Expansion of the Domain Names– Defamation via the back door?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (known in less of a mouthful as ICANN) has announced the expansion of domain names that will be available for websites to purchase. On the face of it this sounds great, it means the expansion of the internet, the growth of e-commerce and frankly some of the domain names are quite humorous (.and being an example).

However, there is an underlying issue here that could seriously affect online defamation, this being the use of domain names such as .sucks.

The current trend for online defamation is that an individual sets up a blog using various free blogging tools available to them on the internet, give themselves a username, and then proceeds to fill their blog with defamatory content about another person/company. This is nothing new and we have proven legal tools to remove the offending content and identify the offenders. Now that domain names such as .sucks are available this could bring online defamation to a whole new level for example a website such aswww.LordAlanSugar.sucks is arguably defamatory just from its title (I am pretty sure that Lord Sugar would also have one or two choice words to say about such a website).

Maybe I am getting a bit too serious by claiming .sucks is defamatory but if ICANN plan to expand domains even further such as .rubbish, .ihateyou, .scam, and .con then this issue will become very serious, very quickly – can you imagine the reaction to a website such as www.Mercedes.scam. Such issues will then post a whole new conundrum for defamation lawyers, who do you sue – the author of the defamatory content – definitely, the website host/registrar– potentially, ICANN – who provide the domain name in the first place - ???.

I politely ask ICANN, at this very early juncture, to keep an eye on this issue. If the new domain names are not properly managed and monitored then online defamation, purely on the basis of domain names could quickly spiral out of control.

John Spyrou

Associate Solicitor

Internet Law

Pinder Reaux and Associates