New internet names? Nice. Harm to nonprofits? Not so nice.

Every silver lining has its cloud  — even, it seems, on the internet.  The silver lining here is the good news that the organization responsible for parceling out top-level names for the web will start to sell an almost infinite variety of them.  Meaning, if you’re bored with using dot-com or dot-org or dot-edu, you can instead apply to register dot-almost-anything-you-can-think-up (if you’re willing to spend $185,000, that is).  And the cloud?  All those new names will make it even more difficult for the already stretched legal departments at non-profit organizations to police the brands of their organizations, and to guard against defamation.

ACC and our Nonprofit Organizations Committee today took a step to try to guard against those problems.  We filed objections to a number of proposed new top-level internet names.  The organization that sells the names is ICANN (short for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).  ICANN has received a fairly small number of applications to buy proposed top-level names, and asked for comments or objections to them.  Of the few hundred applications for new top-level names, we objected to the 16 that most concerned our Nonprofit Committee.

Most of those — such as dot-health, or dot-college — have close links to many of ACC’s nonprofit members.  So, if ICANN grants the application for dot-health, then ACC’s nonprofit members working in healthcare would need to police that new part of the internet for infringing, derogatory, or defaming names. Carrying out that policing would detract precious resources from the important social and cultural work that those nonprofit groups perform.

And even for non-infringing uses, dot-health will pose problems for nonprofits.  Whoever buys dot-health can expect that a flood of organizations with links to health and healthcare will feel the need to pay for pieces of the new top-level name, if only to keep others from buying up the name first.  Fees for such new names – especially when multiplied by the many similar names that ICANN may soon decide to sell – can quickly add up, and cost nonprofits money that they would instead devote to work in their fields.

We also objected to a few names that are inherently derogatory.  Whoever buys those names would likely use them only to insult or seek financial gain from nonprofits and others.

The proposed top-level names that ACC objected to are:

ACADEMY
CHARITY
CHURCH
FOUNDATION
GIVES
GIVING
COLLEGE
DEGREE
EDUCATION
HEALTH
HEALTHCARE
INSTITUTE
UNIVERSITY
GRIPE
SUCKS
WTF

Copies of ACC’s objections are available here.  They’re also available on ICANN’s web page here, if you type “Association of Corporate Counsel” into the search box, under “Search By Name.”  You can search for other proposed names, and objections, in the same place.  And more information on ICANN’s new top-level names is available here.  The deadline for posting comments to any of the proposed new top-level names is this Wednesday, September 26.