UMass Amherst Receives Grant to Make Internet Domain Name Rulings Easily Available

AMHERST, Mass. - The Center for Information Technology and Dispute Resolution (CITDR) at the University of Massachusetts and its director, Legal Studies Professor Ethan Katsh, have been awarded a $126,500 grant from the John and Mary R. Markle Foundation to design improvements in the system for processing Internet domain name disputes.

Katsh will collaborate with the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute to create a new system for publishing decisions online so they will be easily accessible to the public, researchers, and to those who are parties to such conflicts. More than 3,300 decisions involving more than 6,000 Internet domain names have already been handed down by arbitrators since January 2000, Katsh says. Even though the opinions are posted on the World Wide Web, there is no easy way to study those rulings for consistency, specific fact patterns, and other similarities, Katsh says.

Domain names are the word or phrase that precedes the .com, .org, .gov, or .net part of an Internet address. There are more than 30 million domain names and many more will soon be available with new extensions that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has authorized. The problem, Katsh says, is that some of the names involve words or phrases that are trademarked and therefore legally protected. Sometimes, so-called "cyber-squatters" register these words or phrases in the hope of selling the domain name to the trademark owner, and sometimes the domain name registrant is unaware that there is a trademark.

"There is a clear need to handle such disputes efficiently," Katsh says. "The people who designed the system realized it is easy to post material on the Web, but there needs to be a structure to help us review these decisions." Katsh says building a database is an important step in bringing order to the domain name dispute process. "We need to develop civil institutions on the Internet to parallel what we have in the offline world," Katsh says.

Katsh has participated in the ICANN dispute resolution process as an arbitrator, and was recently appointed a member of the ICANN task force reviewing the operation of the domain-name dispute resolution policy. He is co-author, along with UMass Legal Studies Professor Janet Rifkin, of the new book, "Online Dispute Resolution: Resolving Conflicts in Cyberspace."

Katsh can be reached at katsh@legal.umass.edu or at 413/545-5879.