If you think that the issue of trademark protection in the new gTLDs was resolved, well you – like me – might be in for a big surprise. I knew that the recommendations of the Special Trademark Issues (STI) team were not at the satisfaction of the trademark community and I knew that trademark owners had approached ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) as the last resort in actually getting what they wanted: overbroad, extra, uber(call it what you want, it is the same) protection for trademarks under the new gTLD programme. What, however, happened over the past few days and almost a month prior to the meeting between ICANN and the GAC is that the interaction between the GAC and the trademark community became more formalised and more institutional.
According to the World Trademark Review, the GAC has appointed UK’s GAC representative, Mark Carvell, ‘to collect community thoughts on this topic’. Now, here is the catch: repeating the same mistake the Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) did almost two years ago, Mr. Carvell appears to have only summoned the industry in London last Friday to hear their views on what they would consider as an appropriate solution to the trademark conundrum. Vodafone, BBC, Richemont, BSkyB International and Shell were amongst the participants – and they all claimed that the only compromise they would consider would be going back to the IRT recommendations. To avoid any misunderstanding, the IRT is not a compromise nor should it be considered as such. I have repeatedly said that the problem with the IRT recommendation was that it was totally biased, disrespectful of the rights of legitimate domain name holders and users and an unnecessary document, parts of which were re-writing trademark law.
In theory, I should not really care about what the trademark community is trying to do. The IRT is so very expansive of trademark rights that, if we were to go back to it, it would feed my research for many years. Ethically and academically though I have a big problem. I never advocated against protecting trademarks in the Internet and I have been in favour of putting forward policies that would cure the issue of cybersquatting – past, present and future. But, the IRT does so much more – it re-writes trademark law. Over the past couple of years, I have blogged about it, I have discussed it with colleagues and students, I have researched on it and all seem to point to the same direction: the recommendations of the IRT team were biased, unreasonable and against the fundamental principles of trademark law. Do you think it is accidental that courts and legislators do not make any mention on any of ICANN’s trademark polices? It is simply because these mechanisms that are promoted so vociferously by the trademark community are not in compliance with trademark law. Period! So, by rejecting the IRT, ICANN did something right – it at least said no to an expansive approach that is against legal theory and practice. And, by forming the STI, ICANN did another thing right – it put in motion its multistakeholder model and let the community, as a collective body, to decide. (And, before I am accused for saying this because I was a member of the STI, let me say that I say it because of that: I witnessed the effort, the negotiations and the exchange of ideas that took place within this multistakeholder environment. And the STI should be applauded for managing to reach conclusions that all stakeholders- including the Intellectual Property Constituency - signed on to).
But, here is a question that keeps coming on my mind: why wasn’t a wider part of the community invited to the London meeting: academics that could talk about the law and registrants that could share their experience on the bullying they have to suffer from big and powerful brand owners? Why did only big and powerful brand owners make the cut? So, it is not really surprising that the discussion last Friday seemed to be going back to the IRT report.
This whole process manifests one big problem: trademark owners have the money, the resources, the stamina and the political leverage to lobby, and lobby and lobby. Registrants on the other hand do not have the money or the resources to engage in such a campaign, but they do have the stamina. And, what is truly upsetting is that in reality, they actually get to lose much more than trademark owners – they get to lose their right to communicate undisturbed, they get to lose their right to express themselves freely and they get to miss the opportunity of entering the DNS, things that trademark law has so far protected from. Instead, what they get to gain is an unfriendly DNS, bullying and intimidation.
So, here is an idea and I really hope it works: since legitimate registrants do not have the money or the resources to engage in endless lobbying, let’s use the Internet in order to make our voices heard. I would like to encourage everyone who agrees that we should not go back to the IRT and that trademark protection has been resolved through the STI recommendations, to sign on this blog post via the comments’ section. And, I promise that I will do my best to bring this to the attention of ICANN.