Keeping control of your brand online is about to get a whole lot tougher. The snappily-titled Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organisation which oversees the Net’s system of domain names, has begun the process which will potentially lead to the use of hundreds more top-level domains – the bits at the very end of Web addresses.
Currently these are limited to about 20 generic endings, most famously .com but also including .net, .gov and so on, along with the two-letter codes such as .uk and .de which pertain to particular countries.
But now ICANN is opening the door to many, many more of the former, descriptive type, technically known as generic top-level domains (gTLDs). It spent the first few months of this year accepting applications for new gTLDs, and received nearly 2000 of them before the end-of-May deadline.
Each application carried a $185,000 fee, which shows how valuable the successful establishment of a new gTLD is expected to be: its owner will have rights to all possible domain names with that ending. For example, if someone applied for and won .burger, they’d control www.mcdonalds.burger, www.recipes.burger, www.relish.burger, and so ad infinitum. The proud new owner wouldn’t have to operate all these Websites themself, of course; most likely they’d rent out the individual domains to other companies, just as happens with .com and its fellows today.
So this presents both threats and opportunities for gaming operators. Opportunities, because the new gTLDs may enable strengthening and fine-tuning of branding, for example by differentiating www.mybrand.poker from www.mybrand.bingo (assuming, of course, that the winners of the .poker and .bingo gTLDs are willing to do business with you); and threats, because there will now be many more potential domain names that could exploit your brand without authorisation.
Says Mark Owen, an intellectual property specialist at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis: “While potentially very profitable for some people and opening up a range of possibilities for new services, the whole exercise has been viewed with trepidation by many brand owners. Already faced with the costs of having to defend their brand against unauthorised uses online, they will now have hundreds of new uses to object to.”
Gaming was certainly a significant theme in the applications, with five received for .game, four each for .casino, .poker, .bet and .play, and two apiece for .bingo and .juegos as well as single applications for .games and .vegas, though oddly there were no proposals for .gaming or .gamble. (The most sought-after of all, by the way, were .app, .home and .inc.)
Now the hard bit starts. As Campbell Newell, Partner at law firm Marks & Clerk, puts it: “Looking at the list, it can be seen that there are several domain names such as .app and .book with multiple reputable applicants, none of which have a particularly unique claim to the phrase in question. It will be interesting to see how these disputes play out.”
To handle these conflicting applications, ICANN has developed a procedure that boils down to “sort it out between yourselves, and if you can’t, the gTLD goes up for auction”. And thanks to this and other elements of the elaborate process, it’s unlikely that the first of the new gTLDs will be up and running before next spring.
The intervening period, therefore, is one that casino operators – whether or not they’re already active online – should use to figure out how (at best) they can benefit from domains with the new endings, and how (at least) they can put systems in place to watch out for, and then stamp on, any illegitimate use of their brands under these gTLDs.
So not fair (I)
At its annual general meeting, the European Gaming and Amusement Federation (Euromat) examined the role of EU institutions in ensuring that the land-based gaming sector is not unfairly treated in comparison to its online counterpart. “The highly regulated, highly taxed sector that is the land-based gaming sector cannot accept a situation whereby its direct competitors from the online environment pay little or no tax and are either not regulated or regulated with a light touch,” said Euromat.
So not fair (II)
A high-level executive at Caesars Entertainment has criticised the US Department of Justice’s (DoJ) withdrawal from the issue of online gaming, which leaves most regulation up to legislators at state level. Said Jan Jones, Caesars’ Senior Vice President of Communications and Government Relations: “The DoJ ruling leaves the market wide open and it is unclear how offshore operators should be operating in this space. If you care about clarity and protection, then having everyone run in their own direction doesn’t help at all. This business is moving online and if we want to appeal to a younger market and audience then we need to move with the times. The biggest failure is the failure to do nothing.”
The American Gaming Association, which lobbies in Washington for the casino industry, has also called on federal law-makers to establish a national framework for regulating online gambling