Online Gripesites and ICANN’s new GTLD Process

A “gripe site” is a web site established to criticize an institution such as a corporation, union, government body, or political figure. Not surprisingly, powerful institutions often do not take kindly to being criticized, and they have invented a variety of ways to try to suppress the speech of their adversaries.

–          The Public Citizen[1]

Since the early days of the Internet, gripesites –websites set up to criticize powerful institutions and individuals – have become a mainstay of online communication.  The Internet provides a lost-cost, readily accessible, global medium for those who seek to engage in such criticism.  The importance of low-cost speech forums can hardly be over-stated.  Particularly in countries where free speech is not constitutionally or governmentally guaranteed, the Internet provides a means for disgruntled and disenfranchised citizens to express their views often relying on the relative safety of an online cloak of anonymity.  While it is possible for free Internet speech to be abused through fraud, defamation and deceit, overall the importance of free speech cannot be discounted.  Generally, in a democratic society, it is better to encourage more speech, even if some of it is false and misleading, than to chill speech.

One of the key features of many gripesites is the use of a domain name that evokes or connotes the subject of the griping.  An example might be “nikesucks.com” for a website criticizing the Nike Corporation.  The domain name immediately labels the website as a gripesite by communicating to the audience that the subject of the griping is the Nike Corporation, and that something critical of the Nike Corporation is likely to be found on the website by the addition of the derogatory term “sucks”.  There are many other ways to identify a gripesite, including relying on search engines to pick up website content about the subject matter.  However, typically search engine algorithms will prioritize websites with domain names that are relevant to a search query, so domain names remain important even in the age of sophisticated search engines.

This article considers the relevance of domain names to gripesites, with particular emphasis on the impact of ICANN’s[2] new gTLD[3] process, unveiled in early 2012.  It suggests that despite the importance of search engines as search tools to draw customers to gripesites, domain names nevertheless retain an important place in this context.  The continuing importance of domain names for gripesites is evidenced by the fact that several applications were made to establish registries for proposed new “.sucks” and “.gripe” gTLDs in the first round of applications under the new gTLD process.


[1]   Available at http://www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=471, last viewed on November 30, 2012

[2]  ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a private entity tasked with administering the domain name system.  See www.icann.org, last viewed on November 30, 2012

[3]  A “gTLD” is a “generic First Level Domain” such as “.com”, “.net”, or “.org”.  It is the part of the domain name to the right of the dot in cases that do not involve country codes.  The term for a country code suffix to the right of the dot, such as “.ca” for Canada or “.uk” for the United Kingdom, is referred to a “ccTLD” or “country code Top Level Domain”.

 

Featured here is the first part of an article by Professor Jacqueline Lipton and Professor Mary Wong. The full article will appear in an upcoming issue of the Intellectual Property Journal.

Jacqueline Lipton is the Baker Botts Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Institute for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Houston Law Center. Mary Wong is a Professor of Law and Director of the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. She is also a member of the Council for the Generic Names Supporting Organization at ICANN, as an elected representative for the Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group (NCSG) and a member of the 2009 Implementation Recommendations Team (IRT) that recommended a number of the rights protection mechanisms discussed in this paper. The opinions expressed in this paper are her own and not those of ICANN, the Council, the IRT or the NCSG

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