legal Review
By Matt Packer, September 19, 2013

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And finally, in our UDRP of the week:

Stolen domain name recovered through UDRP
DomainNameWire.com
By Andrew Allemann, September 16, 2013

What is odd about the case to me is that, in spite of the fact that the domain was literally stolen via some clever hacking and password-changing, the panelist seemed to hem and haw a bit about whether to give it back. Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center manages the website ThompsonIsland.org, and the fact that this is also a geographic name induced uncertainty… despite that the education center also manages the tiny island itself...