By Sue Bushell
Australian Domain Name administrator auDA got it right last year when it decided against opening up the .au domain space for direct registration, and Australian e-government is the stronger for it.
But regulators should consider instigating domain registration dispute resolution processes and clarifying areas of responsibility across our multiple tiers of government, according to a visiting German PhD student.
Martin Backes, from the Institute of Law and Informatics in Saarbrucken, told a seminar at the University of NSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre last week the lack of a sub-level domain structure devoted to government in Germany has created a highly competitive environment rife with disputes.
Under the German domain structure, every entity — including government bodies, individuals, businesses and local councils — registers under the .de domain, and competition for domain names can be fierce and the results uncertain.
In one of the more infamous disputes, in 2001 a German court ruled oil giant Deutsche Shell GmbH, the German unit of Royal Dutch/Shell, had more right to the SHELL.DE domain name than an individual named Andreas Shell who had already registered the name. The German federal court in Karlsruhe said in its ruling the use of Web addresses should be determined according to which party had the overriding interest in owning the name, even if someone else had already registered it.
"This is important for example for cities and councils and so on because we have a competition between council names and names of natural private persons," Backes says. "And it's very difficult to say when a person is well-known, when Shell is well-known: what are the criteria?"
In Germany the central registry is run by DENIC, a non-profit organization, using an almost fully automatic registration system. Registration is open to both German and foreign natural and legal persons and no legal check is performed of the chosen domain name by registry. Registration of government Web sites is conducted via a contract between the agency and DENIC
In his thesis Backes says he will urge the German government and domain administrator DENIC to consider adopting the Australian system of having a .gov sub domain. He says the German government has so far taken a "very passive" approach to domain name registration.
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