Elgar Intellectual Property and Global Development series
I originally became interested in Internet domain names when I first learned of their existence in the mid-1990s. I had recently embarked on an academic career and was looking for a direction for my scholarly agenda. It seemed to me that domain names made for an extremely interesting subject of study. They were unlike any other form of intangible ‘property’ (for want of a more appropriate term). Like digital copyright works, domain names were valuable virtual assets. However, unlike copyrights, domain names were rivalrous. Only one person could own a given domain name at any given time. This led to a new set of questions about online property. While nonrivalrous digital copyright works raised issues of how to prevent uncontrolled online copying, domain names potentially raised the opposite problem – scarcity. Even as the number of available generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) and country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) has increased over the years (and will continue to increase)1 only one person can hold any given iteration of a domain name at any one time. While Anna holds ‘domain. com’, Bill cannot own it, even though he might own ‘domain.net’ or ‘domain.co.uk’. Domain names also differ from other digital assets in that they are simultaneously technological addresses and intuitive labels for the online presence of a person or organization. Courts have struggled to find an appropriate classification scheme for domain names. The names have been likened both to an intangible property right2 and to a mere technological addressing system.3 Domain...