Indie music fights Google – Amazon .music top level domain grab

top level domain names

Google’s anti-SOPA plea

Google and Amazon want to rule the top level domain web universe

(this piece originally posted on 9/12/12 but I’ve updated it to include new information on efforts by representatives of indie musicians to thwart this top level domain name power grab by Google and Amazon)

If you read the propaganda promoted by Google during last year’s SOPA debate, you would have come across pleas like this:

More than any time in history, more people in more places have the ability to make their voices heard. Just as we celebrate freedom, we need to celebrate the tools that support freedom. Add your voice in support of a free and open Internet.

According Google and other opponents in the tech industry, if the Stop Online Piracy Act were to pass, the internet would be “broken” and no longer “free.”  A questionable concept, particularly when Google was against the legislation because it would impinge on  their unfettered ability to make money (no matter the source).Google's top level domain name grab

At the time, Google’s anti-SOPA activism was seen by many as more opportunistic than altruistic, and today that view seems to be further  vindicated.  According to a  report from Consumer Watchdog on  ICANN’s proposed addition of “top-level” domain names that noted, “Google has ponied up $18.7 million to buy 101 domain strings like .eat, .buy, .book, .free, .web, and .family.”  They also want to own the domain string for “tech.”

A post on Google’s official blog explains their pursuit of these top-level names and characterizes the effort by employing their favorite,  well-worn noun- “innovation.”  In this case, however, it appears merely to be a euphemism for “control.”  From their blog:

In 2008, ICANN announced a program to expand the number of generic TLDs (think .com, .org, .edu), developed through its bottom-up, multi-stakeholder process, in which we participate. Given this expansion process, we decided to submit applications for new TLDs, which generally fall into four categories:

  • Our trademarks, like .google
  • Domains related to our core business, like .docs
  • Domains that will improve user experience, such as .youtube, which can increase the ease with which YouTube channels and genres can be identified
  • Domains we think have interesting and creative potential, such as .lol

We want to make the introduction of new generic TLDs a good experience for web users and site owners. So we will:

  • Make security and abuse prevention a high priority
  • Work with all ICANN-accredited registrars
  • Work with brand owners to develop sensible rights protection mechanisms that build upon ICANN’s requirements

We’re just beginning to explore this potential source of innovation on the web, and we are curious to see how these proposed new TLDs will fare in the existing TLD environment. By opening up more choices for Internet domain names, we hope people will find options for more diverse—and perhaps shorter—signposts in cyberspace.

Ah, “signposts”….what a helpful sounding term.  What Google really seeks to do looks more like a takeover– a move to control just about everything online, from search to domains.  Consumer Watchdog expressed this concern in a letter sent to Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation:

We believe the plans by Google and Amazon are extremely problematic and call on you to help prevent their implementation. It is one thing to use a Top Level Domain name that is associated with your brand name. In Google’s case that might be .Google or .YouTube or .Android. Similarly it makes make sense for Amazon to acquire .Amazon or .Kindle. But, that is not what is happening.

Google has ponied up $18.7 million to buy 101 domain strings like .eat, .buy, .book, .free, .web, and .family. Amazon is close behind the Internet giant applying for 76 domain strings including such names as .free, .like, .game, and .shop.

If these applications are granted, large parts of the Internet would be privatized. It is one thing to own a domain associated with your brand, but it is a huge problem to take control of generic strings. Both Google and Amazon are already dominant players on the Internet. Allowing them further control by buying generic domain strings would threaten the free and open Internet that consumers rely upon. Consumer Watchdog urges you to do all that you can to thwart these outrageous efforts and ensure that the Internet continues its vibrant growth while serving the interests of all of its users.

It would appear that the timing of the recent formation of a new tech Washington lobbying group “The Internet Association” is fortuitous.  Member companies include : Amazon.com, AOL, eBay, Expedia, Facebook, Google, IAC, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Rackspace, salesforce.com, TripAdvisor, Yahoo!, and Zynga with their stated mission:

The Internet Association, an umbrella public policy organization dedicated to strengthening and protecting a free and innovative Internet.  The Internet Association will relentlessly represent this critical economic sector, in partnership with Main Street businesses and individual users, to ensure that the Internet will always have a voice in Washington and a seat at the table.

The most important question going forward would not seem to be will the internet have a voice, but whose internet will it be?  Will it be the “free” one–or one owned by Google, Amazon and co?

Update 8/21/14

While Amazon has been denied the right to its own moniker .amazon–since it appears that there’s major South American waterway that “owned” the name long before–the fate of many other top level domains, including .music, remains up in the air.  Fortunately it seems that creative artists are beginning to take notice and speak out against this land grab by Google and Amazon (and their ilk).  From The Hill:

An independent music lobbying group is pushing to have the music community, not tech companies such as Google and Amazon, take control of the new Internet domain ending .music.

The American Association of Independent Music published a letter on Wednesday urging that ICANN not give the .music domain to companies like Google or Amazon, but instead hand it over to a non-profit entity:

We have followed the ICANN process and are very concerned of what might happen if ICANN does not select a  music community supported organization, which understands the needs of our International music industry, to own and manage the .music gTLD. Our members’ livelihoods depend on the ability to license copyrights in a free  market. This makes it essential to have regulatory partners that will help advance a worldwide enforceable regime for the protection of intellectual property online that enhances accountability at all levels of the online distribution chain and that deals effectively with unauthorized usages.

The benefits of the music community running the .music gTLD include maximizing the protection of intellectual property and incorporating appropriate enhanced safeguards to prevent copyright infringement, cybersquatting and any other type of malicious abuse. The community-based approach ensures that the string is managed under music-tailored registration policies. Such policies include registrant authentication, naming conditions which only allow registrants to register under their names or acronym and restricting content and usage to only legal music–related activities. This will ensure that any monies generated through .music will flow to the music creator community not pirates, unlicensed sites, or giant search engines.

We note two of the applicants are Amazon S.a.r.l (Amazon) and Charleston Road (Google). Both of these companies have exhibited a disregard for properly compensating music creators based upon music usage and for not protecting copyrights. Both have not valued Independent creator’s copyrights on the same equitable basis as larger copyright creators.

That last sentence pretty much says it all.  If ever there was a time the creative community to speak up, it’s now, but musicians aren’t the only ones raising concern.

FairSearch.org is also fighting tooth and nail against Google’s efforts to control top level domains, including .search.  A report published on its website exactly one year ago (August 22, 2013) summarized its opposition:

FairSearch hopes ICANN rejects Google’s applications to control new gTLDs to prevent the far reaching competitive implications of giving Google even more power over consumer and competitor data to increase its dominance online. The New York Times summed up this risk more generally in an article this week:

“There’s a larger issue at stake, however. Advocates of Internet freedom contend that such an expanded address system effectively places online control over powerful commercial and cultural interests in the hands of individual companies, challenging the very idea of an open Internet…”

We couldn’t have said it any better.

The ball is now in Google’s court, as industry news site TheDomains.com put it, “So Now What Will Google Do With Its New gTLD Application For .Search?” Regardless, the competition concerns remain around giving Google more ability to control Internet usage by allowing it to control access to key gTLDs soon to be put into use by ICANN.

FairSearch continues to oppose Google’s applications to control these top-level domains.

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