Below is a brief commentary by FairWinds on the misallocation of the .CM namespace at the expense of trademark owners. Disturbingly, as well, the citizens of Cameroon cannot use their country code extension to pursue critical economic development opportunities online, among other possible legitimate local uses of a country-specific Top Level Domain (TLD).
.CM is the ccTLD for the Republic of Cameroon; a central African nation that borders Nigeria. With the apparent growing population of worldwide direct navigation Internet users (those who type their intended destination directly into the address bar opposed to using search engines), some brand owners have become interested in securing .CM domains.
The registrations are not as interesting for commerce, as they are useful for capturing, and preventing others from siphoning-off the Web traffic intended for .COM addresses (.CM being a typographical error of .COM).
Today, in the .CM namespace, .COM traffic is directed to the .CM equivalent domain name and a pay-per-click Web site whenever a type-in direct navigator accidentally omits the "o" in ".com."
FairWinds has made several inquiries with CAMTEL, Cameroon Telecommunications, the original registry operator in Cameroon about this topic. They were very helpful, and in speaking with several people within the organization, we uncovered that the President of the Republic of Cameroon, Paul Biya, took control of the .CM Top Level Domain (TLD) and is running this operation via an agency called Antic (Agence Nationale des Technologies de l'Information et de la Communication).
This phenomenon is similar to the rush for the wwwbrand.com domain names that were registered by cybersquatters, who counted on type-in direct navigators to omit the "dot" in www.brand.com.
However, the big difference in this case is that the "cybersquatter" is the .CM registry, which is run by the government of Cameroon, itself. The registry appears to have stopped taking requests for new registrations under .CM (no registrar that we have spoken with has been able to register a .CM name in over a year), and have set up their root servers with wildcards to respond to any domain name that is typed in a browser with a .CM extension. All captured traffic is then redirected to pay-per-click sites to generate click fees.
There are only about 200 domain names actually registered under the .CM TLD. The rest of the traffic to <anyname>.cm goes to a pay-per-click site, from which the Cameroonian registry (or another involved party in this case) ostensibly derives income. Try any domain name - coke.cm, fairwinds.cm, squatting.cm, olympics.cm, etc. and you will see what we're talking about.
According to research performed using Alexa.com, the growth in traffic on .CM Web sites (domain names) is profound. Trailing three month Web site reach (measure of users who visit a given site) of several .CM domains:
Please note that the Trademark owner in each case does not own the domain name mentioned above.
Clearly, the Cameroonian registry operator has realized that pay-per-click monetization of the entire conceivable .CM namespace is much more lucrative than issuing domain name registrations. We have seen similar rationales, though on a smaller scale than taking over a complete namespace, adopted by other domain name registrants, who would rather monetize a domain name's value via a pay-per-click site than to sell it.
Does the conduct of the Cameroonian registry constitute a crime? In most Western countries, these actions would be considered cybersquatting. In the United States this blatant abuse of privilege would be a violation of ICANN accreditation agreements. Given President Biya's record of seizing newspapers and arresting journalists, it is rather unlikely that the practice at issue is illegal in Cameroon. What is certain, however, is that this constitutes an egregious and systemic misuse of the domain space, which was intended to promote trade opportunities in, and the interests and culture of Cameroon.
John Berryhill posted a brief Web log on this subject in August 2006, and later pointed out "These are not 'registrations,' so specific trademarks are not being singled out for treatment. Every string is being treated equally, whether or not it is recognizable in a written language somewhere as a trademark."
This issue is of the same critical importance to Trademark owners as any other type of domain name infringement - and for many of the same reasons. By not providing a method for companies to register their marks in the .CM namespace, the registry prevents corporations from leveraging their brands to drive traffic, improve customer experiences (typos of .COM), and ultimately sell goods and services. Furthermore, by monetizing all possible domains names in the .CM space, the Cameroonian registry operator is profiting off of the use of other companies' registered trademarks.
What the Cameroonian registry is doing bears some likeness to VeriSign's Site Finder proposal, which ICANN opposed. Unlike the gTLD space, ccTLDs, and the actions of the Cameroonian registry are out of ICANN's jurisdiction.
The RFC allows any country to do whatever it wants with its respective TLD. This self-determination has been most notably reflected in the highly visible cases of Moldova and Tuvalu -- .MD and .TV, respectively.
According to John Postel's 1994 "RFC 1591" memo and "ISO 3166," country code administration is largely left to a local entity to conduct the namespace as they see fit.
In order to find the best recouse for this situation, we must take the time to more thoroughly explore its underlying methodology and overall scope.
As we learn more, and determine suitable courses of action, we will keep you informed. As always, FairWinds will continue to keep you abreast of the issues affecting brand owners online.
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