Thursday 21 August 2014

Whither WHOIS ?

Sally Cooper writes again ..
Summer is a time for Summer Newsletters and, in the present case, the excellent Summer Newsletter of Com Laude is my inspiration.

A new business will usually review “available company names” and “available Domain Names” before it reviews “available trade marks”. When considering litigation for a trade mark owner, it is often relevant to consider both the Domain Names of the owner and those of the business under attack. These are two of many good reasons for any Trade Mark Attorney to have an interest in WHOIS records.

So when “Rethinking WHOIS” (pages 3/4 of said Summer Newsletter) includes the information
“This means that [ for example ] if you wanted to review the registrant details for an infringing Domain as an IP Attorney, you would need to be accredited .....”
there is (surely) cause for concern.

The conflict between “law enforcement and IP interests” and “civil society advocates” (borrowing again from the Newsletter) is understood : a balance between “tell all” and “say nothing” is never going to be easy – even in the context of Domain Names. The full “present position” information summarised in the Newsletter is available in the Report of ICANN released in June 2014  being “the final report from the Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services (EWG), detailing our recommendations to the ICANN Board for a next-generation Registration Directory Service (RDS) to replace today’s WHOIS system”.

So let’s get to grips with the idea that WHOIS may one day be replaced by RDS – acronym for Registry Directory Service. Not an entirely fanciful notion as the “Conclusion and Next Steps” part of the Report of the Expert Working Group says:
“[the Group] unanimously recommends abandoning today’s WHOIS model – giving very user the same anonymous public access to gTLD registration data – with a replacement system, built from the ground up”. 
BUT WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE ME ? I cry with much concern.

The Report poses Question 65 in FAQs “Will WHOIS go away?” and provides the answer “At this juncture, the RDS is a recommended solution, to be considered by the ICANN board, the GNSO, and the community. If the RDS is adopted, a transition plan will be created to address migration from WHOIS to the RDS”. [ How may acronyms can a paragraph accommodate ? I ask myself – recalling a Military Dinner where the speaker mentioned apologetically that “the RAF is an ARE viz : the Royal Air Force is an Acronym-Rich-Environment” ].

And the comfort from the Newsletter is “At this stage the Report has no binding authority ... and at some stage we’ll all get the chance to submit comments”. For me, the Report highlights that I am not alone in my interest in knowing who owns a Domain Name (and something more by way of details of the Registrant) : see the pretty diagram at the top of this post which forms an insubstantial part of the Report.

Otherwise, I’m hoping that interests will, indeed, find some way of getting together and submitting comments with the end-result that RDS (if and when it happens) rises in Phoenix-like style from the ashes of the WHOIS system which (for all its faults) is one many of us have come to know and love. 

The Duck adds: hopefully those people on the clever committees at our professional bodies will be thinking about how restricted access can be used to give CIPA and ITMA members a competitive edge.

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