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Slippery Slope

Last week, I visited Budapest to deliver a speech at the ICANN Studienkreis, an annual conference where experts study and address some current issues relating to Internet governance. I discussed how the Internet is on a slippery slope. Starting with the legitimate concern over how to deal with cybersquatters, we have moved to an unreasonable focus on legal control of Internet content and the domain name system. I strongly believe that the Internet should maintain its openness and encourage freedom of expression.

Historically, the technical community has provided the basis for adherence to these principles, but now the principles are in danger of being weakened due to governmental and private entities’ attempts to control Internet content for their own purposes. In the United States, there are proposals for legislation that would require registries, registrars and service providers to block or take down domain names alleged to violate intellectual property rights. The technical community is almost unanimously opposed because of adverse effects on Internet security and openness, but these objections may not be enough to prevent one of these proposals from becoming law. To learn more on this very important topic, click here for my speech in its entirety.

By David Maher, Attorney

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet


Ways forward Wout de Natris  –  May 11, 2011 9:01 PM


To my mind there are two struggles going on at the moment. One with governments and one with trade mark representatives. Both were caught unaware of the fast technical and sociological developments concerning the adaptation of the Internet by society at large, including both said parties. (The third struggle is law enforcement and cyber crime cross border issues, but that is outside the scope of this comment.)

This is not new. Telephony caught governments unaware ca. 1900. They responded with nationalisation of often locally operating companies from the 1910’s onwards. There is now a major difference. The coming of cell phone and Internet technology was coupled to the liberalisation of telephony and cable. This fact has to be multiplied by the rise of transnationally, even globally operating communication companies. Everything is in the hands of private parties, who have stakes and power in many countries. So nationalisation is not an option this time. Still governments are looking for forms of control. That’s what they do.

Trademark companies have money behind them, so they lobby strongly and influence politicians that way. Governments have more issues around the Internet. They may even be legitimate, as they have the obligation for protecting the public from harm (through the Internet).

It’s in this playing field that the technical people you speak of operate. But this is politics! It may take a different approach to make themselves heard there, then when they discussed Internet related topics within their technical communities. I often see the miscommunication and the ensuing misunderstanding happening in front of me, and the hesitation to become involved and participate in debate.

Where we all are heading is hopefully an open Internet, at least in those parts of the world that will allow such and profit from it, that is safer than it is now. The way we get there is undoubtedly strewn with obstacles. Still, the end result is in the hands of all players. How and where does one make oneself heard? And in what form? Where is influence possible? Who’s ear do you need? And if trademark is not the biggest issue concerning Internet security, how does one explain this to politicians and policy makers in such a way that they come to understand this? I know for certain that there are ways to do just this and look forward to participate.

Wout de Natris

If there were one such entity as "the internet" .. perhaps Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 12, 2011 8:57 AM

But right now - yes there's miscommunication, and the solution falls somewhere between the "code is law" lessigism and the sometimes impractical demands a few stakeholders have, based on other concerns (such as individual trademarks) Cracking down on abusers and on specific loopholes (such as domain tasting and dropcatching dying out because of the add grace period modification) might help - besides improving communication, and engaging with an audience beyond icann (which does exist, and comes into play whenever an issue of much broader interest attracts stakeholders who may not be icann regulars, xxx and now this..)

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