RealTime IT News

InfoSpace Playing Domain Name Lotto

It's no secret how I feel about the World Intellectual Property Organization's shameless arbitration authority. Early results from a bevy of domain dispute resolutions point to signs of a slippery slope getting worse by the minute. Making an already bad situation worse is WIPO's obvious favoritism toward big business over the "little guy." It's fostering an environment of cheat and greed by deep-pocketed corporations looking to play what I call the domain name lottery game.

Take InfoSpace for example. The Redmond-based content portal site recently submitted a slew of domain dispute cases to WIPO for review. Any domain containing the name infospace was fair game, including wwwinfospaces, indiainfospace, and myinfospace. The company argued that the domain name holders were all freeloading on its global brand by registering the domains in bad faith and asked WIPO to transfer all of the domains in question to InfoSpace's possession.

Myinfospace.com was the only domain InfoSpace couldn't get its grubby little hands on because the domain was registered to a University professor using the site to educate school children about outer space - a fact InfoSpace was, in fact, aware of. It's a sad statement, the sort of activity WIPO is indirectly promoting, that a publicly-traded company is attempting to steal an educational domain name from school children - a Web site InfoSpace so eloquently described as "facially benign information about astronomy and science fiction." Pure class.

Word is spreading like wildfire through executive boardrooms all over the world that WIPO is virtually in the business of hijacking domain names from their original "little guy" owners and giving them lock, stock, and barrel to complainant corporations. This growing trend has caused many high profile Fortune 500 companies to submit multiple requests to that end, figuring they've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The entire concept of forming a centralized agency charged with overseeing domain disputes must have seemed like a grand idea at its inception. But after finding 80% of the cases in favor of fat cat complainants since its debut, the process is falling victim to rampant abuse from companies "fishing" for domain names, to which WIPO is a willing participant. The only way to prevent this sort of activity is to send every last one of these cases to the courts with respective jurisdiction.

From where I'm sitting, there's a pervasive anti-capitalist attitude on the part of WIPO. Think of it. A capitalist is a person who buys in order to sell for a profit. In a laissez-faire capitalist environment, an individual pursues economic self-interest without being hampered by government regulations, causing wealth to be created in the most efficient manner possible, which ultimately raises the standard of living, increases the economic opportunities, and makes available an ever growing supply of products for everyone. Yet, in nearly all of the cases before WIPO, the up-and-coming capitalist has taken it on the chin.

Who said brick-and-mortar companies that were slow to embrace the Internet shouldn't suffer more than those who were first-movers to embrace the new media? While businesses normally compete with one another based on a set of implied rules, WIPO has changed the rules of the game to allow many companies to turn back the clock and gain an unfair competitive advantage retroactively. The result is a multi-headed monster of mostly U.S.-based corporations eager to take advantage of the slanted rule changes without any fear of consequence.

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.c