Who Should Own a Domain Name?

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, August 09, 2007 at 01:19 PM with 6 comments

One of the biggest challenges with establishing an Internet presence isn’t technical - it is selecting a domain name or names. Many times people have an idea on a potential name only to find it is taken. Sure, many good names are taken, but there are plenty available, and this is where I have enjoyed working with clients to select a name. In many cases, we may select a “generic” domain name, one that is not a trademark but common words that describe their products or services. An example is childproofhome.com for my client Foresight Childproofing, Inc. which is also easier to spell and remember.

There is a large aftermarket for domain names – names that have already been registered by someone else and are for sale. Some people buy names as an investment, others have names they are no longer using. We’re not talking about trademarks of products or companies, but generic names or names of people. If such a domain name is desired by someone else, they may engage with the current owner and buy it, and the cost is usually larger than the “core” cost of registering a domain name, and some names go from the hundreds to tens of thousands.

Domain names are registered on a first-come-first-serve basis. Why does the Boston Globe own boston.com? Because they were the first to register it. Though the name pertains to the newspaper in the capital city of Massachusetts, there are other cities and towns named Boston and some people have Boston as a last name. And surely there are businesses that have Boston in their title. As the Globe got it first, it is theirs. Where others may wish to have it, this is how the system was established, and for lack of a different or better system, it works.

If someone buys a domain name that is a trademarked name or a name that someone else claims should be theirs, there is a legal process that is followed through ICANN, which is the international body that oversees many aspects of the Internet, including domain names. Many people and businesses have won claims to domain names from others. Singer Madonna got madonna.com through an appeal, however the Los Angeles Angels baseball team did not get angels.com – it was determined that its South Korean owner had proper claim to the name. There is currently a case between two people named Keith Urban, one is the country music singer and the other is not as famous, but owns keithurban.com.

So who should own a domain name? It is a question that is philosophical as much as it is legal. I am presenting this information as it is something being reported more in the mainstream press, with recent articles in USA Today and the Boston Globe. And there is a law recently passed that may have more impact if its deficiencies are not glossed over by the courts. More to come.

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