INTA Covers the Bases on WHOIS Access and Internet Governance Principles

Published: November 15, 2019

INTA’s Internet-related advocacy this year has focused on garnering access to the domain name registration database since ICANN has (through its implementation of a temporary specification to its agreements) effectively blocked access to vital information for trademark enforcement and business transactions. To that end, the Association has gone beyond its usual engagement-such as attending ICANN meetings, volunteering in ICANN working groups and review teams, and producing independent submissions for public comment periods-to present brand owners’ issues in a variety of global arenas, particularly in the European Union.

INTA Senior Director for Internet Policy Lori Schulman attended numerous meetings over the past few months to state the case for WHOIS access, and to clarify that intellectual property (IP) rights are often abused by nefarious actors who wreak havoc on the domain name system, including through phishing, malware, and the sale of counterfeit goods and services.

There is intense debate about whether IP infringement is rightly categorized as domain abuse, and whether IP stakeholders should have access to important domain registration data to combat such fraud. Government officials have been generally sympathetic to IP owners’ rights, and INTA’s meetings with EU government officials have resulted in strong letters to ICANN from the European Commission (EC). Additionally, ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee supports efforts to expedite access to the WHOIS database and to clarify that IP abuse is a form of domain name abuse.

A summary of key meetings and their outcomes follows below.

EU High-Level Discussion on Internet Governance: This invitation-only event happens three times per year at the EC headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and other sites within the EU. INTA attended sessions in Brussels on October 10, and earlier in the year at The Hague, the Netherlands. Led by the EC’s representative to ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee, Pearse O’Donohue, more than 20 member states gathered to discuss the latest hot topics at ICANN and other Internet governance initiatives. This past year, the focus has been on WHOIS and the consequences of ICANN’s interpretation of the General Directive on Privacy Regulation (GDPR). INTA has intervened in these discussions explaining the practical effects of ICANN’s policy, and the ongoing frustration that the new WHOIS environment is encouraging more actors who are now cloaked behind an overreaching WHOIS policy.

Internet Governance Forum, USA (IGF-USA): Held in Washington, D.C., on July 25, representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of Commerce, along with Capitol Hill staffers, joined with members of the business, technical, civil society, and academic communities to discuss the consequences and possible ways forward from what is described as “tech lash.” Tech lash encompasses the public’s reactions to rapid developments in technology without the accompanying regulations regarding consumer protection, job protection, and privacy concerns. IGF-USA is intended to be a safe space to discuss issues of concern and to explore possible paths forward for Internet governance, including federal regulation. For the third year in a row, INTA provided sponsorship and served on the planning committee.

European Dialog on Internet Governance (EuroDIG)

Held in The Hague, EuroDig is the EU’s regional version of the IGF. INTA was a sponsor of EuroDIG for the first time this year. The program, which took place on June 19 and 20, covered a variety of topics including the EU’s digital copyright reform, stumbling blocks and paths forward with GDPR, building a cyberstability framework, regulation in the Internet economy, and balancing the rights of children to freedom and protection. While regional IGFs have sometimes been criticized for not producing actionable deliverables, the organizers are exploring ways to incorporate more action-oriented outcomes. The dialogues can be very fruitful in developing policy positions and understanding the drivers behind various points of view toward regulation and governance models for the Internet.

Internet and Jurisdiction Policy Network

For the first time, INTA was invited to participate in the Internet and Jurisdiction Conference held in Berlin, Germany, from June 5 to 9. This private initiative focused on the tensions created in Internet governance when there are conflicts in cross-border jurisdiction. This is an issue that is very familiar to IP practitioners. The goal of the program was to create operations norms that can be incorporated into governance models at the national, intragovernmental, and self-regulatory levels. The three areas of concentration were data flows, freedom of expression, and domain name systems. Ms. Schulman and Internet Committee Member Susan Payne (Valideus, UK) contributed to a document that outlines what appropriate requests and responses for domain name registration data should look like.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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