On June 13, 2012 the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced those companies whose bids have been accepted to become the exclusive registry service for “.music” generic top-level domain names (gTLD). Some of the top candidates included internet stalworths like Google (Charleston Road Registry) and Amazon (Valideus); alongside music industry-endorsed candidates like DotMusic, whom received support from international government bodies and distributors like TuneCore and The Orchard, and .music LLC (Far Further, Inc.), whom received support from the Recording Industry of America (RIAA), artist-support groups like A2IM and rights collection agencies like Sound Exchange and BMI. With applicants willing to pay an application fee of $185,000 for the chance to control not only whom obtains band site names, but genre names with the .music suffix, the potential value could be astronomical.
One of the benefits of the new gTLD program proffered by ICANN is what it calls the “Trademark Clearinghouse.” Under this program ICANN will enter into a contract with separate entities to act as central repositories for information pertaining to trademark holder’s rights. These entities will provide the primary functions of (1) trademark authentication and validation and (2) maintenance of a database for new gTLD registries in regards to pre-lunch “sunrise” (those marks registered before June 26, 2008) or trademark claims services. The incorporation of the “Trademark Clearinghouse” concept into its program could possibly suggest that ICANN may not be looking for the chosen registry to provide excessive policing and may prefer to award the .music gTLD control to a well established internet champion like Google or Amazon in hopes of maintaining commercial success, as opposed to a music industry-related organization who may have greater experience in rights associated with their products, but are still having difficulty adapting to a digital marketplace.
While DotMusic lists one of its main goals as to “Enhance safeguards … to protect intellectual property, prevent trademark infringement, eliminate piracy, cybersquatting, and other malicious content,” a goal purportedly echoed by Far Further; one of the main differences is Far Further’s requirement of registration with an established rights agency in order to obtain a .music address. While such an arrangement would seemingly provide added protection and cash flow through rights agencies, both groups seem to be suggesting an attempt to add a layer of continued piracy protection beyond that initial protection purportedly encompassed by ICANN’s “Trademark Clearinghouse” concept. It would seem that if ICANN is looking for additional layers of protection the registration procedures already in place and the artist relationships established by Far Further may work better. One problem which may arise is that even if ICANN and the chosen gTLD registry controller can sufficiently police the .music gTLD this would seemingly still not significantly effect .com share services. As the takedown of Megaupload is something that the RIAA has championed as a major success, the fact that it took international cooperation may suggest that with the support of international governments DotMusic may have greater success in policing the .music gTLD.
Formal objections to applications can be filed for seven months and comments to be considered by the evaluation panel may be made for sixty days; both from the June 13th announcement date. Until the objection period is over and ICANN thoroughly evaluates the candidates, the world must continue to wait for what may or may not be a new force of protection and revenue for both artists and the music industry.