ICANN Accra Meeting Topic: Draft Report of the .info Country Names Discussion Group
Posted: 21 February 2002
This is the draft report of the .info Country Names Discussion Group (ICNG), established at the November 2001 Marina del Rey ICANN Board meeting. The purpose of the ICNG is to address issues related to the reserved list of country and distinct economy names in .info, and provide the ICANN Board with recommendations on how to proceed. The Board will consider adopting the recommendations at its Accra, Ghana, meeting on Thursday, 14 March 2002.
This topic will be discussed at the ICANN Public Forum held in Accra, Ghana, on Wednesday, 13 March 2002. In addition, comments may be made on the web-based forum that may be entered by clicking below.
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Process
GAC Communiqué and ICANN Board Resolution
1. Assignment of .INFO country names
2. A Separate TLD for Country Names?
Annex I Names Council resolution on the reservation of geographical and geopolitical names (11 October 2001)
Annex II GAC Commentary on the Names Council Resolution (26 October 2001)
Annex III ICANN Board resolution establishing ICNG (15 November 2001)
Annex IV Allocation of Geographical Terms in Dot INFO
Draft Report of .INFO Country Names Discussion Group
The question of policies relating to the use of geographical and geopolitical terms in domain names is the subject of ongoing discussions within the international Internet community, the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The issue of the appearance of country and distinct economy names embedded in domain names of the top-level domain .INFO was addressed at the September 2001 Montevideo ICANN Board meeting through a communication by the GAC to the ICANN Board. In response an ICANN Board resolution was passed that a) instructed the General Counsel to take appropriate action to maintain the status quo and preserve the Board's ability to take action with respect to country and distinct economy names in .INFO; and b) requested that the President propose to the Board an action plan to analyze issues related to the reserved list and provide the Board with a recommendation on how to proceed. The Action Plan, adopted by the ICANN Board at its November 2001 Marina del Rey Board meeting, proposed the establishment of the Internet Country Names Discussion Group (ICNG) to recommend to the Board how to proceed with the reserved names.
The ICNG conducted its work through one face-to-face meeting, four teleconference calls, and many e-mail exchanges, since the Marina del Rey ICANN Board meetings. It is important to note that the ICNG had an objective to meet a problem perceived and expressed by the GAC. The problem was premised, in part, on the perceived "special nature" of .INFO expressed by the GAC and by various other governments. Some members of the ICNG did not share this perception, but did recognize that GAC held the perception, and so were keen to work towards a solution.
It concludes its work with the issuance of this report, recommending the following actions:
1) The Board should respond to concerns regarding country names in .INFO expressed by the GAC and allow for restricted use of the set of 327 currently reserved in .INFO. In principle, these names should be made available only to governments and distinct economies for their use by means of an approval procedure to be administered by the GAC.
The ICNG notes that while it recommends to proceed with restriction of use of the reserved names in .INFO to governments and distinct economies, this solution has limited utility because of the wide variety of ways of spelling country names which may make it difficult for users to distinguish the reserved, official names from non-reserved names. In this context, the ICNG conveys to the Board a second recommendation reflecting discussion on the significant potential utility of a new top level domain (TLD) specifically for use only by governments of countries and distinct economies:
2) The ICNG strongly recommends that this path be pursued separate from the reservation of 327 names in .INFO, and that the Board invite the GAC to take the lead on determining the level of interest by governments and distinct economies for such a TLD, and if established, what criteria and ground rules are necessary for such a TLD. Assuming this recommendation is adopted, the Board and GAC might also consider relaxing the restrictions in .INFO at some later time, assuming the special TLD proposed in this recommendation proves to be more effective than the reservation of names in .INFO.
As noted in the summary, the question as to how best to use geographical and geopolitical terms in domain names is the subject of ongoing discussions within the international Internet community, the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Process:
In June 2000, 19 WIPO Member States, which are also GAC members, requested WIPO to develop, through a consultative process, recommendations on the "bad faith, abusive, misleading or unfair use" in domain names of International Nonproprietary Names (INNs) for pharmaceutical substances, names of international intergovernmental organizations, personal names, geographical identifiers and trade names. This request was endorsed by the WIPO General Assembly and led to what has become known as the "Second WIPO Internet Domain Name Process" or "WIPO-2 Process." Of particular relevance to this report is the topic of, "geographical identifiers" which includes country names. The result of this request was the 3 September 2001 report, "The Recognition of Rights and the Use of Names in the Internet Domain Name System" (hereinafter the "WIPO-2 Report").
With regard to the issue of country names, the WIPO-2 Report drew "attention to the following fundamental characteristics of the debate, as they have emerged from the Second WIPO Process:
(i) The question of the appropriateness of the registration of country names in the gTLDs is inextricably linked by some governments to what they perceive to be their national sovereign interest.
(ii) Protecting country names in the gTLDs would require or amount to the creation of new law, a function traditionally reserved for States."
The WIPO-2 Report recommended that "the question of the protection in the gTLDs of country names and the names of administratively recognized regions and municipalities be further considered in the appropriate intergovernmental fora, in particular with a view to a discussion on the need for new international rules for the protection of country names."
The Report of the Second Process was submitted to ICANN on 5 September 2001 and to the Assemblies of the Member States of WIPO at their meeting from September 24 to October 3, 2001. The WIPO Member States considered the Report and took the following decision with regard to it:
"... [T]he General Assembly recognizes the significance of the issues examined in the Report of the Second WIPO Internet Domain Name Process (The Recognition of Rights and the Use of Names in the Internet Domain Name System) (the Second Process Report) and stresses the political importance that it attaches to those issues. It accordingly decides that [t]wo special sessions of the Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT) should be held back-to-back with ordinary sessions of the SCT. The two special sessions should be held within a period of time that permits the circulation of a report on them to be transmitted to the Member States in adequate time before the meetings of the Assemblies of WIPO in September 2002. A Report of the two special sessions of the SCT should be prepared which presents the options for the treatment of the issues dealt with in the Second Process Report, indicating whether such issues are ripe for action, require further discussion, are not sufficiently significant in their impact to require any action or are not the subject of consensus. The Report of the two special sessions should be transmitted to the meetings of the WIPO General Assembly in September 2002 for consideration and decision."
From 29 November to 4 December 2001, the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications (SCT) held its First Special Session on the Report of the Second WIPO Internet Domain Name Process, concluding with a Report. The Second Special Session of the SCT will be held from May 21 through May 24, 2002.
GAC Communiqué and ICANN Board Resolution:
While the WIPO was and is conducting its work on the issue of geographical and geopolitical terms in domain names as part of its ongoing WIPO-2 process, the GAC became concerned that the issue required more immediate attention with the registration of many geographical terms, including country names during the .INFO "sunrise" period. The appropriate use of such names is of concern to governments and other public authorities in the light of the risk of their speculative and abusive registration and use, particularly by registrants and resellers without any relationship with the country or place concerned. The focus by the governments on the .INFO TLD was due to the "special nature" of .INFO and the particular interest by governments to use it for official governmental websites for providing information in international fora.
At the September 2001 meeting in Montevideo, the GAC discussed these concerns. Afilias, the operator of the .INFO registry was also consulted. Afilias recognized the GAC's concerns, and expressed an interest in finding a way to address these concerns and interests while remaining consistent with Afilias' policies and its registry agreement with ICANN, and while recognizing legitimate interests of registrants of country and/or distinct economy names in the .INFO TLD.
The GAC Communiqué of 9 September 2001 states that an interim "ad hoc" measure should be taken by ICANN and the Registry to prevent avoidable conflicts in .INFO due to the "very special nature" of .INFO as it relates to names of countries and distinct economies, as recognized in international fora. Given Afilias' willingness to address the GAC's concerns, the GAC recommended reservation of country names contained on the ISO 3166 Part 1 list by the .INFO Registry, contemplating their future assignment "to the corresponding governments and public authorities, at their request, for use."
On 10 September 2001, the ICANN Board discussed the GAC recommendation. Several Board members expressed concern over the technical feasibility and practicality of responding through the reservation of specific domain names, while there was also the view that it was appropriate to take steps to temporarily prevent registration of country and distinct economy names in order to allow time for the community to discuss and consider whether any policy should be adopted on the issue. To maintain the then-current situation, or status quo, the Board adopted resolution 01.92, instructing the General Counsel to "take appropriate action to preserve the Board's ability to take action with respect to the registration in .INFO of names of countries and distinct economies contained in the ISO 3166-1 list." The Board also resolved (01.93) that the President propose to the Board an "action plan for rapid analysis of the technical and other issues related to the concerns raised by the GAC."
In response to the ICANN Board Resolution, on 21 September 2001, ICANN's General Counsel, Louis Touton, sent Afilias a letter requesting that Afilias register all 3166-1 names (suitably transformed into legal domain name syntax) that had not been registered during the "sunrise" period in the name of ICANN. The letter continued that should any existing "sunrise" registrations of a name on the list be successfully challenged and cancelled, Afilias should register all those names to ICANN as well for safekeeping, pending consideration by the ICANN community of a longer-range disposition of these names. Attached to the communication was a list of 327 names to be put on reserve until discussions could be concluded regarding whether ICANN should allow the arrangements agreed between the GAC and Afilias to proceed, or whether they should be precluded and the names released for general registration. The letter cited subsection 3.6.3 of .INFO Registry Agreement, which allows the Registry Operator to "maintain the registration of up to 5000 domain names within the domain of the Registry TLD for use by ICANN and other organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet's infrastructure."
The list provided to Afilias, consistent with the GAC recommendation and subsequent to the ICANN Board resolution, contained both English-language country and distinct economy names, as listed on the ISO 3166-1 standard, and their equivalents in the official languages of the countries concerned. (The name of the "European Union" was also added in light of the Board resolution 00.74.) A series of rules was employed to translate this list of names to a form consistent with the "host names" format used in domain names.1
Subsequent to the ICANN Board Resolution, Afilias announced (and posted on its website) that to the extent names were not registered in the .INFO "sunrise" period, they would be registered in ICANN's name prior to open registration, pending a determination expected in March 2002 as to the eventual disposition of the names. Any names subject of a successful "sunrise" challenge by Afilias would similarly be registered in ICANN's name at that time. Afilias carried out the requested temporary registration with respect to the names that had not previously been registered in the "sunrise" period. Approximately 130 names were registered in this way. Additionally, as requested by ICANN, any cancellations of registrations that result from successful challenges to country names registered in the "sunrise" period will also be temporarily registered in ICANN's name.2 A discussion of the Afilias "sunrise" period, and the challenges appears below.
The GAC recommendation to the ICANN Board and subsequent ICANN Board resolution sought to address a specific and immediate issue regarding country and distinct economy names in .INFO. Members of the DNSO Names Council, concerned about the possible scope of the GAC recommendation and Board resolution, expressed the need to view the GAC recommendation with caution: "That while it understands the concerns of the GAC, caution should be exercised to avoid a short-term reaction to a problem that is not inherent to dot info." This was reflected in the 11 October 2001 Names Council resolution on the reservation of geographical and geopolitical names. See Annex I for the DNSO Names Council Resolution.
On 26 October 2001, the GAC provided a commentary on the Names Council Resolution, in which the GAC noted that Names Council resolution raises several specific problems, including that the debate within the DNSO "appears not to recognize the major effort made by GAC members to circumscribe and limit their requirement for reservation of names of countries in .INFO according to ISO 3166-1, as well as actively seeking cooperation with Afilias regarding the approach." See Annex II for the GAC response to the DNSO Names Council Resolution.
Of the 327 .INFO names identified for reservation pursuant to the Montevideo ICANN Board resolution 01.92, Afilias has successfully reserved 129 names on behalf of ICANN. The remaining 198 names are subject to challenges under the rules of the .INFO "sunrise" period. Two types of challenges are contemplated by the .INFO start-up plan. First, members of the public were enabled to file "sunrise" challenges through 26 December 2001; approximately 1,500 challenges have been filed under this provision. In addition, Afilias has the ability to file "challenges of last resort"; it has begun to file these challenges. In this ongoing process, Afilias has to-date filed over 2,000 challenges of last resort, and continues to file new challenges. About 160 country names have been marked for challenge by Afilias; 17 country names were challenged by third parties prior to 26 December 2001. Upon adjudication of these 17 challenges by WIPO, and if those challenges have resulted in the registrations being transferred to the challenger, Afilias intends to conduct a review to determine whether these registrations also should be subject to a "challenge of last resort". Finally, 21 names that are part of the 327 names identified for reservation have not yet been challenged by Afilias, and are currently undergoing review by Afilias for suitability for a "challenge of last resort". (See Annex III for a diagram on the Allocation of Geographical Terms in Dot INFO).
Pursuant to the Montevideo ICANN Board resolution 01.93, on 9 October 2001 the President proposed to the Board an Action Plan for rapid analysis of the technical and other issues related to the concerns raised by the GAC.3 The President's Action Plan was approved by the ICANN Board on 15 November 2001 (see Annex IV for the Board resolution). The proposed Action Plan recommended:
1. To allow discussion of the issues raised by the GAC request concerning .INFO names, maintain the reservation of the 327 restricted .INFO names.
2. Convene a discussion group to explore appropriate ways of addressing the short-term issues of the disposition of the 327 restricted .INFO names.
3. Encourage the Domain Name Supporting Organization to evaluate possible approaches for longer-term arrangements concerning use of geographic names within the DNS, including having the matter addressed in other for a such as the WIPO-2 process.
Consistent with the Action Plan, the ICNG was formed. The ICNG subsequently invited a representative from WIPO and the Chair of the DNSO Names Council to provide input. The ICNG conducted its work through one initial face-to-face meeting, four conference calls, and e-mail.
Several members of the Board expressed concern over the technical feasibility and practicality of responding to the GAC's concern of country and distinct economy names in .INFO through the reservation of specific domain names. Views expressed both for and against assigning the reserved names to governments, included, for example, that:
At its first meeting the ICNG participants discussed many of these points, in addition to also addressing the background and context of the GAC's recommendation. The GAC Chair summarized a perception of ICANN's relationship to other entities in the international arena, held by many GAC members, that while a separate entity, with a very limited scope of responsibilities, ICANN as an international private sector organization fills an important and unique gap in the international community providing a means for converging views on technical Internet issues to be addressed in "Internet time."
Consequently while the international legal discussion surrounding the protection of country and distinct economy names in general is no doubt one for other governmental or quasi-governmental entities to address, ICANN is looked to because of its ability to provide, within the confines of its mandate, timely responses to immediate DNS issues that arise, in a manner that does not prejudice the ability of other international mechanisms to address these problems.
Clear to the ICNG was that despite numerous related issues associated with country names in TLDs, the objective for the ICNG was only to address and recommend to the Board the next steps to take with the interim reserved list of country and distinct economy names for .INFO. The assessment should include an analysis of at least the three issues identified in the Action Plan:
a) Should ICANN reserve the assignment of up to the 327 of the temporarily "frozen" .INFO names to governments for use to support official informational websites? If so, what are the considerations that dictate such reservations?
b) Would the reserved use of these .INFO country names impede future discussions regarding the general policy for country or distinct economy names in other TLDs?
c) Would allowing the agreed arrangement for the .INFO country names create a precedent that could lead to similar requirements for other TLDs? Is the GAC willing to commit that reservations of country and distinct economy names will not be sought in other TLDs at least until the outcome of the WIPO-2 discussions?
With regard to point (a), participants noted that there were no sufficiently grounded reasons that absolutely precluded assignment of the temporarily frozen names to governments for use. With regard to the concern over a widely accepted list of names, the ICNG participants noted that while not ideal in addressing all variations of names, a list of 327 names was compiled, based on the GAC recommendation that it be based on those contained in the ISO 3166-1 standard in "Latin characters in their official languages(s) and in English .".5
With regard to point (b), the sense of participants was that the assignment of the .INFO country names to governments and distinct economies would not impede current or future discussions within the WIPO-2 process on any general policies for country or distinct economy names other than TLDs. As noted above under the section on WIPO, the WIPO-2 Report and the WIPO SCT are ongoing discussions, addressing a broader issue of "geographical identifiers" which includes country names. A decision taken by ICANN on whether to move forward on a specific reserved list of names in .INFO would not impede international governmental discussions within appropriate inter-governmental organizations such as WIPO.
With regard to point (c), the GAC reiterated on several occasions that the request for the reservation of country and distinct economy names was only for .INFO, due to .INFO's perceived unique nature and the desire of governments to ensure that information about their respective countries is provided on the Internet responsibly and reliably.6 Repeated statements by the GAC reassured the participants that the concern would not set a precedent for all other TLDs while other appropriate inter-governmental fora address the matter with regard to geographical terms in domain names.
In the context of precedents, participants discussed the benefits of placing strong limits and caveats on any recommendation, including for example, a possible time limit for governments to register the names reserved for them before they were returned to the pool for other interested registrants (see below under section on Recommendation). Placing strong limits or caveats on any recommendations proves to be difficult, as governments and "Internet time" work on two very different clocks. It may take five minutes to register a domain name, but it may take a government much longer to determine such things, for example, as who within the government the registrant is, or out of which budget the registration cost comes. Therefore limits and caveats must be carefully considered and balanced against the realities in which both the Internet and governments operate.
As reflected above, ICNG participants expressed a concern that the reserving of names in .INFO would have limited effectiveness because of the enormous numbers of variations in country names. In this context, one discussion that arose concerned the benefits and drawbacks of a possible "official" TLD for governments. Participants noted that an "official" TLD for governments raised many issues outside the ICNG's mandate, but that the suggestion was worth pursuing and the ICNG should consider recommending that it be addressed in a more appropriate arena.
The ICNG discussions can be summarized under the following two categories:
1. Assignment of .INFO country names:
The ICNG participants concluded that there was reason to move forward with the reserved names under .INFO, including that it would not impede ongoing and future discussions in the WIPO. The ICNG agreed to recommend that ICANN and Afilias should take the necessary steps to permit the governments and public authorities concerned to register their names, should they wish to do so. In doing so, some of the practical problems that arose in the discussions would need to be resolved. These include:
1) Concern that the current list does not address the wide range of variations of names, not only in English, but also in other languages, and how to address the issue of variations or misleadingly similar names (see below, separate TLD);
2) How would registrations by countries occur, especially if they were currently under challenge due to registration in the "sunrise" process?;
3) Who is responsible for providing the correct government contact for the reserved name and how should such information be communicated to the relevant domain name registration authorities?;
4) How does the user distinguish from a governmental site and a misleading site?;
5) What other procedures are necessary to ensure that the respective government has the opportunity to register its respective name(s)?
The ICNG notes that the procedure for a government to reserve its respective name(s) would need to be outlined clearly. The ICNG participants felt that the GAC would be the most appropriate body in which to house a mechanism responsible for informing appropriate government contact points about the reserved list and the procedures for registering country names through the appropriate registrars for Afilias.
2. A Separate TLD for Country Names?:
As noted above, ICNG participants' concerns that the reserved names in .INFO would have limited utility because of the enormous numbers of variations in country names, resulted in the suggestion of whether an alternative solution could take the form of an "official" TLD for use by governments and distinct economies only. Such a TLD could, for example, enable registrations of all geographical terms of interest subject to a policy for resolving conflicts between places with the same name.
In addressing the benefits and drawbacks of such a solution, ICNG participants shared the view that the benefit of such an approach was that any variation of geographic and geopolitical terms could be registered as deemed appropriate by country officials and the registries of the TLDs. Additionally, such an "official" TLD could eventually be sponsored by GAC, or another appropriate intergovernmental entity. Many participants noted that an "official" TLD was a creative suggestion that deserved serious consideration in the future.
However, participants also observed that creating an "official" TLD would not vitiate the existing concerns of governments over the specific registration of country and distinct economy names in .INFO.
Additionally, some participants noted that however attractive an "official" TLD might be, the proposal would necessarily be the subject of detailed and time-consuming discussions, the subject of which was very much outside the scope of the ICNG. Issues requiring resolution for such a TLD would be commensurate with the development of registration policies for other sponsored TLDs, such as:
· what is a government; what entity will decide and how;
· how would second or third level public entities be handled;
· how would inter-regional and non-governmental organizations be handled, etc.
Participants believed that the ICNG should focus on how to proceed with the existing reserved list of 327 names within .INFO, and while the proposal of a new TLD of this kind was of considerable interest, it was something to be further explored in a different and more appropriate forum, including possible further discussion within the GAC.
The ICNG confirms that the general issue of geographical terms in domain names is complex and will require time to resolve; in fact, opinions exist that it actually will not be resolved in any form or time relevant to the ICNG's work and a number of future developments foreseeable in the DNS and other online naming schemes. Pending the current WIPO work, no general solution is available that addresses the concerns of all parties involved. Internet time, however, requires that creative suggestions and solutions be explored for issues where agreed international principles do not yet exist.
Because of the way the Internet functions, the ICNG reminds the Internet community that it has carried out its work recognizing that no matter what it does, it is possible that new systems of associating identifiers with the location of resources such as WWW URLs, email addresses, IP addresses, etc., will almost certainly evolve with impact that may either make the ICNG recommendations more relevant or only of secondary importance.
1) The ICNG recommends that the Board agree to registration of the reserved list of country names by the governments and other public authorities concerned (either in their own name or to a party they designate), subject to agreed conditions and procedures [input solicited for the first point]:
2) The ICNG also recommends that the Board note the discussion of an "official" TLD, and that while addressing the complexities of such a TLD are outside the scope of the ICNG, the Board should invite the GAC to explore such an "official" TLD further with the appropriate governmental entities. Results of any of these discussions should be conveyed to the ICANN Board for further consideration.
1. Rules for the English list were as follows: 1) Start with country names listed on 3166-1 list; 2) Add two special cases: a) "European Union" in view of Board Resolution 00.74. b) "Palestinian Territories" to "Palestinian Territory, Occupied" to conform to existing IANA listing; 3) Convert to lower case; 4) where there is an alphabetizing comma, reverse the order of the parts separated by the comma and remove the comma (e.g., "korea, republic of" becomes "republic of korea"); if the result begins with "the", delete the leading "the" (e.g., "congo, the democratic republic of the" becomes "democratic republic of the congo"); 4) delete all spaces, apostrophes, and periods; 6) replace all parentheses with '-'; delete any trailing hyphens; 7) where a name of a country/territory contains words describing the type of geographic unit (e.g., "republic", "province", "federation", but not an ending "island(s)" or "territory(ies)") that are not used to distinguish the country/territory from another, add a name, if one exists in common usage, with these words and associated prepositions removed. Names added according to this rule are: iran, laos, libya, macedonia, micronesia, russia, syria, tanzania, taiwan. Note that under this rule, names were not added by deleting the term "republic" from the end of "czechrepublic", "dominicanrebpublic", and "centralafricanrepublic" because the remaining word would not be one in common usage. Same rules for the endonymic list as for English with the following additions: 1) where it appeared a country has one or more official language, those languages were used, otherwise, a prevalent language was used; 2) where one of the languages was French, the 3166-1 French listing was used, with the same conversions as for English, and dropping all accents, etc.; 3) in determining whether to use the long or short form of a country's name, the English 3166-1 listing was used as a guide; 4) only languages with Latin-based alphabets were included. Thus there is no endonymic equivalent for "Greece" (or most Arab or Asian countries ) on the reserved list. Japan has an endonymic equivalent of "Nippon" based on its use of Romanji; 5) variations of "European Union" were incorporated in its official languages, as expressed in the EC's style guide.
2. See <http://www.nic.info/whois_search/reserved_names> for the list of the 327 names.
3. See Proposed Action Plan on .info Country Names, 9 October 2001.
5. See footnote 1.
6. The GAC has consistently noted that there was a major "effort made by the GAC members to circumscribe and limit their requirement for reservation of the names of countries in .info ." (GAC Commentary on the Names Council Resolution). Furthermore, the GAC's recommendation for .INFO is because of the "special nature" of .INFO and that the GAC has stressed that it has "not suggested that the reservation be applied to any other gTLD." (GAC Commentary on the Names Council Resolution).
International Standards Organization (ISO)
ICANN President's Proposed Action Plan on .info Names, 9 October 2001
United Nations Terminology Bulletin No. 347/Rev. 1 on Country Names (ST/CS/SER.F/347/Rev. 1)
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)