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Critics slam new NSI domain policy

Network Solutions' new policy for dealing with domain name disputes is worse than its old plan, critics charge.

    Critics of Network Solutions' (NSI) domain name dispute policy say its new plan, quietly posted last month, is even worse than the old one.

    NSI, the company that administers top-level domain names for the government, has posted several revisions to its already controversial dispute policy, enacted when two entities are fighting over the same domain name.

    While some of the 21 proposed changes do little more than clarify NSI's old policy, critics contend that other changes might seem innocuous at first, but could have widespread ramifications if implemented. The changes are scheduled to be enacted on February 25.

    NSI currently holds a government contract to administer and register names in the ".com," ".net," ".edu," and ".org" top-level domains. That contract expires in September.

    What happens after that is the topic of great debate. The U.S. government has put forth a green paper on the issue, which proposes that NSI will continue to administer ".com," ".net," and ".org" along with other companies that will dole out names within other top-level domains that are yet to be established.

    The green paper states that registrars such as NSI must deal with trademark disputes in several ways, including providing a "readily available and convenient dispute resolution process that requires no involvement by registrars."

    NSI could not be reached today for comment.

    But a critic of the plan said today that the new policies being implemented by NSI, which currently has a monopoly to run the domain name system, will create more problems than it solves.

    "Their policy was terrible before and it's still terrible now--and it's worse in some ways," said Carl Oppedahl, an intellectual property attorney with Oppedahl & Larson, which has faced off with NSI on trademark disputes.

    Specifically, Oppedahl criticized the new policy for giving NSI even more leeway in trademark disputes.

    Under previous policies, NSI would cut off someone's domain name only if it was presented with a trademark registration, he said. But the new policy states that "Network Solutions shall have the right in its sole discretion to revoke, suspend, transfer, or otherwise modify a domain name registration [with 30 days notice] or at such time as Network Solutions receives a properly authenticated order from a court of competent jurisdiction, or arbitration award, requiring the revocation, suspension, transfer, or modification of the domain name registration."

    Oppedahl said he was concerned both about NSI's power to act in its sole discretion and its ability to transfer domain names. Under its old policy, he said, "the most it would do is put a domain on hold."

    NSI executives told Wired News that the changed wording gives NSI the latitude it needs to comply with resolutions and court orders.

    But Oppedahl said the policy, as worded, gives it too much room to act.

    Although NSI has contended that domain names are rarely disputed, many have complained about what they see as NSI's uneven way of handling domain disputes. For the most part, NSI will put a disputed name on hold and abide by the resolution reached by the two parties.

    But often the disputes happen between players of widely disproportionate power. For instance, a large corporation might send a letter to a small business that has used a domain name to which the large company feels entitled.

    Smaller players often give in to the larger ones because it is more expensive to fight them than to hand over the domain name.

    For instance, the publisher of the New Yorker magazine ordered the publisher of a Web-zine to stop using the domain name "thenewyorker.com." The national magazine won the dispute.