Domain-name body going ahead

By Anthony Doesburg

A challenge to the legitimacy of Britain's internet address registry, Nominet, appears unlikely to halt moves to establish a New Zealand domain name dispute-resolution process based on the Nominet model.

The original owner of the web address itunes.co.uk, Benjamin Cohen, is questioning Nominet's authority to decide domain-name disputes after being told to hand the address over to Apple Computer.

Cohen has told the Times Online that Nominet has no statutory authority to decide such arguments.

InternetNZ, which sets the rules for .nz domain names, also lacks statutory authority. But Rick Shera, who chairs the InternetNZ committee working on creation of a New Zealand dispute-resolution process, says such authority isn't required.

"In New Zealand and, as I understand it, in the UK, the whole thing is founded on contractual rights."

When InternetNZ's dispute-resolution process is in place, probably next year, domain-name registrants will be contractually bound to abide by its decisions, Shera says. "That's the founding basis for it - you don't need statutory approval for it."

Last month, after years of deliberation, InternetNZ gave the go-ahead to establish a dispute-resolution process modelled on Nominet's, under which an expert is appointed to decide cases that can't be settled by mediation.

The purpose is to make costly court action a last resort.

But two high-profile disputes in Britain have sparked questioning of Nominet's procedures. In a case in January, the address game.co.uk, registered in 1995 by computer games industry consultant Garth Sumpter, was awarded to computer and video game retailer Game Group on the grounds that it was "an abusive registration". Sumpter is reportedly appealing the decision.

The other case concerned itunes.co.uk, which Cohen registered in November 2000, about a fortnight after Apple Computer applied to register the iTunes trademark in Britain. Apple didn't launch its iTunes music download service in Britain until June last year. However, Nominet's expert decided Cohen's registration was "abusive", and awarded the address to Apple.

Cohen told the Times Online he wanted a High Court review of the decision, saying if Nominet had no official recognition, then domain names it had issued were in jeopardy.

Shera says InternetNZ's position is similar to Nominet's. While it has not been made a statutory agency, he says InternetNZ has a letter from the Government along the lines that it approves of the organisation's governance role.

The attack on Nominet is generally viewed as spurious, he says. "It certainly would be spurious in New Zealand because we have a pretty open dialogue with the Commerce Commission."

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