ICANN: a dream at last coming true, or a legal scam?

Merpel gets around a fair bit these days. Being a fictional Kat she can sneak into all sorts of places and eavesdrop on some fascinating events. This is her report on what she did yesterday:

"I attended a meeting at the London offices of a well-known law firm re the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). An ICANN Top Dog attended with some colleagues and spoke at length about the many and varied delights of the new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), though not everyone in the audience was as delighted as the ICANN folk were. One articulate lady, in particular, may have made herself not a little unpopular for sharing her own opinions to the contrary -- though after the event some folk who were reticent about supporting her views and remained silent throughout did at least have the good grace to come up to her afterwards in order to thank her and assure her of their own outrage.

The point in contention is this. Have you seen how much it costs to play this high stakes gTLD game? You have to pay US$ 185,000 to play -- with no guarantee that you will even be able to get the domain you want. If you are unsuccessful, ICANN refunds 30% of your US$ 185,000. And that's just the start. If you do succeed in getting the domain of your dreams, you will then have to stump up at least US$ 25,000 annually -- with lots of other costs tacked on.
If this were another world, and a more rational one, we might be tempted to described this operation as a scam. Companies that are as cash-rich as Google [which, on revenue of US$ 9bn in the last quarter, brings in US$ 185,000 every three seconds] and Facebook will snaffle up lots of words including surnames and then, assuming that they expect to see a return on their investment, will presumably charge people to use them. This would be sad. Once upon a time some of us believed that the whole reasoning behind the internet was that it was essentially free and open for all -- but the effect of the new gTLD regime is likely to change this -- and not for the better. The ICANN folk agreed, but said that it was inevitable that things would change and that this was a done deal and cannot be stopped".
Merpel is fairly sure she heard someone saying:

"This is about managing risks to your brand and, when brand owners assess the risk, they will realise that they have to be part of this and join in".

So is this what the new gTLD scheme is about: creating risks for brand owners to take, and leaving ICANN to make a profit of 70% on every unsuccessful application? Merpel is not averse to the principle of gTLDs but, the more she thinks about it, the more she feels the system which has been devised for them unfairly benefits ICANN and the speculation of businesses that have no inherent legal or moral claim to the use of the vast spread of new names that so many businesses and individuals have been encouraged to welcome so warmly.

Merpel has been speed-reading through the Hargreaves Review's Digital Opportunity again and doesn't seem to have spotted the words 'ICANN' or 'gTLD' in it. She also wonders whether the organisations that are the custodians of intellectual property interests internationally such as WIPO and WTO may have fully understood the detailed implications of this new and apparently unstoppable development at the time when ICANN went through its consultation process.


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