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Brief Counsel

?.nz - more choice coming in domain names

24 July 2012

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The Domain Name Commission is considering extending the “.nz” domain name space by allowing people to register at the “second level”.  If that happens it will create new marketing and branding opportunities and challenges for all organisations.  

Submissions close 27 September 2012.

The Commission has released a discussion paper seeking feedback on:

  • whether these new domains should be created
  • whether particular interest groups (like “.wine.nz”) should be catered for
  • whether certain names should be prohibited because they could be confusing, and
  • how the system might best be managed.
To explain: the top level domain is “.nz”, the second is “.co” and the third is “domain”.  Right now “.nz” domain names can only be registered at the third level and within a limited number of second level domains such as “.org.nz”, “.net.nz”. 
The proposed change would mean that, for example, yourname.nz could be a valid domain name.  The Commission is also considering whether to allow new second level domains to cater for names that require special protection (for instance bankname.bank.nz).

International developments

ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), is the outfit which runs the domain name system.  It recently issued a list of new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) which are internet domain name extensions like “.net”, “.com” or “.org”.

About 1,930 applications have been lodged, around 300 of them from the Asia-Pacific region.  The applications are dominated by players like telco companies, some banks, L’Oreal, Amazon and Wal-Mart.  But many organisations, for instance Coca-Cola, have not bothered (an application costs US$185,000).

There is a 60 day consultation period (from 13 June) for anyone with a legitimate interest.  If someone has applied for a “string” that is similar to an existing “TLD”, a third party can object.  Seven months is allowed for an objection, which triggers ICANN’s dispute resolution procedure and attracts fees.  The whole process is at the ICANN website (http://www.icann.org/). 

Chapman Tripp comment

Domain names themselves provide no exclusive rights.  But they can be valuable marketing tools.  So it is possible that a domain name might be confusing.  Some people might wonder who is actually operating a particular name.  This could happen, for instance, when a domain name allowed in New Zealand is the same as one used in another country, such as .govt and .com

Another source of possible confusion is when a domain name holder registers a generic name and then allows someone else to operate under a misleading sub-domain.  The Commission’s example is shop.nz with sub-domains of book.shop.nz and cake.shop.nz (or worse, kodak.shop.nz if the sub-domain was not run by Kodak).

Time was that a trade mark protected in one country was free for the taking in another.  But the world has shrunk and gone digital so trade marks increasingly spill over borders. 

When domain names became an issue in the 1990s there was a spate of cases of “cyberpiracy” but that has settled down (though not disappeared).  Perhaps businesses, as with company names, have become accustomed to similar domain names and consumers have also become more sophisticated. 

However those businesses who do rely on domain names as part of their promotion strategy should consider making a submission.  The full consultation paper can be viewed at http://dnc.org.nz/second_level_proposal_c1.

For further information, please contact the lawyers listed.

Contacts