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Concerning those controversial .wine domains

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I’ve been watching developments for the last few months concerning these new .wine and .vin Internet domain names. Not closely, just sort of casually. I knew there was some controversy about them, but I wanted to keep an open mind, and besides, who has the time nowadays to research every complicated issue of social, economic or technological policy?

So it was that yesterday’s big article (by my old friend Chris Rauber) in the San Francisco Business Times really grabbed my attention.

“Noted wine regions, including Napa and Sonoma, protest new .wine Internet domain names,” the headline screamed. In addition to the Napa Valley Vintners and Sonoma County Vintners, those opposed to the proposed domain names include the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association and—in other states—the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, the Walla Walla Wine Alliance, and even the Long Island Wine Council.

Pretty impressive lineup. These are power players. I know the California regional associations quite well from my many years of rubbing elbows with them; with the power of their member wineries behind them, they possess clout. And they’ve been joined in their opposition by some powerful Congressional representatives: Mike Thompson (one of the senior Democrats in the House) and Anna Eshoo.

I can’t remember a time when so many regional associations joined forces publicly in opposition (or in support of, for that matter) a pending issue. So I figured I ought to look a little more deeply into what’s going on.

At first blush it makes sense to carve out .wine and/or .vin domain names. We all know the Internet is running out of domains and has been for years.

This is why ICANN, the corporation in charge of domain names, added additional ones to the more familiar .com, .org, .gov, .edu and .net—because “the internet—or .com at least—is running out of space. So many names on .com are taken that people and businesses have to struggle to find a suitable one.”

Enter .wine and .vin.

Two years ago, ICANN, in response to the problem, announced it would accept applications for additional domain names. It got nearly 2,000, many of them contested. ICANN decided to auction off the non-trademarked domain names to the highest bidders; the first auction was a year ago, and brought in over $9 million, through the sale of such domains as .club, .college and .luxury.

So what’s the problem with .wine and/or .vin? After all, even the U.S. government approves of the auction plan, which, after all, is an expression of classic free market principles. Last March, an agency of the Commerce Department declared that “ICANN is uniquely positioned…to develop the transition plan” toward a new set of domain names. Although the department urged ICANN “to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal” for the transition—an encouragement to compromise and conciliation—the wine associations aren’t buying it.

Rauber writes: They “contend that ICANN’s plan includes ‘non-existent to grossly insufficient safeguards from illegitimate companies’ hijacking their names, histories and legacies. They claim ‘unscrupulous’ bidders could grab web names such as napavalley.wine or wallawalla.wine and in effect hold them hostage.” A spokesman for the Napa Valley Vintners told Rauber, “[H]is organization fears the proposal would ‘provide a new playground for nefarious actors to poach the place names of famous wine regions around the world.’”

These are serious and legitimate concerns. Nobody wants to see a situation wherein some for-profit wine company buys the rights to, say, “napacabernet.wine”, thus misrepresenting itself and its association with venerable Napa Valley. Napa “has had our name ripped off” before, the Napa Vintners spokesman said (most of us remember when and by whom that was!) and isn’t about to let it happen again.

You’d think that ICANN and other legal entities could address the concerns of those opposed by building in rights and protections for stakeholders, and that’s exactly what ICANN has proposed to do. They’ve created a “Legal Rights Objections (LRO)” mechanism by which disputes can be resolved when someone objects to “a third party’s application for a new TLD [top-level domain].” Negotiation is more or less normal operating procedure in our era of contention and litigiousness, but the wine region associations remain unconvinced, and certainly they have a point when they fear they’ll be forced to spend a whole lot of money, either on lawyers or on buying back the rights to names they want.

This is a sticky one, and I have to admit I’m not sure which side I come down on. What do you think? Should .wine and .vin be up for sale to the highest bidder?

  1. Ah, it’s like reliving the .poultryprocessor and .chickenparts scandal all over again.

    Take a step back and ask yourself whether anyone is ever going to visit a .wine domain or .vin domain. The only way that will happen is if it conveniently ends a word and, apart from riboflavin, I can’t really think of one.

  2. Tom Wark says:

    “These are serious and legitimate concerns. Nobody wants to see a situation wherein some for-profit wine company buys the rights to, say, “napacabernet.wine””.

    Why is this a problem? Why shouldn’t anyone be allowed to own “napavalley.wine” or “NapaCabernet.wine? If the user ends up trying to sell wine that isn’t properly identified, then there are other means by which to address that problem. Furthermore, there are numerous other domains that are going forward like “.art” and .blog”. Seems to me that those with a problem with NapaValley.wine ought also to have a problem with NapaValley.Blog or NapaCabernet.art since the same problem they fear could happen with these domains.

    The problem is that nobody has or should be able to trademark the words “napavalley” or “sonoma” or “wallawalla”.

    The issue of somebody holding someone hostage by buying up “napavalleycaberent.wine” or “napawine.wine” is interesting also. Who would be held hostage??

    It’s a really interesting topic and situation.

  3. Christopher says:

    It’s an interesting discussion, but TLD’s are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Unless it’s a site I already know, 99% of the time, I’m going to type what I’m looking for in to Google and click on the first few links that come up rather than randomly type in domain names hoping I find what I’m looking for.

    Dibs on wine.wine though.

  4. Christopher, I did register something close when they created .coop as a new sponsored top level domain (TLD) in the Domain Name System of the Internet. It is intended for the use of cooperatives, wholly owned subsidiaries, and other organizations that exist to promote or support cooperatives. I was able to grab http://wine.coop from the sponsoring registrar for a 100 bucks vs. the purported three million dollars paid by the Peter Granoff group when they went from virtualvineyards.com to wine.com a decade or so ago.

  5. I agree with Cristopher. There exists no rule to force everyone buyer a .wine TLD to be a wine worker (blogger, wine-shopper, winery or other). I’d buy the JohnDoe.wine or MarioRouge.vin and write of Science Fiction or selling cookies as well.

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  1. Who Owns The Reputation of a Wine Region? - Fermentation - […] Steve Heimoff recently wrote about the controversy over ICANN, one of the organizing bodies of the Internet, and their …

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