Internet Domain Names, Trademarks and Free Speech

Internet Domain Names, Trademarks and Free Speech

Elgar Intellectual Property and Global Development series

Jacqueline Lipton

This comprehensive examination of domain name disputes involving personal names and political and cultural issues sheds light on the need to balance trademark policy, free speech and other pressing interests such as privacy and personality rights. The author stresses that because domain names can only be registered to one person at a time, they create problems of scarcity not raised by other forms of digital assets. Also discussed are the kinds of conflicts over domain names that are not effectively addressed by existing regulations, as well as possible regulatory reforms.

Chapter 5: Political, Cultural and Geographic Identifiers in the Domain Space

Jacqueline Lipton

Subjects: law - academic, intellectual property law, internet and technology law


POLITICS, CULTURE AND GEOGRAPHY IN THE DOMAIN SPACE While the previous chapters focused respectively on protecting free speech and personal identity in the domain space, this chapter examines more specific instances of political, cultural and geographic identifiers in cyberspace. It focuses on domain names in politics because this is one of the more developed areas of domain name regulation to date. However, some comment is also made about attempts to balance other kinds of cultural and geographic interests against trademark interests online. Such interests include religious terminology like ‘Madonna’, ‘Christ’ or ‘God’ and geographic identifiers like ‘Uluru’, ‘Ubuntu’ or ‘Amazon’. Even the word ‘Obama’ denotes both the President of the United States and a city in Japan. Some of these signifiers will compete with existing trademarks in the domain space. Madonna, for example, is the registered trademark of the popular singer known as ‘Madonna’. Amazon is the trademark of ‘’, the popular online store. Because domain name regulations developed with a focus on trademarks, little thought was initially given to protecting these other interests. To the extent that discussion has focused on other cultural interests in the domain space, little clear progress has been made. There are a number of reasons for this, including (a) lack of lobbying power of groups with interests in such names; (b) lack of clarity over who should have the rights to protect these terms; (c) lack of legal and technological sophistication of groups with interests in such terms; and (d) disharmonization of legal rules...

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