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"A name illustrious and revered by nations."

By: Scott Bradner

It's great to see that the com-priv mailing list is back to its true form.

First a little bit of background. Computers and services are accessed on the Internet and most other TCP/IP networks using domain names. A domain name is a string of words separated by periods and hierarchically organized. is a sample domain name. In this case it refers to the computer named "ndtl", at the organization named "harvard" in the branch of the name tree called "edu", meaning educational institutions. There are many branches; .com, referring to commercial organizations is the largest branch, but there are branches arranged to follow political geography. There is a branch of the name tree for each country, using the ISO two character codes, within the .us branch there is a sub branch for each state, etc.

Registration procedures are used to ensure that two organizations or individuals do not try to use the same domain name. The registration process is performed by whatever organization "owns" the point in the hierarchy within the branch. For example, Harvard performs the registration process for names under the domain using whatever rules that Harvard wants to use. Registration of the .com branch is performed by the InterNIC under contract from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

On Friday July 28th, Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI), the people who manage the InterNIC, sent a "Domain Dispute Resolution Policy Statement" to a small mailing list comprised mostly of the technical people who run Internet service provider networks. By sometime on Saturday com-priv had exploded with messages on the topic, with most of the messages expressing astonishment at what NSI had done.

The gist of the policy statement was that NSI was going to try and get out of the line of fire if two or more companies disagreed over who should have use of a particular domain name. (I say gist, because NSI must have paid its lawyers by the word, the statement is just about 2200 words long.) One might question the premise that this statement achieved what NSI had in mind but, in any case, it was a statement of policy and procedure.

The problem comes from the fact that on the Internet one can not distinguish locality or type of business when confronted with In trademark law, a pizza shop named with the initials of its founders, Issabella, Bob and Mary can exist along side of a company selling water-cooled computers. In trademark law, there can be an IBM company in England and one in the U.S., both selling computers but which have no relationship to each other. (I expect that actually IBM has that base covered.) On the Internet there can only be one

The readers of com-priv provided an abundance of legal advice, almost all of it from people who have as much legal background as my neighbor's cat. They came up with all sorts of ways around the problem from getting everyone to use the geography based name trees (, to implying that charging for being in .com will make the problem go away, and to claiming that there was no problem after all -- the people claiming legitimacy would just go off and sue each other with the InterNIC being told at the end what to do. Note that the reason that NSI created this document was because they have already been sued, and with a RICO suit at that. The suit has been settled but it must have been a bit unnerving.

The food fight on com-priv seemed to based on an inability of some of these people to understand that the Internet is now *big* <italic please> business and that the Internet is truly international. Business cares very much for the purity of their corporate name. 2000 years ago Lucan spoke of "A name illustrious and revered by nations." If there exists a top-level .com domain you can be real sure that the IBM Corporation of Armonk New York will want to have the name and will not settle for any situation where there could be more than one ibm.*, Issabella's pizzas do not make the grade, and when business argues, they tend to throw lawyers at the problem. This is not an easy issue to resolve with simple rules. One gets the "don't stand under a flock of flying elephants" feeling in these cases.

A copy of the policy statement can be found at

Disclaimer: Although Harvard does train lawyers, I am not authorized to advocate their use (or abuse) in this way.