While brand owners have taken issue with the vast trademark implications of ICANN’s proposed (and at this point, likely) expansion of the domain name space to add countless new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to the Internet, one organization has raised the specter of increased copyright infringement pursuant to domain name expansion.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the trade organization representing the music labels and artists well known for its aggressive tactics designed to counter music piracy, has expressed concern over ICANN’s gTLD program, and specifically possible "music themed" gTLDs. In a January 5, 2011 letter to ICANN, the RIAA expressed an "overriding concern to ensure that any music themed gTLD is used productively and responsibly, and not as a means to facilitate copyright or trademark infringement. The RIAA went on to point out several flaws in the latest (and proposed final) Applicant Guidebook, including a unreasonably high standard for community objections, a lack of transparency in the proposed application process, and inadequate safeguards to protect against "malicious conduct."
While these sentiments echo, in part, the sentiments expressed by the various trademark bar associations such the International Trademark Association (INTA), the U.S. government, and ICANN’s own Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), the RIAA’s concerns are understandably broader given its anti-piracy mandate. However, while trademark infringement and cybersquatting are logical and predictable consequences of an expanded domain name space (as domain names themselves — and sub-domains thereof — are the root of the problem), it does not necessarily follow that the expansion will lead to increased copyright infringement, unless it is the case that an expanded domain name space will catalyze the growth of the Internet, resulting in more websites (and more content) then there would have been otherwise. Further, even if music piracy will be more prominent on websites with "music themed" gTLD’s, it is unclear what role ICANN could (or should) have in preventing or curing this problem. Unfortunately, in its letter the RIAA does not provide any basis for its copyright concerns, and does not recommend specific precautions or remedies for ICANN to combat this anticipated problem. It will be interesting to see whether future RIAA communications to ICANN will address these issues in greater detail.