At a meeting in Yokohama last month the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN") approved plans for the introduction of new top level domains ("TLDs"). At present there are only seven TLDs (.com, .org, .net, .isp, .edu, .gov and .mil), but ICANN will be considering proposals for additional global domains such as .law or .shop.
There has been growing debate as to whether the creation of new TLDs will add to the problems of trade mark infringement and passing off on the Internet or improve conditions by increasing the "name space" available to those seeking registration. Having considered both sides of the argument, ICANN has decided to invite applications from those seeking to sponsor or operate registries for new TLDs.
Applicants must pay a non-refundable application fee of US$50,000. Application forms are available on the ICANN web site (www.icann.com) and all proposals must include the following information:
- proposed business model of the registry (e.g. profit, non-profit or consortium);
- a detailed description of intended policies relating to domain name registration (e.g. proposed protection of users and measures for minimising infringement of intellectual property rights; whether registration will be open to everybody or only organisations in certain restricted fields, etc);
- registry locations worldwide.
Applicants proposals must be submitted by 1 October 2000 after which there will be a period of public consultation. ICANN will announce its selection of the additional domains on 20 November 2000. It will then enter into negotiations with the successful registry sponsors and operators with a view to completing such negotiations by 31 December 2000 so that the new TLDs will be available next year.
Singapore accedes to Madrid Protocol
Singapore acceded to the Madrid Protocol on 31 July 2000. The Protocol will come into operation in Singapore on 31 October 2000 enabling priority claims to be made in Singapore for trade mark registrations under the Protocol.
US Courts extend criminal jurisdiction to overseas web sites: a warning for all web site operators
In a landmark decision by the US Courts, a co-owner of an online gambling site based in Antigua has been sentenced to 21 months imprisonment. A federal jury found that Jay Cohen of World Sports Exchange was committing a criminal offence in the US under the Wire Wager Act by using telephone lines to conduct a gambling business across state/federal borders, even though Mr Cohen s business was based offshore.
In Hong Kong, the Gambling Ordinance prohibits most forms of gambling, and both operators and users of gambling web sites risk falling foul of this legislation. For example, a press conference to promote an online gambling site scheduled to be held earlier this year was cancelled after the organiser was warned that his actions could give rise to criminal liability under the Gambling Ordinance. However, for the time being at least, the Hong Kong Police have stopped short of pursuing operators of gambling web sites based overseas or individuals based in Hong Kong who gamble over the internet.
Following this recent US case and precedent cases in the UK, it seems clear that web site operators may incur liability in Hong Kong in relation to materials which they upload onto the internet from a server located overseas. It is therefore more than likely that the courts in Hong Kong would be willing to apply the laws of Hong Kong to the contents of any web site which is accessible in Hong Kong. (Conversely, offshore jurisdictions may also be willing to apply their laws to web site operators based in Hong Kong).
If the contents of a web site are unlawful under Hong Kong law, for example if they include an infringing copy of a photograph, then the operator of that site risks being sued in the Hong Kong courts even if he is based overseas. Provided the jurisdiction in which that operator is based recognises judgments of the Hong Kong courts, then any judgment made by the Hong Kong courts should be enforceable against the operator.
The US judgment against Mr Cohen serves to emphasise the fact that no-one in cyberspace is beyond the reach of the law. Whilst it is difficult to check the laws of every country in the world, web site operators should make checks in all overseas jurisdictions which are their primary targets to ensure that the contents of their web sites comply with relevant laws. If not, they may find that overseas courts are willing to accept jurisdiction in respect of acts which infringe the local laws.
HK Domain Name Reform
Public consultation on the Government s paper on the Administration and Assignment of Internet Domain Names and Internet Protocol Addresses in Hong Kong closed on 16 July 2000.
A special task force was set up under the Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee to review the 37 written submissions received by the Government.
The results of the consultation showed that, in general, members of the public support the establishment of a new non-profit making, non-statutory corporation to take over the function of allocating and administering domain names from the Hong Kong Network Information Centre ("HKNIC").
The public also supports the proposed liberalisation of the registration of Hong Kong domain names. This liberalisation will allow a Hong Kong SAR company to register multiple Hong Kong domain names and individuals will, for the first time, be allowed to register domain names. In addition, domain names will be freely transferable, subject to appropriate safeguards. Administrative renewal fees will be charged to cover administrative costs.