RealTime IT News

Afilias Makes Changes To Sunrise Policy

Bowing to worldwide pressure and the need to clean out its registry closet, the owner of the .info registry Thursday announced the implementation of a revamped Sunrise registration process.

Afilias, awarded the .info domain extension by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) earlier this year, has had a tough time gaining legitimacy with the domain name community for some of its startup hiccups.

Hal Lubsen, Afilias chief executive officer, said the lessons learned from .info's troubled start is a good lesson learned for the Internet domain community.

"Afilias is eager to ensure that the Sunrise registration process is an effective test bed from which to learn how intellectual property can be adequately protected during the rollout of a new top-level domain," Lubsen said. "With some strategic enhancements to our policies we believe we will be able to clear the .info domain of Sunrise registrations that were improperly submitted."

A study released Aug. 27 by Dr. Robert Connor, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, found that up to 25 percent of the Sunrise registrations were bogus, as defined by Afilias' Sunrise registration rules.

The report found Sunrise domain squatters "a serious problem," and that unless steps are taken to correct them, "use of Sunrise periods in future top level domain names may be in doubt."

To address those concerns, the domain registry has come up with several new policies, which went into effect Thursday.

The first policy change is anyone registering a domain name that was successfully challenged in arbitration can request the domain immediately, given they show proof it is their trademark. This allows trademark holders to immediately sign up for the domain after winning the challenge in the arbitration process, handled by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

This way, trademark owners can immediately grab the domain they likely spent more than $300 to file through the arbitration process. Afilias officials said they have taken steps to further reduce any cybersquatter grabs, now demanding proof of trademark ownership before giving out the domain name. The policy change, along with its existing policy to hold domain names for 180 days at the registry, is one many advocates believe will take the legs out from any cybersquatter shenanigans.

Another policy change gives legitimate .info registrants the chance to correct erroneous Sunrise information. Since the WHOIS database (which keeps a record of the domain owners contact information) is locked down after submittal, this gives them a chance to update their contact info, trademark proof, etc.

To do this, Afilias set up a second database, one that parallels the current WHOIS database and allows registrars to make necessary changes. The second database and the process to update the information will also have the added benefit of preventing domain squatters from adding information to the database that could possibly clear them from arbitration challenges.

The policy changes are a good sign Afilias will have corrected some of its own Sunrise registration procedures in time for its Dec. 26 house cleaning, when the domain extension owners perform an in-house "bulk" check of all Sunrise registrations.

Any bogus domain registrations found by Afilias will be made available to the public sometime "in early 2002," officials said. The revised date will likely produce a mini "land rush" as people make a grab for the "new" domain names.

It's to be expected that there will still be bogus claims that fall through the cracks, but many, including Connor, consider the changes to be a good first step in correcting the problems that have plagued the company from day one.

"These changes do not completely correct the negative effects of bogus Sunrise registrations on Land Rush participants, but they are a step in the right direction by Afilias and should correct some Sunrise period problems," Connor said. "Hopefully Afilias will continue in this direction as they figure out how to release names which they challenge to the public in 2002."

The Sunrise policy process has been met with skepticism from Internet advocates. Ostensibly a way for trademark holders to protect their legitimate names, like "Pepsi" or "IBM," the process has quickly degenerated into what many see as a domain name landgrab for big business.

According to the registry's Web site, ".info domain names are your opportunity to reach a worldwide audience with information about you, your ideas, or your organization."

But, for example, when a feline lover goes online to "cat.info", expecting to read up on the latest cat trends, they will find an entirely different site. They will find a different site because Gene Bolmarchich of Peoria, IL, has already registered Caterpillar, the world's largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.

The WHOIS information also shows Caterpillar doesn't plan to build up its .info presence much. The domain cat.info, when completed, will simply resolve to www.cat.com, the company's home page.