Do you remember a time when .com, .org, .edu, or .gov were pretty much the only three letters you'd ever see at the end of a web address? I know, it seems like such a long time ago, and yet, those top-level domains (TLDs) continue to be the most used in the US.
What is a TLD? A top-level domain is the last segment of a domain name. The TLD for our blog is .com.
How many TLDs are there currently? Here's a visual, courtesy of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, of the world's TLDS...all 280 of them. (I think it's a little bit out of date, because I believe there are actually 21 gTLDs (generic top level domains) currently, but close enough.)
Most of the current TLDs are country codes (.us, .mx .ca, .cn, .ru, .uk, etc).
But see that medium-sized dot that shows 20 "g"s? Right now there are 20, but under a plan that will be voted on at an important ICANN meeting in Cartagena, Colombia on FRIDAY, DECEMBER 10 (2 days from now!), the "g" domains will explode in number. ICANN has not placed an actual number of how many new TLDs will be created, but has said it could potentially be 1000s of new TLDs per year.
No, that is not 1000s of new URLs per year. I mean 1000s of new top-level domains. Come May, we could see .coke, .canon, .fashion, .book, .author, .paris, .xxx, .food, and on and on and on and on.
Rather than expanding to one or two new2 TLDs at a time like they've done in the past, ICANN has proposed an UNLIMITED expansion. This poses significan problems for trademark owners because of the possibility of additional consumer confusion and the great costs that will be involved in brand owners protecting their brands.
So what exactly does this mean for the Fictionistas and our readers?
I'm going put on a quasi-legal hat today and do something I rarely do on here or in the greater writing community...give advice. Sure, I frequently dispense legal info, but I generally am pretty careful to steer clear of giving advice, for ethical reasons.
But I'm breaking with the mold here. Today I'm going to talk in an advocacy capacity, but not as "Amanda Brice, Author and Attorney", but rather as "Amanda Brice, Author and Stakeholder."
Sure, I may not have a registered trademark for my pen name, but I have established common law trademark rights in my pen name, nonetheless. I've been promoting myself online for years under this name, and have created a brand, so to speak.
As authors, our names are our brands. It's how readers know how to find our books. It can also serve as shorthand for reader expectations. When you pick up a Nora Roberts book, you have a pretty good idea what type of experience you'll get. Or if you pick up a JD Robb -- which as we all know is written by Nora Roberts -- you'll get a completely different experience.
So what the heck does pen names have to do with ICANN's expansion of TLDs?
A lot, actually. As we all know, having a website can be a crucial tool for an author. And more important than merely having a website is having the right website. In other words, you want YourName.Com because that's where most people look.
But many authors have found that although they use the Dot.Com of their name as their primary website, defensive registration of other variations is important as well.
Take for example, my good buddy, Rhonda. She has not only http://www.rhondastapleton.com/ but also http://www.rhondastapleton.net/ which points back to the DotCom. She doesn't want to leave the .net one hanging out there in cyberspace for anyone to take, so she snapped it up when it was available. This way she avoids infringers or cybersquatters. (A cybersquatter is someone who goes around registering domain names in the hopes that whoever actually wants it will pay them money to buy it back from the cybersquatter.)
ICANN's proposal to allow a potentially unlimited number of new TLDs will create an open season for potential infringers and cybersquatters. Now we don't have to worry about policing just a few potential domains, but possibly 1000s.
One of the proposed new TLDs that has been bandied about is .book, which would be a pretty sweet one in our field. And you can buy this TLD and become a registrar for domain names if you have a mere $185,000 to spare, and $2 million over the next 10 years.
Will someone actually buy the .book TLD and create a register? Maybe not, since it's an expensive undertaking. But if the .book TLD does get off the ground, then every author is definitely going to want to snap up their domain name in that register as well, before an infringer or a cybersquatter does.
Right about now, you're thinking, "But I'm a midlister" or "I'm a debut" or "I'm unpublished." Why would someone want to infringe you? How would you even get on a cybersquatter's radar screen?
I'm going to break with convention again, and do something I rarely do...embarass myself publicly.
Go to http://www.amandabrice.com/
Go ahead...take your time. Read some of it. Now click on "about".
It doesn't make a lot of sense, does it? In case you haven't figured it out yet, this is NOT my website.
Sure, I used to own this domain, but due to my own stupidity, I lost it. I thought that I'd renewed for a 2-year period that would come up for renewal in January 2011, but in reality, it was only a 1-year period. I had the January 2010 date calendared on my Outlook at work, so had I actually been there to get the reminders, I would have realized my mistake, renewed it in a timely manner, and all would be well.
But I never went into the office during the month of January. In fact, exactly one year ago today was my last day in the office for several months...rather unexpectedly. My daughter was born 6 weeks early a year ago TOMORROW, so I suddenly went on maternity leave without taking care of anything.
Including renewing my domain name.
A few weeks back, I decided to be all proactive and do my renewal early. Um, wrong. I was about 10 months too late. I couldn't renew and couldn't even register, because after my domain went back for sale on the register, someone bought it.
In checking the details, it seems someone bought it within a few days of my losing it, but they didn't do anything with it for several months. Best I can tell, this someone was hoping I'd contact them and offer to buy it back, and then once I didn't do so, they decided to just put up a blog. A rather haphazard and random blog, I might add. Completely erratic, with no rhyme or reason, although the high heels at the top of the screen are a clear attempt to make it look at first glance like it belonged to me, since I write Chick Lit. If you read enough of it, you can find some references to Duke and UNC...so I think this is intentional.
Yup. They're cybersquatting.
But I ain't biting. Had I noticed this months back, I would lawyer up but I'm just going to sit back and wait for now. The 1-year period ends in January, so I'll revisit this issue then.
So if I, an unpublished nobody, can get cybersquatted, then bigger names definitely can and will. Once there are 1000s of new gTLDS, it is going to be next to impossible to police your brand everywhere at all times, so tons of opportunity for infringers and cybersquatters.
ICANN does have a procedure whereby trademark owners (both registered and common law) can get their domains back, but this is costly and time-consuming, and frankly, small businesses and individuals just won't be able to handle it.
If you agree with me that the risks outweigh the advantages of these new TLDS, then please make your voices heard. I do not believe that a business or public interest case for new gTLDs had been made. No launch of new gTLDs should occure before a meaningful study of the economics of the domain name marketplace has been completed and reviewed. Such a study is necessary so that if a launch does occur, it will benefit consumers rather than create risks to trademark holders. As it stands, nobody even knows the scope of this launch.
ICANN is meeting in Cartagena this week, and will be voting on the proposal ON FRIDAY. Please let them know that as a stakeholder, you do not want 1000s of new TLDs created without careful study and without creating protections for those who are likely to be infringed.
At a meeting the other day, a representative from IPO (the Intellectual Property Owners Association, a trade assosication involved in advocacy for owners of patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets) indicated that the large corporations and lobbying groups have all weighed in, but ICANN hasn't really heard from small business or from individuals. So here's your chance!
Submit your comments by December 10, 2010: