DNS: DNS litigation Issues

DNS: DNS litigation Issues

From: Geoff Huston <gih§telstra.net>
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 1996 14:11:58 +1000
Here's a draft - comments welcome


Internet Domain Names

With the increasing levels of awareness of the commercial possibilities
inherent in a public data network, heralded by the recent heightened
awareness of the Internet, the issue of the governance of the name
infrastructure of the Internet within Australia is exhibiting signs of
growth-related stress.

The Internet itself uses unique 32 bit numeric address values within the
underlying IP data protocol to identify connected Internet host systems.
The allocation of these numeric values is undertaken under the authority of
the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) which undertakes this
function using a regional delegation model, which in turn assigns address
blocks to Internet Service Providers for ultimate assignation to end
subscribers. These addresses are commonly denoted using a 'dotted quad'
syntax, such as,
to denote the 32 bit value.

However these numeric addresses are not commonly used by end user
applications. These applications use a domain name syntax to provide
alphanumeric aliases for the underlying numeric addresses. This name space
is referred to as the "Internet Domain Name System" (DNS). This name space
is a hierarchically defined space, where at each level further
sub-hierarchies can be defined using a right-to-left hierarchy designation
with the "." character used as the hierarchy delimiter. Thus the domain
name "host.acme.com" indicates a top level hierarchy of "com", a second
level delegation of "acme" and a third level delegation of "host".

The initial top level delegations are managed by the IANA, and subsequent
name hierarchy levels are managed through a delegation process, where a
Designated Administrator manages all entries in the designated level of the
hierarchy and undertakes further sub-delegations as necessary. This
delegation also includes the delegation of determination of appropriate
policies which allow entries to be added into the name space at the
delegated level of the hierarchy.

The top level name delegations in use today break down to two major
categories: the so-called International Top Level Domains (iTLDs) and the
national Top Level Domains (nTLDs). The major active iTLDs in use today are
".net" and ".com", both  operated by Network Solutions Inc, under the terms
of a cooperative agreement with the US National Science Foundation.
National top level domains are assigned to national entities in line with
the ISO standard ISO 3166, using the international two letter country
designators. These nTLDs are delegated to appropriate bodies who can
undertake domain name delegation within each country.

In 1988 the ISO 3166 two letter code for Australia, ".au" was delegated by
IANA to Robert Elz, of the Computer Science Department, University of
Melbourne. At the time Robert managed the Internet electronic mail gateway
between the Australian Internet email community and the larger
international  Internet email systems then in use. This delegation has
remained with Robert Elz to the present. Major second level delegations
were undertaken to define distinct name spaces educational bodies
(".edu.au"), government bodies ("gov.au"), commercial bodies (".com.au")
and network service providers (".net.au"). This delegation structure is
broadly similar to that undertaken within many other nTLDs, and name
delegation was undertaken by voluntary Domain Name Administrators on a free
of charge basis.

With the increasing level of awareness of the Internet within Australia the
level of activity within the domain ".com.au" has increased dramatically,
and currently some 10,000 name delegations have been undertaken within this
domain. This growth in the demand level of ".com.au" domain names has
highlighted two major shortcomings  of this volunteer structure:

1. the level of activity to undertake name registration has overwhelmed the
capacity of voluntary effort, and

2. the use of a single name space for commercial entities within Australia
has lead to a number of disputes of the use of a domain name, and the
position of the Domain Name Administrator with respect to potential
liabilities in undertaking this function is very unclear.

In response to these shortcomings on 1 November 996 Robert Elz re-delegated
the ".com.au" domain name to Melbourne IT, who have undertaken this
function on a fee for service basis. This was undertaken after a 4 month
long process of industry consultation, under the auspices of a DNS Summit,
hosted by the Internet Service Providers' Industry Association, INTIAA.

However this is not a stable longer term solution to the current
shortcomings of the DNS Domain Administration function. While the fee for
service structure allows the use of full time staff to process the requests
in a timely fashion, the issue of legal liability of the Domain Name
Administrator in undertaking the function remains unclear.

The fundamental cause of this shortcoming is the implicit  assumption that
the Internet Domain Name environment is not considered to be an
authoritative name source, and litigants can cite the actions of other
public name allocation  authorities as some form of overriding legitimacy
of exclusive right to a name and claim damages against the operators of the
domain name system. This is a flawed environment, and can only be addressed
by a  fundamental shift within the public regulatory environment to allow a
managed framework of registration of Internet Domain Names, where due
adherence to the defined framework will ensure that the process creates a
name authority for the a name which is functionally independent of any
other means of citation of authority to use a name.

Thus the process of assigning an Internet  Domain Name to an entity (on the
basis that the name has not been already assigned to any other party, that
the bona fides of the applicant had been established, the appropriate fees
(if stipulated) had been paid and the relevant administrative policy and
process for the .com.au domain space had been strictly followed should be
an act which does not incur a subsequent liability on the part of the
.com.au Domain Name Administrator or the operators of an electronic Domain
Name Registry.

This does require some form of public instrument to effect this critical
change in recognising the authenticity of the Internet Domain Name
environment as a public name authority in its own right. It is noted that
such public recognition of the activity may be accompanied by operation of
the process by a duly created operating entity as a component of government
administration, or it may be accompanied by a process of more formal
delegation the responsibility for the operation to duly authorised bodies.
Either approach would be a significant step forward in preserving the value
and utility of the ".au" name domain over the current situation, as it
would add a visible line of derivation of authority within a process where
the ultimate functionality of the Internet domain name system is the
foremost concern and the integrity of that functionality would be best
safeguarded through such measures.


Network Technical Manager    Locked Bag 5744,
Telstra Internet             Canberra  ACT  2601

ph  +61 6 208 1908
fax +61 6 248 6165

And as a quick postscript to those cut and paste reporters lurking
out there...

Copyright of this message is asserted by Geoff Huston
Permission to reproduce this message in whole or in part in any medium
other than the Internet is expressly NOT provided by the copyright owner.
Received on Mon Dec 09 1996 - 15:34:13 UTC

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