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Username: Dan Yager
Date/Time: Sun, November 5, 2000 at 8:14 PM GMT
Browser: Microsoft Internet Explorer V5.01 using Windows NT 5.0
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Subject: .union TLD


      Re: ICFTU Application for a .union Top-Level Domain Name

To Whom It May Concern:

LPA is pleased to submit comments in opposition to the application of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) to sponsor a .union top-level domain (TLD) under the domain name system governed by the Internet Corporation on Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  The .union TLD proposal suffers from the same problems that led LPA to oppose it in our initial comments submitted to ICANN on July 8, 2000.  LPA’s main concern regarding the .union proposal is that it would allow unions to register company.union domain names, such as nike.union, causing substantial confusion among employees and the public in cyberspace.  LPA does not believe that company.union domain names are needed to further the purposes for which the ICFTU is proposing a .union TLD.  The use of company names would also impose substantial burdens on the ICFTU, which would be responsible for monitoring the content of Internet sites using a company.union format to ensure that inter-union disputes do not generate false information by one union against another or against a company.  Because none of these concerns were addressed in the ICFTU’s application, LPA recommends that ICANN refrain from accepting a .union TLD in the initial round of expansion and instead consider such a domain name after other restricted top-level domains are implemented.
LPA is an association of the senior human resource executives of more than 200 leading corporations in the United States.  LPA’s purpose is to ensure that U.S. employment policy supports the competitive goals of its member companies and their employees.  LPA member companies employ more than 12 million employees, or 12 percent of the private sector U.S. workforce.  LPA members have a substantial interest in making sure that employees receive accurate information about whether they are represented by a union or not.  As proposed, the addition of a .union top-level domain could prematurely undermine users’ the confidence in the use of the Internet as a tool for communicating with employees.
I. The ICFTU Proposal Would Create Confusion Among Employees, Internet Users and Corporations
LPA believes that a .union TLD would create substantial confusion by allowing unions to register company.union domain names, such as nike.union.  A .union TLD, and company.union names in particular, would confuse employees into thinking that they were already represented by a union or that the company had a union, an effect that undermines labor relations and the use of the Internet.  Although this use of the .union TLD is not mentioned in the application, it was a substantial part of the original proponents’ plans. 
A. Company.union Domain Names an Integral Part of Initial .union Proposal
As LPA discussed in its initial comments, the .union TLD concept was initially proposed with the idea of company.union domain name in mind.  The .union TLD proposal was introduced by Jamie Love, the director of the Consumer Project on Technology and John Richard, director of Essential Information, both technology-related interest groups affiliated with Ralph Nader.  On March 1, 2000, they sent a letter to Esther Dyson, the chair of ICANN, indicating their interest in establishing a .union TLD, described as:
a “union label” for cyberspace.  Use of the domain would be restricted to bona fide labor unions.  Examples of the use of this TLD would include:  nike.union as well as other uses….  It is our goal to use the .union domain to strengthen union organizing efforts, and to make it easier for workers at a firm to communicate with unions that represent workers at the firm, or who are seeking to organize workers at the firm, and for unions in different countries to coordinate efforts with each other.
Letter from James Love and John Richard to Esther Dyson, chair of ICANN, Mar. 1, 2000.
Shortly after the letter was sent, a meeting was held reportedly involving Mr. Love, union leaders in the United States, the chair of ICANN’s working group on trademark issues and senior representatives from the Department of Commerce to discuss the prospects of a .union TLD.  During the meeting, some union representatives noted that having domains under a company name could enhance cooperation among unions in several countries in dealing with the same company.  Thus, it is clear that the use of company names was clearly contemplated as a part of any .union domain name.
B. A .union TLD That Allows for the Registration of Company.union Names Would Confuse Employees and Other Internet Users
LPA’s primary concern with a .union TLD is that a domain name such as nike.union would create substantial employee confusion and labor relations problems.  These issues take a .union TLD proposal out of the “technical” realm occupied by ICANN and into the realm of labor relations policies governed by legislative and administrative bodies in the United States and other countries. 
A company.union TLD could potentially confuse employees into thinking that they were already represented by a union that was formed by or recognized by the company.  In the United States and other countries, it is illegal to have a union that is formed by the company (a company union).  Generally, in the United States, an employer can only recognize a union after employees have voted for a union in a secret ballot election or after the company has obtained an objective measure that a majority of employees in the bargaining unit support the union.  The union normally demonstrates a showing of interest by having employees sign union authorization cards that indicate that the employee wants to be represented by a labor union. 
Even though a company union is illegal in the United States, a nike.union domain name, for example, could create the impression that all or many Nike employees are already represented by a union initiated or run by the company (i.e., the Nike union).  Alternatively, a nike.union domain name could lead employees to the conclusion that they already had an independent union, and could allow a union organizer to play upon this impression to convince employees to sign union authorization cards.  The ICFTU has not addressed these concerns in its application and thus a .union TLD should not be approved at this time.
II. The ICFTU Application Does Not Block Company.union Domain Names
Despite the likely confusion that will arise from company.union domain names, the ICFTU application does not prevent unions from registering such domain names.  More importantly, the ICFTU provides no mechanism to systematically review domain name applications for potential confusion.  Aspirational language is used instead to acknowledge the fact that there may be confusion or potential infringement of intellectual property rights. 
A. The Application Does not Mention Company.union Domain Names
The ICFTU application provides several examples provided in the application of how a .union TLD could be used.  These include:  organization names (ICFTU.union; aflcio.union); geographic or trade descriptions (southafricanminers.union; bricklayers.union); and union services (bricklayers-training.union).  A company.union domain name is not included in these examples, nor is there any mention of using company names in domain names, indicating that the ICFTU did not want to call attention to the use of company.union domain names.  However, the application states that the ICFTU expects that “trade union organizations be enterprising and innovative in their use of the [.union] TLD.”  This indicates that the ICFTU expects unions to go far beyond the above examples in devising .union domain names, such as company.union.  Similarly, one of the functions of the TLD is to help employees find and contract trade unions in their company, which could indicate that company.union names were contemplated.

B. The ICFTU Application Fails to Block Company.union Domain Names
Just as the application does not call attention to the availability of company.union domain names, it also does not block unions from registering them.  Neither of the two main protections in the application against abusive or infringing domain names, the registration guidelines and the protections for intellectual property, limit unions from registering a confusing company.union domain name.  The draft guidelines for domain name registration merely state that a union must not have knowledge that registration of the domain name will infringe upon or otherwise violate the rights of a third party.  However, this element does not address whether the registration of a company.union domain name could create confusion within the Internet community.
Likewise, the intellectual property provisions do not protect against the confusion created by company.union domain names.  These provisions require that “registrants restrict themselves to legitimate non-commercial or fair use of domain names, without intent to divert Internet users or to tarnish trademarks or service marks” of other unions.  The central problem with these protections, and the dispute resolution provisions that accompany them, is that they only apply to other unions.  They do not apply to companies that could be adversely affected by a company.union domain name.  Thus, under the .union TLD procedures, a company would not be able to engage in dispute proceedings against a union that has registered a domain name including the company name.  This omission would severely impede the ability of companies to defend their domain names.
Even if companies could participate in the dispute procedures, it is questionable whether traditional application of intellectual property principles would apply, given the ICFTU’s position on intellectual property.  Earlier this year, the ICANN Noncommercial Domain Name Holders Constituency group, in which the ICFTU participates, indicated that domain names that include company names should be considered “fair use” because no confusion is created.  It also indicated that ICANN should stay out of the governance of noncommercial restricted TLDs, raising questions as to how the Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure would apply to a .union top-level domain.
The intellectual property language in the application addresses whether sponsors of .union websites intend to divert Internet users.  Although it appears that this language was directed at two competing .union sites, it could just as easily apply to Internet users looking for who instead pull up company.union.  By focusing on whether unions intend to divert web users, the application misses the point.  Merely by being available, a company.union web site will have the effect of diverting users, an issue that is not addressed under the ICFTU application. 
Moreover, except for during the eight-month start-up period, it does not appear that the ICFTU and other .union registrars will review applications for their potential to confuse Internet users or to infringe on copyrights, eliminating the ability of the registrar or the TLD’s sponsor to redress these infractions before they arise. 
In sum, although the ICFTU application does not address the company.union issue explicitly, there are no limitations on the registration of domain names that would prevent a union from registering such a domain name.
III. The .union Proposal Does not Adequately Address Resolution of Disputes Among Unions
As LPA expressed in its initial comments, a .union TLD would require constant oversight from the ICFTU, its service provider, and other registrars.  It is clear from the ICFTU’s application that a .union TLD would be used primarily for adversarial and advocacy purposes, namely to convince employees to join one of a number of competing unions or to engender employee support for a particular union.  The application for .union, however, does not address the real-world implications of disputes among unions, particularly excluding an incumbent union from posting information on a company.union domain web site.  For this reason, the .union proposal should be denied and the ICFTU should be required to strengthen its dispute resolution procedures and TLD management procedures to account for these conflicts. 
A. The Proposal Would Exclude Unions from Posting Information on a Company.union Web Site
The ICFTU proposal would allow unions possessing a company.union domain name to exclude other unions from posting information on the web site.  The dispute resolution procedures indicate that the ICFTU will not compel unions to allow other interested labor organizations to post information on sites that are broader than a single organization.  This could have the anomalous effect of allowing a competing union to post information on a company.union web site while excluding unions that represent employees at the company.  The application also does not provide any limits on when unions would be allowed to register domain names that include company names to prevent inter-union conflict.  Similarly, the application makes no mention of whether a union with the rights to a company.union domain name would be required to surrender the domain if the union was decertified.  These complications would not arise where unions displayed information on websites registered under their own names.  Because of these complications, LPA believes that ICANN should not approve a .union TLD, or at the least, a .union TLD should exclude company.union domain names. 
B. Dispute Resolution Procedures in the ICFTU Application Are Inadequate
The dispute resolution provisions in the ICFTU’s application fail to address the disputes that would arise between a union holding a domain name and another union that requests to post information on the web site.  The application states that it would offer conciliation to willing parties only where the parties agreed, and that only voluntary settlements would be accepted.  However, inter-union conflicts abound, particularly when unions are competing against each other to represent the same employees.  In addition, unions often make untrue claims about companies that they are trying to organize in an effort to curry worker support.  However, the ICFTU application provides no procedure through the domain name system for companies to challenge inaccurate information on union web sites.  Because the ICFTU’s proposal is incomplete on these issues, the .union domain name should be tabled until a more specific proposal is provided covering dispute resolution and the use of other organizations’ names under the .union domain.
IV. A Company.Union Domain Name Is Not Needed to Advance a .Union Top-Level Domain
The ICFTU’s application provides several functions that a .union TLD would serve, all of which could be undermined by a company.union domain name.  According to the application, a .union TLD would:
· provide a strong and clear identity for workers’ organizations on the Internet;
· help Internet users identify bona fide trade union organizations, as distinct from bogus unions such as government-sponsored labor fronts, and company-controlled unions; and
· facilitate the efforts of employees to find and contact trade unions in their country, sector or enterprise;
· facilitate employee and public access to a wide variety of union-sponsored services, including apprenticeship and training programs, health and pension benefits, and family and community services.
It is clear that company.union domain names will not aid in providing a strong and clear identity for unions on the Internet.  Instead, domain names that are based on the names of the union, union organization or trade sector, such as those suggested in the application, will more quickly and adeptly build union Internet identity.  As stated above, a nike.union website, for example, is likely to confuse visitors, including employees, who may wonder whether the domain name means that they are already represented by a union.  Confusion may also result from employees who believe that their union is the one listed under company.union, when a different union owns rights to the site.
The ICFTU claims that by restricting a .union TLD to bona fide trade unions, Internet users will more readily be able to identify legitimate unions, as opposed to government-controlled or company-controlled unions.  Yet, allowing company.union domain names could undermine this intent to clearly identify legitimate unions because some employees will identify company.union as a company union.  A company.union domain name could also discourage employees from participating in a union because they may believe that they already have a union. 
Likewise, a company.union domain name proposal will not necessarily help employees find and contact unions.  Allowing unions to register a company.union could thwart easy employee identification, particularly if one union has received the rights to a company.union name, but refuses to share the domain name with other unions representing workers at the company.  The ICFTU application makes it clear that unions will not be forced to share a domain name, leaving open the possibility that some unions would be excluded from company.union domain names.
The availability of a company.union domain name could also cause unions trouble when providing services, benefits, and family help.  Promoting these services from company.union web sites could imply that the company was helping the union provide the benefits or services, potentially in return for benefits at the bargaining table.  This could undermine employee trust in the union’s duty to represent the workers exclusively.  Thus, it is in the unions’, as well as the employees’ best interest to avoid use of a company.union domain name under a .union TLD.
V. Conclusion
LPA continues to believe that a .union TLD is unnecessary and, based on the ICFTU’s application, would create more confusion and conflict than access to useful information.  A .union TLD that allows unions to register company.union domain names will confuse the Internet public and employees who may believe that they already have a union.  The proposal fails to explain why company.union domain names would enhance access to accurate union information when a single union could possess the rights to the domain name.  In addition, the application provides no mechanism for verification of union information posted on web sites, a necessary component of this type of restricted TLD.  LPA believes that ICANN should reject a .union TLD at this stage and require interested organizations to submit a more specific proposal that addresses these issues.  If ICANN decides to approve a .union TLD, LPA strongly opposes allowing the ICFTU to register domain names that include company names. 


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