Comment on proposed changes to the WHO-IS database
Dear ICANN We understand that you are currently inviting comments and opinions on the future of the accessibility of the 'who-is' database. In relation to the three motions soon to be voted on by ICANN we would strongly support 'Motion 2' - that ICANN conduct an objective and comprehensive study on the abuses and legitimate uses of 'who-is' data, before making policy changes that may permanently alter the structure of the domain name 'who-is' system. To support this, we would make the following comments. The possibility of a restriction to 'who-is' data concerns us greatly. The who-is database is an essential tool for companies in the protection of their valuable brands and trade marks. For example, at BP we rely on the who-is database for the following: - To obtain relevant information about cyber squatters. - To obtain relevant information about registrants with whom we might have a dispute over a domain, who may not necessarily be cyber squatters. - To obtain contact information for domain registrants who we may wish to purchase a domain from. - During trade mark clearance searches we refer to the who-is database to check whether a name has already been registered, and if so by whom. We can then investigate to establish what interest the registrant company has in that name, if any. - We often refer to the who-is database for up-to-date information about our own domain names. For example, to check which BP entity has registered a domain (and that it has been registered with the correct company name), to check contact and technical details, as well as expiry dates. - BP is a very large company, with over 120,000 employees across many countries of the world. The who-is database is a useful source of information as to which BP departments/employees are registering domains for the company. We are often alerted to new projects within BP at an early stage (which may require trade mark/legal assistance) because someone has registered the relevant domain name (and this has been picked up by our watch of the who-is). - Third party associates working on projects for BP will often register domains in the names of their own companies (or worst still, in the name of BP with the associate company's address), or in the name of the individual working on the project. This is not a favorable situation, and it is against BP's company policy, as all domains registered for/on behalf of BP must be registered in BP's name. The only way that we would learn of these instances would be through the who-is database. Although domain names do not by themselves grant trade mark rights, they do give the exclusive right to a web-address on the Internet, and in many respects they have become as important as trade mark rights. Companies would be ill advised to launch a new trade mark unless the mark in question was cleared, protected, and the corresponding domain name registered. With this in mind, we would submit that the who-is register should therefore be treated in the same way as the trade mark register, which is a public record. To our knowledge it has never been suggested that access to the details of trade mark owners should be restricted. One of the main purposes of a domain name is to direct people to the registrant's web-site. We must therefore presume that when an individual or company registers a domain name there is a high probability that they have an intention to publish material to 'the world at large' on the Internet, and to direct users to that material. Publishing any kind of material is not something that should be taken lightly, particularly given the global nature of the Internet. Those who choose to do so must accept responsibility, part of which should involve the availability of their contact information as public record. Finally, turning to cyber squatting, fraud and Internet crime, which are unfortunately on the increase. The nature of the Internet grants a certain level of cover and anonymity to the perpetrators, which would most certainly be enhanced by the restriction of access to who-is information. It is already hard for brand owners to guard against misuse of their brands on the Internet (and thereby protect the public from frauds, counterfeit goods etc.), and without access to the who-is database this would become a nearly impossible task. Brand owners will be forced to obtain court orders at great expense, and will therefore have to be more selective as to which matters they pursue. This will arguably in turn encourage the prevalence of fraud and crime on the Internet. To conclude, we appreciate that in today's society there is an increasing need for the protection of personal information, and there are valid arguments in favor of the restriction of the who-is database. However, on balance a restriction to who-is data would give rise to more serious problems. If access to the who-is database were to be restricted this would be great news for cyber squatters and fraudsters. Brand owners would severely struggle to put a stop to fraud or crime involving their brands on the Internet, and in turn struggle to protect the public from such mischief. Yours faithfully, Michael Keogh Senior Trade Marks Officer, Group Trade Marks, BP p.l.c., 20 Canada Sq, London, E14 5NJ Tel: +44 (0)20 7948 5494 Fax: +44 (0)020 7948 7723 Email: keoghm@xxxxxx <mailto:keoghm@xxxxxx> BP p.l.c., a company registered in England and Wales with the company number 102498 and whose registered office is 1 St James's Square, London SW1Y 4PD The information contained in this electronic transmission may be confidential and/or privileged. Access to this electronic transmission by anyone other than the intended recipient(s) is unauthorised. If you have received it in error please notify the sender immediately. Please then delete the e-mail and do not disclose its contents to any person. Within the bounds of law electronic transmissions through internal and external networks may be monitored to ensure compliance with internal policies and legitimate business purposes.