ICANN Relaxes Rules for Top-Level Domain Names

PARIS - The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers unanimously agreed Thursday to relax restrictions on domain names, as well as agreed to seek public comment on doing away with language barriers in domain names.

At the annual general meeting in Paris, ICANN members agreed to allow for new domain names, which would greatly expand beyond the current short list of approved names that includes .com, .org, .edu and country names - such as .nz or .ca. Under the new rules, by the first quarter of 2009, companies could register for "dot-company" addresses like .eBay. ICANN officials said trademarked name, such as .eBay or .Pepsi, could be purchased outright by those companies, but more generic names like .car or .bank would be auctioned off.

Also allowed under the new policy would be domain names that end with .sex or .xxx.

In 2007, ICANN for the third time rejected the creation of the .xxx domain. The new domain, which was to have been relegated to the online adult industry - which vehemently fought the domain extension - was proposed by ICM Registry LLC. Paul Twomey, ICANN's chief executive, had described the proposal as "clearly controversial, clearly polarizing."

Stuart Lawley, chairman and president of ICM, last week filed an independent review petition against ICANN saying ICM was "wrongfully denied the opportunity to operate the proposed .xxx" domain system.

Thursday's vote could render that seven-year debate moot, however, as companies could willingly choose the .xxx domain for any type of website name, not just those associated with the online adult industry.

Some ICANN board members expressed concerns that the guidelines could turn the organization into a censorship regime, deciding what could be objectionable to someone, somewhere in the world, the Associated Press reported.

"If this is broadly implemented, this recommendation would allow for any government to effectively veto a string that makes it uncomfortable," said Susan Crawford, a Yale law professor on the board. She voted in favor of the rule changes, but called for more clarity later, the AP said.

A second matter considered by ICANN would allow for the use of non-Roman characters in Internet addresses. Currently, only letters from the English alphabet can be used in a website addresses, but now website names in non-English speaking countries will be able to incorporate their alphabets into their domain names.

ICANN officials agreed to accept public comment on that change before it's next general meeting in November.

The changes - some of the biggest in the history of the Internet - were necessitated because domain names available under the current IPv4 protocol are set to run out by 2011.

In theory, the new domain policy change could mean an infinite number of new domain names could come into being, which could prove beneficial for ICANN since the organization receives payment for each new domain.