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Is There Any Room for Communities in The New gTLD Program?

With the start of hunting season for new gTLDs, attention needs to be paid to Community in all of its reality and diversity. After family, community is one of the strongest organizational principles in human society and has been since the beginning of history. With the rare exception of the classical hermit, everyone is part of multiple communities. Communities are important and need to be protected by society and by this new gTLD process. Fortunately, as applications for new TLDs start to come in, they are coming into a program that make some provisions for community. And while all of us who have a research and professional interest in communities would have hoped for better support for community applications in the New gTLD process, there is at least something. Not only do Communities have a precedence over Trademarks under ‘defined conditions’ as President Beckstrom reminded us in a day -1 press conference, Communities also have special right of objection to other TLD applications.

Community gTLDs have been part of the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) concern even since the idea of this gTLD round was first envisioned. Whether the discussion was centered around a potential .bank or a potential .lakota, the minutes of GNSO Policy Development Process on new gTLD are replete with discussions of how to make it possible for communities to gain access to the names that were relevant to their communities and to prevent others from obtaining those names when it would harm their community. One of the GNSO Implementation Guidelines for the round discussed the issue and the ICANN Application process contains several provisions dealing with Community Applications and Community Objections.

Many have argued that the ICANN Community Priority Evaluation is rigged against the community applicants and have warned that no one can succeed in gaining the required score of 14 out of 16 points to be deemed a Community in the ICANN Sense. I disagree. I think it will require a rigorous approach to the applications and it has costs and constraints that need to be understood, but I believe Community TLD applicants do have a chance to prevail in a Community Priority Evaluation. Not a guarantee, but a fighting chance.

I also believe that the other side of the community coin, Community Objections also have a strong potential for protecting real communities form the harms of commercial exploitation, even in cases where a trademarked brand attempts to misappropriate a community’s names as Internet property. This won’t be easy, and this too will require a rigorous approach using the rules contained in Application Guidebook (section 3.2.1). But I believe it can be done.

I have every hope that, in retrospect, we will look back on the gTLD Round of 2012 as one milestone for communities establishing their Internet identities; as the time when the world’s community in all their diversity established their identities and voice on the Internet. Since the beginning of the policy development process in the GNSO, I have been an advocate of strong support for communities, all kinds of communities, rich ones, poor ones, hierarchical ones, diffused one and even spider communities too. Over the next few months I will attempt to capture the results of several years’ research and advocacy in the field of community support into a series of blogs. The first of these blogs can be found at: http://avri.doria.org/

By Avri Doria, Researcher

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