In a decision released by the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR) last week, a panel found that the proposed .cam generic top-level domain (gTLD) is not easily confused with the existing .com.  Brandon Trout provided some background on this topic a year ago, but for those who are unfamiliar with the world of domain names, I will explain how we got from a world dominated by .com to the ICDR decision last week.

ICANN is an international organization charged with coordinating the Internet’s system of gTLDs, including the famous .com, .net, and .org.  Over a year ago, ICANN announced that it would allow companies to register custom gTLDs for a hefty application fee of $185,000 per gTLD–an amount that ICANN gets to keep whether or not the gTLD is approved.  Once all of the applications were submitted, ICANN allowed existing companies and other applications to file what are called “string confusion objections,” which say that the applied-for gTLD is confusingly similar to an existing gTLD or to another applied-for gTLD in a way that could create consumer confusion.  In the ICDR case at issue here, Verisign, the owner of the .com gTLD, objected to three applications for .cam, citing string confusion.  To support its conclusion that the two gTLDs were confusingly similar, Verisign claimed that the visual similarity, phonetic similarity, similarity of meaning, and a 39% confusion rate among internet users (among other factors), all led to an ultimate level of confusion that harms users as well as Verisign.

The ICDR summarily dismissed all of Verisign’s arguments.  Ultimately, it was the strength of the .com mark that was Verisign’s undoing.  The panel noted that “the .com name is a powerful market force that is unlikely to be displaced in any measurable way by niche websites that adopt the .cam extension for websites devoted to cameras, photography, or filmmaking.”  The panel also noted that while the two gTLDs might sound similar when spoken by an individual with a New England accent, that fact does not alone indicate a likelihood of confusion.  Additionally, the panel took note of a second survey that did not favor Verisign–in fact, the second survey found that only one percent of global users would be confused between .com and .cam.

I think the panel made the right decision.  Significantly, I can’t think of any real harm to Verisign by allowing the registration of .cam to move forward.  While the two gTLDs might look similar, the chances of a significant diversion of consumers to .cam websites does seem slim.  What do you think? Did the panel get it wrong?  Or do you think that none of this will matter, because the new gTLDs will be a failure of epic proportions?

Stewart Bohan

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4 Responses to gTLD Showdown: .com vs .cam

  1. Bradlee Edmondson says:

    I agree that the incentive is there to squat on e.g., google.cam and amazon.cam, but I wonder to what extent Google and Amazon would be able to use the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy to prevent such blatant abuse. That process protects trademark holders and allows them to seize domain names (after the dispute resolution process) from bad-faith squatters. I would tend to think that for direct .com–.cam analogs, they would be pretty successful and could probably acquire the rights to their .cam domains without having to bid on them, meaning they might have to pay to keep registration current, but couldn’t be extorted by someone who happened to get there first.

    What do others think about this?

  2. J.P. Urban says:

    While I agree that I don’t think there is high likelihood of people actually being diverted from .com websites to .cam websites, the practical effect of having this new gTLD is that every owner of a .com is going to end up purchasing the equivalent .cam. It’s a genius business move, really, to give every prominent domain owner no choice but to buy another domain from you because of the likelihood of squatters buying up, for example, google.cam and amazon.cam to demand a higher price.

  3. Jeff says:

    I wonder how sincere the interest in .cam as a camera and photography niche gTLD. It seems that the greater financial opportunity would come from effectively extorting owners of .com sites who might not be willing to see who camps out in the .cam version of their .com site. While it is unlikely that someone looking for bigcompany.com would accidentally go to bigcompany.cam, the potential for .cam sites trading on their mainstream namesakes seems bigger than the announced purpose. If I wanted to start a site devoted to unflattering images associated with bigcompany, I know what website I’d want.