RealTime IT News

Afilias Begins Bulk Challenge Process

Owners of the .info generic top level domain (gTLD) announced Thursday their submission of 741 suspect Sunrise entries to an arbitration organization for review.

The registry started a Sunrise registration policy last year when they announced the launch of their gTLD, a move to eliminate cybersquatters from taking advantage of popular domain names and holding them for "ransom" to the highest bidder.

Roland LaPlante, Afilias' chief marketing officer, said the 741 names are not the entire list of names under review, just the first to be submitted for arbitration, a process that will last through April.

"Afilias is committed to returning ineligible Sunrise names to the general public," he said. "Our task force will continue its review and expects to challenge thousands of additional names in the coming weeks. "

The initial list of names comes earlier than expected. Afilias officials had previously announced they would send an early list of questionable names to mediators sometime in February or March.

Afilias officials say the World Intellectual Property Organization, one of four domain name dispute companies formed to mediate contested domain names, will spend the coming weeks trying to contact the owners of the Sunrise registrants. The WIPO was named the exclusive arbitrator for all .info disputes last May.

WIPO officials will spend the next week contacting the 741 names on Afilias' list, informing them of the domain name challenge and seeking a response. If they get no response in 10 days, another attempt at getting in touch with the registrants will be made. If they haven't replied within another 10 days, the domain name will go back in the "pool" of eligible domain names.

All told, Afilias officials expect the process to take 30 days. Each "batch" sent to WIPO in the coming weeks will take approximately 30 days to resolve, they said.

Afilias, a registry that's gotten off the ground fitfully, seems to be heading in the right direction to weed out cybersquatters before those domains go "live" later this year.

Heather Carle, Afilias spokesperson, said the purpose of their domain dispute task force the past several months has been to eliminate the obviously-fake domain registrations, not involve innocent parties.

"There are always some errors involved (in the registration process)," Carle said. "What we don't want to do is make challenges done in good faith, that's why we contacted registrars back in December to contact their customers who might have made errors in their submission. We are going over every registration thoroughly."

She pointed out some of the more questionable entries submitted to the World Intellectual Property Organization, like airplane.info's registration, whose owners who not only failed to come up with a patent number, but put "unknown" in its place. There were several entries for domains located specifically in one area of the world, she said, registered from individuals in Chile or from other parts of the world.

"We are only going after the domains that have obvious errors in their Sunrise registration," she added.

.Info got off to a rocky start late last year when advocates claimed the Sunrise policy used by Afilias was ineffective in keeping cybersquatters out. Dr. Robert Connor, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, found that as many as 25 percent of the domain names filed in the Sunrise period were bogus.

This came after .info's technicians underestimated the amount of domain name requests from registrars trying to access the live registration process Oct. 1, causing the entire network to collapse for three days. All told, in 90 days the registry received and processed more than 500,000 domain names in three months and have more than 700,000 registered to date.

The registry responded by revamping their early sign-up policy and beefing up their network, making it easier for legitimate trademark owners to grab their virtual turf.

Since then Afilias, a company formed by a group of 18 worldwide registrars, has been proactive in getting the support of the domain name community, notably Connor and certain members who voice their concerns with online communities like ICANNwatch.org.

Carle said the company is always on the lookout for comments made about their registration process and will make every effort to respond to charges.

"We're always watching the message boards," Carle said, "and are always looking for comment from members of the domain community. We've set up phone numbers and email addresses for anyone who wants to contact us."