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Domain Names

"What's in a name?" Shakespeare asked. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet".

That may be true, but a name also represents an entity's identity in ways the bard could never imagine. For a lot of reasons, from too brief a domain name, misappropriation of names (cybersquatting) and others, many people have had to be creative in finding an available domain name. We will examine many of the issues surrounding them.

What they are
Choosing them
Who owns them
Choosing a registrar
Disputes over names
Registering under other TLDs
Looking up Trademarks

What they are

Domains names are the names entered in the line on your browser that take you to a particular site. They refer to the name on the Internet used by an organization or individual, and may be similar to the organization's name, but not necessarily. Domain names are made up of the domain, often referred to as the top level domain (TLD), such as .com, net, and .org. There are other TLDs, including ccTLDs (country code TLDs), such as ,fr (France), .uk (United Kingdom), etc.

Preceding the domain is the domain name, which identifies the business or organization. For instance, techcellence.net has the name techcellence using the domain .net, for a domain name of techcellence.net

The domains were originally meant to indicate the nature of the organization, or the country of origin, or both.
.com -- businesses and commercial enterprises
.net -- network related organizations and enterprises
.org -- charitable and not-for-profit organizations
However, the shortage of names and no requirements to adhere to those guidelines make domains useless for their original purpose. The .com domain has easily become the most popular and recognizable domain on the Internet.

 

 

There are restrictions on the domains .edu (educational institution), .gov (government), and .mil (military), and those domains remain indicative of the nature of the organization using them.

Country code domains may be appended to others or used in place of them, as in frenchwines.com.fr and frenchwines.fr.

Country codes:  

Domain names may range in length from 2 to 63 characters, not including the domain. Any of the 26 letters in the English alphabet may be used, as well as the numerals 0-9, hyphen (-) and underscore (_).

Choosing them

Opinions differ widely on how to select a domain name. One thing that is clear is that research should be done so as not to infringe on the trademark of others as registering a domain name does not necessarily confer the legal right to use it. This lack of understanding has caused some domain holders to relinquish their domains. see more in the dispute section.

It is probably best if the domain name is similar to the business name. That will reduce confusion among potential customers, and they may be able to guess at the domain if they become acquainted with your business name. Some people suggest keeping it short, but that can cause complications of its own, for you and others. It is probably better to use full words and have a domain name similar to what people would pronounce, than to worry about brevity.

For example. Dacor Computer Systems registered the domain dacor.com rather than one more accurate, like dacorcomputers.com or dacorcomputersystems.com when the Dacor corporation (a manufacturer of scuba diving equipment) finally got around to registering a domain name, they selected divedacor.com since dacor.com was taken. It might be possible that if they chose to pursue legal avenues, they might be able to force Dacor Computer Systems to release dacor.com since Dacor it is the corporate name of Dacor Inc. and they might have a more valid claim to dacor.com than Dacor Computer Systems.

If the business name has not been established yet, or may be changed to match the domain name, we suggest choosing as unique a name as possible. That can help make it a trademark and eliminate the need to register it under every county code TLD, and every possible variation of spelling. Otherwise, someone may hyphenate your domain name, use an underscore, a plural version, or some other permutation for themselves.

It might not be possible for you to choose a unique name. In that case, you may want to register variations of it so that no one else may benefit from your efforts in publicizing your site. For instance, in our earlier example of frenchwines.com, variations include frenchwine.com, french-wine.com, french_wine.com, french-wines.com, and french_wines.com, as well as the .net and .org domains. These could be pointed to the same site as frenchwines.com so that entering any of these variations would direct users to the same location.

Who owns them

That is partly dependent on who you use as a registrar and whether it infringes on any trademark. Assuming you've done your homework and chosen a name that no one else can lay claim to, choose your registrar wisely. Some, including Network Solutions (NSI), the only choice of registrar for years (until 1999), have restrictions in their fine print that make it clear that you do not own your domain name, that they do. NSI is being taken to court over not releasing expired domain names and auctioning them instead.

It is possible to transfer domains from one domain to another, and we suggest you do so if yours are presently at NSI or any other registrar with oppressive policies. Most are also less expensive, and they improve greatly on the ease with which changes and registrations can be made. We like 000domains.com for their low prices, convenient control panel, free services, and fair policies. When you register with them, you own your domain name and they have no claim upon it.

There are many other registrars now, and some match these policies. Just be sure to read all the terms before you use them. Don't be taken in by the low price specials some registrars have for the first year registration. They may be much more costly than the few dollars you will save once.

Choosing a registrar

The selection of a registrar is nearly as important as the selection of a host. As with a host, you can't shop by price and promises alone. You can pay a lot (up to $35 a year) and get poor service, and you can pay very little and get poor service.

Network Solutions (NSI), was the only registrar for years and probably still has the bulk of the registrations, at least more than any single registrar. Many people have reported difficulties in changing to a new host when the e-mail address of the admin contact was no longer available. This is because the most common way of verification for requested changes is by verifying the e-mail address of the sender. This could have been avoided if the domain holder had selected one of the other 2 verification methods, password or PGP encryption. However, many did not and have difficulties effecting change. The faxing of documents as an alternative is fraught with delay and problems of its own.

Some of the newer registrars are even worse, even if cheaper. Alldns.com, as an example, was totally unprepared for handling an important activity like domain registrations. Submissions were made to them and neither an error message nor acknowledgment was received. You could lose domain names waiting to find out what happened if someone registered them first. Furthermore, they have a departure fee of $20 (if you transfer to another registrar) that is not disclosed when you register with them. Their registration fee of $12.75 seems overpriced for the poor service they give.

That is what makes registrars like Open SRS so attractive. They have many RSPs (essentially, sales agents) that all tie in to their online Domain Manager. When you register through any of their RSPs, you are really opening an account with Open SRS (owned by TUCOWS) and can access Domain Manager from any RSP's site, or directly at Open SRS,

You can register a domain and not even have a host selected yet. They park the domain on their servers by default (provide the server technical information). You can log in at any time and change any information, from the registrant to the contacts and server host information. If you change the registrant (say you incorporate), many registrars will charge you to do so. With an Open SRS registration, you can change even that at no additional cost.

Furthermore, any changes you make can be acknowledged instantly while you are online. There is no more waiting and wondering if it will go through. The Open SRS RSP we use and recommend is reghub.com. The service is excellent (fast response to e-mails - under 30 minutes when we contacted them), and, at $15.95, the price is right. There are other registrars that charge less, and some have 1 year low prices to entice you to sign up for them. Just be sure you know what you are getting into (and what you're not getting) when you sign up with any registrar.

Disputes over names

We mentioned disputed domain names earlier. The organization in charge of domain names, ICANN - The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has a Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-resolution policy (UDRp). They may be able to help in the case of some disputes. For others, it may be necessary to consult an attorney familiar with trademark law. It is a complex issue and every case is different. Many problems have been caused by people and organizations shortening their names to one word and then problems arise when another entity with the same first word in their business name claims infringement.

What's in a name? To trademark attorneys, a fair amount of money. Choose wisely, and not too briefly.

Registering under other TLDs

There is no doubt that ICANN has moved much too slowly in creating new TLDs, and in managing the present ones. They are years behind. There may be new ones in January 2001, but it is still not certain. In the meantime, registrars for specific country codes have been doing their best to convince people to register under their country code domains as well. They are not advertised as country code TLDs, but that is what they are. Possibly the first was .cc (Cocos Island), followed by .ws (Samoa), advertised as World Site, .hm (heard and McDonald islands), advertised as Home Site, and others. Moldavia/Moldava, holder of the .md domain, registers doctors at a hefty premium.

Network Solutions is authorized for several countries, and they try to convince people to register under each, at $199 each. That's almost $600 per country per year, as they recommend registering under the .com. .net. and .org domains with the country code appended. That would be thousands of dollars a year to register your domain name under every possible permutation for every country they represent.

Is it worth it? For small and medium size businesses, we don't think so. The money can be much better spent elsewhere. Some of these registrars will point out that major corporations like Intel are registering under country code domains and suggesting you do so as well. It might make sense for corporations like Intel. They have trademarks like Pentium to protect and registering the domains is cheaper than legal costs over a trademark infringement. It also helps protect their reputation by ensuring that they retain control over any domain with the name Pentium or Intel in it. They also have the money to afford these multiple registrations.

For small businesses, however, it would make more sense to register under some of the forthcoming TLDs than bother with the country code TLDs that are a solution in search of a problem. They are a source of income for small countries rather than a legitimate need for businesses. Any hope of them establishing themselves will be dashed by the new TLD's due in a few months (January 2001), and at much more affordable rates.


Looking up Trademarks

While not a substitute for a thorough trademark search, the following links may be helpful in eliminating some domain names from consideration that might infringe on registered trademarks.

 

 
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