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Domain Names

The Internet was created in the 1960s due to the requirements of the US Department of Defence, which needed to develop a decentralized telematic network. The reason why Internet has become so widespread is that it has made possible the exchange of information using a common protocol, connecting the networks of the various Universities, governments and private Companies irrespective of the specific hardware or software they used.

The location inside a network was defined by the IP address (a set of numbers), which identified the exact position of a device connected to the net. To use a metaphor, the IP address is comparable to the street number of a building. The public use of Internet became so widespread due to the introduction of the DNS (Domain Name System), which allowed to combine a name or numbers, or a combination of the two, with a particular IP address, thus making it easier for users to remember.

Domain names are classified in various levels: the first two are regulated by international organisms that oversee the use, give them to those who apply for them and keep them is appropriate registers known as "WHOIS". The top-level domain system is managed by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), an international no-profit organization incorporated in 1988. At the beginning of 2015 it was calculated that the Internet is used by about three billion people (40% of the world's population) and 284 million domain names have been registered.

First and second level domain names

Domain names consist of two parts. Let us consider, for example, the domain name "GLP.IT": the part of the name after the dot is defined as "extension" (that is, top-level domain) and usually refers to the country of origin of the company (in the example, the extension indicates a domain registered in the Italian register); the part before the dot, defined as the second level domain, is the name chosen by the owner and can consist of letters (a-z) numbers (0-9) and the symbol "-".

As of today there are more than 270 top-level domains, divided into:

  1. generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD): not delimited territorially, used mainly by Companies and organizations and formed by three or more letters. Among the most common there are: .COM, .NET, .ORG, .BIZ, .INFO, etc.
  2. country code top-level domains (ccTLD), or national top-level domains, reserved to States or dependent territories and formed by two letters, for example: .IT, .DE, .FR, .AT, .CN, etc.

In the case of gTLD domain names, the extension theoretically characterizes the following specifications:

  • .COM commercial activities;
  • .ORG non-commercial organizations;
  • .NET organizations operating on the net;
  • .BIZ commercial businesses (from the word "business");
  • .INFO has no particular characterization;
  • .NAME characterizes sites for exclusive use;
  • .PRO certified professionals.

Since 2001 further extensions have been made available, with a sectorial character and access limited only to those who meet certain requirements. The requirements are imposed by the individual entities that function as sponsors for that specific extension, which gives the definition "sponsored top-level domains" (sTLD). At present the sTLDs are:

  • .AERO aeronautics industry,
  • .COOP cooperative societies
  • .EDU educational institutions
  • .GOV government bodies
  • .INT organizations founded through international treaties
  • .JOBS human resources management
  • .MIL US military bodies
  • .MOBI optimized contents for mobile devices
  • .MUSEUM museums and cultural bodies
  • .POST postal services
  • .TEL contact information
  • .TRAVEL travel agencies or tourism related
  • .XXX adult entertainment.

There are also sTLD defined as geographical (GeoTLD): the first to be introduced were .ASIA for individuals, businesses and bodies in Asia, Australia or the Pacific (set up in 2007) and .CAT, for sites regarding Catalan language and culture (set up in 2005).

In 2005 the extension .EU was also set up, reserved for citizens and Companies in one of the countries of the European Union. Using the .EU domain, exclusively or in addition to that of one's country of residence, is often motivated by a desire to express the European identity of one's website and one's activity. At the end of 2013, although still not equalling the popularity of national and generic extensions, the number of domain names with the .EU extension reached 3.7 million. The European country with by far the largest number of .EU domain names is Germany, with about 1,130,000 registrations (about 30% of the total), followed in order by the Netherlands, France, United Kingdom, Poland and Italy, where so far 215,000 registrations have been made.

Many other sectorial or territorial extensions are being studied by the competent bodies in order to divide the Internet contents and to increase the names available. At the beginning of 2012 ICANN liberalized top-level domains: this means that a Company can request registration for his personalized top-level domain, but at a very high cost. Through the same procedure used for approval, only and exclusively the legitimate proprietors of trademarks and Companies can have the domain allocated to them. This is a real revolution for the domain names system, which now includes extensions like .BIKE, .CLOTHING, .COMPANY, .EMAIL, .GALLERY, .GURU, .HOLDINGS, .LAND, .PHOTOGRAPHY, .TECHNOLOGY, .TIPS, .TODAY, and also extensions for cities like .BERLIN and .TOKYO. The number of requests for new extensions received by ICANN is in excess of one thousand.

Second-level domain names can be registered in the name of the applicant, and except for particular extensions, assignation of the name is done on a "first come, first served" basis, that is, based on the chronological order in which the applications are sent. A second-level domain name is a univocal address and therefore has a bivalent character: technical with regard to the exact location in Internet and distinctive since it allows to associate names, products and/or services to a particular body or Company.

One or more web pages can be combined with a domain name, and identified as a web site and encoded through HTML (HyperText Markup Language), based on markers and used for formatting hypertext documents. HTML is a language defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The personalization of the web site so as to meet the owner's specific requirements or purposes is subject both to rules of competition and, in certain circumstances, to the law on copyright too.

Internationalized Domain Names (IDN)

In order to achieve a greater flexibility of domain names, ICANN has approved the use of Internationalized Domain Names (IDN), that is, domain names that can contain characters that do not belong to the Roman alphabet, such as for example characters with accents (e.g. "è" or "é") and diacritic signs, such as dieresis (the German "ü"), the ring (the Swedish "å"), the characters of the Greek alphabet, Arabic, Cyrillic, and the ideograms of the Oriental alphabets. IDNs are particularly important for the .EU because the European Union includes 24 official languages: indeed the European registry activated the registration of IDN at the end of 2009. At the moment of writing, several dozen top-level domains, both generic and territorial, have allowed to register the IDN, including the Italian one .IT, since July 2012.

Trademark, domain name

Using a domain name which reproduces a trademark registered by a third party is equivalent to a trademark infringement. The discipline regarding unfair competition pursuant to article 2598 of the Civil Code is applicable both with regard to using domain names identical to others, and also with regard to the content of the sites. The phenomenon of cybersquatting or cybergrabbing is well-known: this identifies the abusive occupation of domains corresponding to the distinctive signs of a Company or a body, in the attempt to exploit their fame so as to promote or sell products, usually of competitors, or the attempt to re-sell the name to the best bidder, which may be the Company itself, or a competitor or a third party. In Italy the official recognition of the domain name as a distinctive sign is disciplined by the new formulation of art. 22 IPC. Disputes concerning domain names can be solved through arbitration and the procedures to re-assign domain names according to the rules of "Uniform Domain Resolution Policy" established by the Register of .IT domains, or MAP procedures, established by the Italian Naming Authority/Registration Authority or other procedures established by all the bodies that assign domain names. Equating the domain name with the trademark also makes it possible to act against a possible infringer with the same instruments provided in the event of a trademark infringement, including precautionary confiscation, etc.

The liberalization of extensions, in 2012, considerably extended the panorama of domain names, in both quantity and quality, offering the opportunity to both private persons and to Companies to further protect their distinctive signs with new extensions. On the other hand, this exposes intellectual property to even greater risks and to threats of infringement by third parties, who can try to make a profit and take illegal advantage of other people's brands, claiming rights on the distinctive signs. To obviate this, ICANN has set up the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) service, which allows the holders of registered trademarks to register their trademarks in a central database in order to create a very important base for the best preventive protection of their distinctive signs. Unlike domain names launched in the past, for which there was a single registration process, inserting a trademark in the TMCH database starts a two-step process: first of all, it gives the possibility of registering domain names relating to one's own distinctive signs before the new extensions are available to the public. This reserved phase is called "sunrise period" or pre-launch. Subsequently, registering a trademark in the TMCH ensures, through a monitoring system, that the holder is advised if a third party registers a domain name corresponding to that trademark in one of the new extensions that are approved on each occasion. Also in this context, in a strategic move, Donuts Inc., founded in 2011, has announced that it has taken under its management more than 300 new extensions, offering Companies a service called DPML (Domains Protected Marks List), that is, a service to protect trademarks against cybersquatting at an extremely competitive cost compared with registering individual extensions.

National domains and restrictions

In recent years some modifications have been made by the competent authorities to the rules for registration of national domain names such as the Chinese (.CN) and Russian (.RU) ones. The modifications were made to make the registration of said domains more restrictive: the case of CNNIC, the Register of .CN domains, is emblematic. Before the new regulations came into force, CNNIC allowed domain names with .CN to be registered by anyone who applied, without any prior verification or territorial constraints. The new regulations, on the contrary, limit the registration of new .CN domains only to Companies that have their registered offices in the People's Republic of China, or to multinationals that have their local offices there, and whosoever requests registration must necessarily attach their business license with the application, and also an identity document of the applicant. In June 2012 the new regulations issued by ICANN were reformulated: it is now again possible to register a .CN domain name in the name of a Company or a private person outside the Chinese borders after having passed a revision process. Similarly, the registry of .RU domains (Russian Federation) also requires a more accurate validation of the applicant, intended to stop the registration and improper use of .RU domains by anonymous bodies, through which illegal activities are being carried out more and more often, in particular scams.

In 2012, a liberalization of Portuguese domains with extension .PT was announced; previously available only for those having the registered offices of their Companies in Portugal, or for those having registered a priority right there, since 2012 registration has been available without any specific requirement, after an initial sunrise period reserved to the holders of local distinctive signs.

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