Authors want a rewrite on Amazon's domain name grab

Amazon has grabbed a bunch of domains featuring generic terms related to publishing. But the giant book retailer also managed to collect something else in the process—the ire of authors and one of the last big-box booksellers left standing.

In the upcoming award round for generic domain names, Amazon has placed dibs on several publishing-related terms—.read, .book and .author.

If the overlords of the Internet—the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—give Amazon dominion over those names, anyone who wanted to have one of those extensions after its name would have to get the approval of the online retailer.

That will make an already bad competitive situation worse, Authors Guild president Scott Turow says.

“We strongly object to ICANN’s plans to sell the exclusive top-level domain rights for generic book-industry terms, such as .book, .author, and .read,” Turow wrote in a letter to ICANN.

“Placing such generic domains in private hands is plainly anticompetitive, allowing already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and entrench their market power,” he continued. “The potential for abuse seems limitless.”

It’s understandable why there’s concern about Amazon owning these domains, noted R. Shawn Gunnarson, an attorney with Kirton McConkie in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“In the real world, if Amazon owns .book, it gives Amazon a significant competitive advantage over other online distributors,” he said in an interview.

But there are fairness issues involved, Gunnarson adds. Amazon obeyed the rules when it filed its applications. Why should it be punished now for doing that?

“The real issue here is whether or not there is so significant a concern with these names that it overcomes the basic unfairness of creating rules after the applications have been submitted,” he said. “The worry is that ICANN went through a significant internal process before announcing what rules they would apply, and it does seem unfair to change those rules midstream.”

Joining the authors in their opposition to Amazon’s book domain grab was Amazon rival Barnes & Noble.

Allowing Amazon to control generic terms will lead to “disastrous” consequences, not only for booksellers but for the American public, B&N company lawyers Eugene V. DeFelice and Bradley A. Feuer wrote in a letter to ICANN.

“If Amazon, which controls approximately 60 percent of the market for eBooks and 25 percent of the physical book market, were granted the exclusive use of .book, .read, and .author, Amazon would use the control of these TLDs to stifle competition in the bookselling and publishing industries, which are critical to the future of copyrighted expression in the United States,” the pair wrote.

They argued that if Amazon had control of the book domains it would be “free to exclude competitors and exploit the generic Book [top-level domains] for its sole benefit.”

“By having Amazon control these TLDs, creativity will be limited and content diversity threatened,” the lawyers continued.

“The solution,” they asserted, “is to deny Amazon’s closed TLD applications or in the alternative to require that Amazon operate such TLDs as open registries, allowing free access to competitors.”

Opposition to Amazon’s move isn’t coming only from America. Booksellers in Spain and publishers in France also oppose awarding the online retailer the generic domains.

It’s ICANN’s policy not to comment on specific applications.

Amazon has discounted the impact of its ownership of the book domains. “There is no evidence that past ‘closed’ domains have led to any market power,” Stacey King, an Amazon lawyer, reportedly told ICANN in a letter.

ICANN began accepting applications generic Top Level Domains (gTLD)in January 2012. The process hit a speed bump in April 2012 when a software glitch brought the application system down, but ICANN recovered from the snag and is currently reviewing some 1900 applications that it had received before the process closed in December.

Subscribe to the Today in Tech Newsletter

Comments