Brazil & Peru Fight over the right to own “.Amazon”

Since January 2012 individuals and companies have been able to apply for their own new generic top-level domain (gTLDs).  Until now the way of distinguishing different websites from one another at a gTLD level was done by using .com for businesses, .gov for government organisations or .edu for post-secondary academic institutions for example.

The announcement last year sparked a land-grab for new gTLDs.  The administrative body tasked with reviewing applications, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers(ICANN),  has received almost 2,000 applications from interested parties for 1,400 new gTLDs.  With only 22 gTLDs today, this is a huge expansion, and one that is not without controversy.

Although ICANN has put in place safeguards to ensure that new gTLDs are not registered which could exploit consumers for example, questions are being raised as to whether one individual or organisation should have the right to own a particular gTLD.  One example of this came to the fore last week when it was announced that both Brazil and Peru had lodged complaints with ICANN over’s bid to apply for the “.amazon” top-level domain.

Whilst undoubtedly the Seattle based ecommerce site believes that owning .amazon adds huge value to its  business, are they asserting that they “own” the rights in the name “Amazon” and any uses of it?

Although few people would quibble with Amazon’s bid to own “.kindle” many other ecommerce sites would challenge Amazon’s bid to own generic words such as “.shop”, “.song” and “.book”.  But “.Amazon” is proving even more controversial.

The governments of both Brazil and Peru argue that if Amazon were to be granted the gTLD in its brand name, this would prevent the top-level domain being used for more altruistic means such as increasing the awareness of environmental issues and the the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon region.

The two South Amercian countries, backed by other signatories to the Amazon Co-Operation Treaty  (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela) called on ICANN to reject the application.  Using top-level domains of geographic areas is they say, not in the public interest, and restricts use by organisations and smaller businesses and individuals within that area.  This is a theme that has been seen elsewhere with the Argentinian government lodging a complaint against outdoor retailer Patagonia’s bid to secure its brand name.

Whilst there will no doubt be fights between big-business to secure highly valuable top-levels domains for the likes of “.banking” “.insurance” and so on, should have less sympathy for retailers such as Amazon and the battles they’re facing?  After all by creating a business with a “generic” rather than distinctive, made-up name they can surely no later claim ownership over any use of that name?

And should we instead turn to the approach taken in Europe with the concept of “Protected Designation of Origin” – where only sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne, only pasties from Cornwall can be called a Cornish Pasty and so on.  Should .Amazon be held for use only by those living or working in the Amazon region area?

Neither the retailer Amazon or Patagonia have commented on the objections raised.  Those gTLDS which are not objected to or controversial are likely to go live by the end of the year.

James Barnes,

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