How to stake out a domain-name claim

Even though Icann is gradually releasing new domains - think .biz, .pro and .museum - it's as hard as ever for ordinary folks to nab a corner of cyber real estate

Grabbing an Internet address that ends with a new domain may be more difficult than you think.

The .com, .org and .net addresses featuring your family name were scooped up years ago. You long to secure a corner of the Web as a slew of additional, recently approved domains are released over the next few months. Get in line...

Many of the new domains approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) are severely restricted -- .biz is only open to commercial entities; .aero to airline-related ventures; .museum to museums; and .pro to doctors, lawyers and accountants. What's more, forking over cash months in advance to a "pre-registration" site doesn't put you in higher standing to anybody who registers the day the names become available.

The Federal Trade Commission has warned about scams that urge people to hand over dough to secure domain names early. The problem, the FTC says, is that pre-registration claims are false. Only trademark holders have a leg up when it comes to getting a domain name.

FTC officials said the best way to ensure your information is submitted is to do it yourself through an approved registrar.

"The most important thing for people to know is that they don't have to use the pre-registration services," said Eileen Harrington, associate director of marketing practices for the FTC's bureau of consumer protection.

At most, the pre-registration sites will save domain-name seekers time by paying attention to deadlines and submitting the paperwork for them. But they won't let people cut in line, despite their claims, Harrington said.

"Like anything, if you'd rather pay someone else to do it, you can," Harrington said.

The FTC already has gone after one registration company for allegedly making false claims. In March, after an FTC investigation, a judge issued an order shutting down the National Domain Name Registry until the outcome of a trial. The company had been targeting consumers, telling them that someone was about to register a variation of their domain name and urging them to register it instead. Those claims, the FTC argued, were untrue.

When it comes to the new domains, there's another strike against the little guy: Many of the registries are letting trademark owners come forward first to secure domain names that contain their mark. The .biz domain, for example, was opened Monday to trademark holders, which can reserve addresses through to 9 July. Bad news if your last name happens to be Ford or Norton.

So what's a domain-name seeker to do? The .name domain may be the last best hope for a consumer interested in nabbing a corner of cyber real estate when the new domains go online. Unlike most domain registries, those in charge of administering the .name domain actually defer to people instead of businesses.

The .name domain "is in fact a dedication to the people", Hakon Haugnes, director of sales and marketing for .name registry Global Name Registry, said during a recent presentation on domains before the International Trademark Association.

Many expect the .name land rush to be one of the most hectic, partly because so many people have the same name. The company is trying to cut down on some of the chaos by restricting who can apply for a given name. People can only apply for a version of their real name -- for example, jane.smith.name or j.smith.name--or the name of someone they legally represent. Thus only Disney can nab mickey.mouse.name.

Though .biz and .info recently cleared official Icann confirmation, the .name registry is awaiting full approval of its process. Icann said it expects to OK the registry in June, with the domains becoming available near October once the Commerce Department has signed off on them.

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