[governance] KEEP THE CORE NEUTRAL: Global Petition Urges ICANN to Protect Free Expression and Innovation in Domain Name Policy

Robin Gross robin at ipjustice.org
Fri Jun 29 21:58:44 EDT 2007

Keep The Core Neutral Media Release
30 June 2007

"Keep The Core Neutral" Coalition Launches at ICANN Board Meeting in San 
Global Petition Urges ICANN to Protect Free Expression and Innovation in 
Domain Name Policy

Media Contacts:

Dan Krimm, Campaign Director, Keep The Core Neutral
Email: dan(at)ipjustice(dot)org

Robin Gross, IP Justice Executive Director
Email: robin(at)ipjustice(dot)org

(San Juan, Puerto Rico) -- The "Keep The Core Neutral" campaign 
officially launched this week with an educational workshop at the 29th 
meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers 
(ICANN) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

ICANN handles technical coordination of the Internet and sets policy 
surrounding the domain name system (DNS), the Internet’s basic 
addressing system that allows people to locate web sites and use email. 
The DNS is informally called the technical “core" of the Internet.

The Keep The Core Neutral Coalition launched with over 100 members from 
around the world, including both individuals and organizations. 
Coalition members signed a petition urging ICANN to resist efforts to 
evaluate applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) based on 
non-technical criteria such as ideas about morality and competing 
national political objectives.

ICANN, a private California non-profit corporation operating under 
contract with the US government, currently accredits 15 gTLDs operating 
on the Internet, including familiar ones such as ".com" and ".net" as 
well as less well-known top-level domains such as ".biz" and ".info".

For many years, the Internet community has asked ICANN to open-up the 
gTLD space and allow for the registration of additional top-level 
domains. ICANN is now in the final stages of developing a policy to 
evaluate applications that will accredit such new top-level domains. 
Both ICANN’s GNSO Policy Council and its Governmental Advisory Committee 
(GAC) are drafting recommendations to the ICANN Board of Directors, who 
is expected to make a final policy decision before the end of 2007.

The Keep the Core Neutral coalition is concerned that’s ICANN’s draft 
policy includes evaluation criteria that go well beyond technical 
considerations of operational stability and security and exceeds the 
organization’s mandate of technical coordination.

In particular, ICANN is considering policy that would reject 
applications for new gTLDs if they violate globally fixed standards on 
"morality" or "public order". But the lack of global standards on 
morality and policy objectives invites nations with restrictions on free 
expression to impose censorship on the entire world by blocking the 
creation of certain domains. There is also concern that religious 
institutions and business competitors will be allowed to object to new 
domain name applications based on non-technical and non-legal criteria.

ICANN creating a precedent for generalized public governance would be 
dangerous, as the private corporation does not have a democratic 
governance structure that is accountable to the public or that includes 
protections for the rights of Internet users.

The proposed policy also threatens to extend unrelated concepts derived 
from commercial trademark law onto non-commercial expression, but domain 
names are distinct from trademarks in significant ways. Trademark rights 
only regulate a particular type of commercial speech, but ICANN policy 
could expand trademark restrictions onto non-commercial expression and 
prevent online criticism of companies and products.

In a 27 June workshop at the San Juan ICANN meeting, a distinguished 
panel of legal and technical experts addressed these issues including 
former ICANN Board Member and attorney Michael Palage, who co-authored a 
2006 essay “Please, Keep the Core Neutral”, which served as the 
inspiration for the coalition’s global petition.

The Keep the Core Neutral workshop was moderated by Robin Gross, IP 
Justice Executive Director and attorney who represents ICANN’s 
Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) on the GNSO Policy Council. The 
workshop was co-sponsored by NCUC and the At Large Advisory Committee 

University of Aarhus (Denmark) Professor Wolfgang Kleinwäechter offered 
a historical context of free expression issues both generally and 
specifically within ICANN. He explained international freedom of 
expression standards, particularly those derived from Article 19 of the 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, national limitations of those 
rights, and the limitations on those national restrictions.

An audience member took the microphone to express concern that if ICANN 
does not do the censoring for national governments on a global level, 
then repressive nations might use technical means to block access to 
gTLDs within their borders, and this would hurt free expression.

In response, Robin Gross explained that, "the point is not to encourage 
governmental censorship, but to recognize that we live in a world where 
that happens and we don't want to extend the censorship in one country 
to the rest of the world. Let's try to limit it as much as we can."

Syracuse University Professor and NCUC Chairman Milton Mueller argued 
that national governments should negotiate international treaties if 
they wish to form a global consensus on policy, and that if they could 
not do that, then ICANN was not a legitimate venue to short-cut the 
creation of global policy that cannot be reached by legitimate political 

International trademark law expert Christine Haight Farley, a law 
professor at American University, explained that trademarks differ 
markedly from generic domains in that trademark rights are regionally 
defined and apply only to specific markets, while domains are globally 
accessible. Professor Farley also noted that trademarks are dependent on 
consumer expectations and that legal remedies turn on the subjective 
response to a trademark rather than objective characteristics. She added 
that trademark rights are inherently contextual -- rather than absolute 
rights to prevent others from using words altogether.

Northeastern University Professor of Law Wendy Seltzer compared Internet 
core neutrality to the broader ‘net neutrality’ issue which offers a 
model for a "thin" process at the center of the Internet to maximize 
innovation at the edges of the Internet and minimize the "chilling 
effects" that result from a "race to the bottom" of permissible expression.

Technologists Ram Mohan, CTO of Afilias Limited from India, and Tan Tin 
Wee, Professor at National University of Singapore, argued that a 
well-defined gTLD process was important in order to move forward toward 
a unified protocol for defining international domain names that use 
non-Western characters, such as Chinese, Arabic, etc., and enable 
speakers of non-Western languages to use the Internet as readily as 
Western Internet users.

The Keep The Core Neutral Coalition is spear-headed by ICANN’s 
Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) and is open to additional 
members over the coming months. The global petition will be delivered to 
the ICANN Board of Directors as it prepares to vote on its final new 
gTLD policy. Individuals and organizations are invited to join the 
coalition and sign the petition to protect free expression on the Internet.

The Keep the Core Neutral petition is available in English, Spanish, 
French, and Portuguese language translations on the campaign web site at:

Additional information:

Transcript of Keep the Core Neutral Workshop:

Webcast of Keep the Core Neutral Workshop:

Essay: “Please, Keep the Core Neutral” by Mike Palage and Avri Dori:


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