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Opening of “.vin” and “.wine” on the Internet: 6 questions to fully understand the stakes


	
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11/28/2014 | arev

For many months, the wine sector has strived to try and obtain the protection of Geographical Indications (GIs) on the Internet at the occasion of the opening of the new domain names “.vin” and “.wine”. What are the stakes for appellations of origin? Why is the ICANN persisting in wanting to sell the “.vin” and “.wine” domain names without protecting GIs? This issue requires some explanation. 6 questions and answers to fully understand the ins and outs.  

Opening of “.vin” and “.wine” on the Internet: 6 questions to fully understand the stakes 

 

For many months, the wine sector has strived to try and obtain the protection of Geographical Indications (GIs) on the Internet at the occasion of the opening of the new domain names “.vin” and “.wine”. What are the stakes for appellations of origin? Why is the ICANN persisting in wanting to sell the “.vin” and “.wine” domain names without protecting GIs? This issue requires some explanation. 6 questions and answers to fully understand the ins and outs.   

 

How does the ICANN work?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a Californian company which manages at the global level all domain names on the Internet. It was founded in 1999 by the US Department of Commerce. It is the company’s board of directors (16 members) which votes on major decisions. Within the ICANN, four advisory committees deliver non-binding advice to the board of directors. Among these committees, one represents governments: the GAC.       

 

What is a domain name and why open the “.vin” and “.wine” domain names?

A domain name refers to an Internet domain identifier. The filing system of domain names is hierarchical. There are country code top-level domain names identifying a country (“.fr”, “.be”…) and generic top-level domain names which usually refer to an industry sector (“.com” for commerce, “.org” for non-commercial organisations…). Then come second-level domain names which are Internet address names added before the top-level domain names (for instance: “paris.fr”). Having observed that existing domain names are reaching the saturation point, the ICANN decided to open new top-level domain names. It issued a call for applications, for which companies whose business will be dedicated to selling domain names applied. Over 2,000 new names were put forward such as “.blog” or “.e-mail”. Among these suggestions, 4 applications related to the wine sector were filed. Three companies are competing for the operation of the “.wine” domain name and one for the “.vin”.

 

Why is the opening of “.vin” and “.wine” causing a problem?

These new domain names can be a source of economic development for the vine-growing and wine-producing sector, of which half the revenue is generated via the Internet, a trend which is expected to increase in the future. There is however one problem: the three companies who have applied to operate the “.vin” and “.wine” domain names have specified that they intend to auction off the second-level domain names, with no regard to GI protection. Therefore, any company or individual will be able to purchase a second-level name referring to an appellation, for instance “porto.wine”, and sell products that have nothing to do with the appellation in question, nor even with wine. The risks will affect primarily consumers (deceitful labelling), but also producers (risk of misappropriation of notoriety of appellations of origin, and even risks of cybersquatting). Some domain names may even be purchased for speculative purposes.  

 

What are the governments’ positions?    

On this particular subject, the international community is divided into two camps which oppose each other within the GAC. On the one hand, the European Union, Latin America and French speaking African countries, which are against the delegation as long as the protection of GIs is not ensured and defend regulated Internet. On the other hand, 3 countries, the United States, New-Zealand and Australia, which support the unconditional delegation of both extensions in the name of a supposedly free Internet. At the occasion of the ICANN’s last meeting in London in June, several Member States, with France as a leader, strongly opposed the delegation of “.vin” and “.wine” in the absence of GI protection and forcefully criticised the opaque functioning of the Californian company. In the end, no consensus was reached within the GAC and the ICANN decided to continue with the delegation process despite the absence of GI protection.  

 

What solutions are available to prevent the delegation?

Several options are available in order to suspend the “.vin” and “.wine” domain names. After the London meeting, the wine sector and the European Commission each filed a reconsideration request with the ICANN. Still in progress, this procedure suspends the delegation process pending the findings of the discussions (a few weeks). Should the reconsideration request fail, it will still be possible to initiate a contentious procedure: “the Independent Review”. This procedure consists in a complaint filed against the ICANN alleging prejudice to public interest. It would enable to suspend the delegation process for at least 6 months. And finally, the last solution would be to reach a consensus within the GAC. Though this option was unthinkable just a few weeks ago, the rallying of American viticulturists against a delegation void of GI protection may reverse the balance of power. Over 2,000 wineries have got together alongside European viticulturists and several members of the US Congress have addressed the US government. A powerful argument in view of the ICANN’s next meeting in Los Angeles from 12th to 16th October.

 

Why is the “.vin” and “.wine” issue transcending the wine sphere?

The scale which the “.vin” and “.wine” issue has reached gives rise to new questions. The debate has overstepped the mere wine sphere and led to that of Internet governance and the rules which apply to the web. The European Union and some Member States have denounced on a number of occasions the opacity which weighs upon the functioning of the ICANN, which remains highly influenced by the US government. The issue of GI protection on the Internet also arises for other new generic extensions such as “.food” or “.coffee” and will probably also arise again if the ICANN launches in 2016 a second cycle of creation of domain names. And lastly, the sometimes tense discussions have placed the issue of GI protection at the heart of the negotiations between the European Union and the United States for the establishment of a free trade area.     

       

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