EFF and Public Knowledge released a whitepaper titled Which Internet registries offer the best protection for domain owners?
Top-level domains are the letters after the dot, like .com, .uk, .biz, or .mobi. In the Internet’s early days, those wishing to register their own domain name had only a few choices of top-level domain to choose from, such as .com, .net, or .org. In the past few years hundreds of new top-level domains have come onto the market (like .cool, .deals, and .fun), and there has never been more choice for domain name registrants.
But apart from choosing a name that sounds right and is easy to remember, a domain name registrant should also consider the policies of the registry that operates the domain, and those of the registrar that sells it to them.
It turns out that not every top-level domain is created equal when it comes to protecting the domain holder’s rights. Depending on where you register your domain, a rival, troll, or officious regulator who doesn’t like what you’re doing with it could wrongly take it away, or could unmask your identity as its owner—even if they are from overseas.
To help make it easier to sort the .best top-level domains from the .rest, EFF and Public Knowledge have gotten together to provide this guide to inform you about your choices. There’s no one best choice, since not every domain faces the same challenges. But with the
right information in hand, you’ll be able to make the choice that makes sense for you.
These are some of the main problems discussed in the whitepaper:
- Trademark Clearinghouse:
Unfortunately, the Trademark Clearinghouse admits many questionable entries into its database, with the result that legitimate domain registrants are prevented from registering domains during the sunrise period, or are needlessly frightened away from doing so during the subsequent Claims period. Because the contents of the Trademark Clearinghouse is kept secret, we do not know about all of the brands that have been spuriously registered there, but they are known to include generic words such as smart, hotel, one, love, cloud, london, luxury, and even “the”.
- New gTLDs:
For better protection against trademark bullies, you should generally avoid registering your domain in any of the new gTLDs, and be aware that it may be more difficult to successfully register in a Donuts domain.
- Copyright Bullies:
The most notable private copyright takedown policies are those that apply to the domain name registries Donuts and Radix, and their respective registrars. The U.S.-based Donuts controls almost 200 (240 now with the addition of Rightside’s extensions) new top-level domains including .movie, theater, and .company, while Radix, based in the United Arab Emirates, has nine including .tech, .press, and .site. In 2016 both registries announced partnerships with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to establish a Trusted Notifier Program to ensure that websites using domain names registered with them were not engaged in “pervasive illegal online piracy”.
For protection against copyright bullies, you should consider choosing a domain name operated by a registry that doesn’t have, and isn’t considering adopting, a streamlined policy to takedown domain names alleged to be associated with copyright infringement. This means avoiding the domains operated by Donuts and Radix.
- Protection against overseas speech regulators
For protection against overseas speech regulators, you should consider whether the country code domain registry based in your own country offers good protection for speech. Details of some of these are given in the table below. You should also look carefully at the policies of the gTLD registries, and consider avoiding those that allow an overseas “trusted notifier” other than a court to initiate a domain takedown process. Once again, an .onion domain offers the best protection, but also the least usability for the average Internet user.
- Privacy protection
To protect your privacy as a domain registrant, we recommend registering in a countrycode domain that doesn’t provide public access to domain registrant data, or registering a domain through a registrar that provides free privacy proxy services. Failing that, you
should consider paying for a privacy proxy service, or using a .onion domain, if you are able to operate your website over the less universally-available Tor network.
OnlineDomain.com has written in the past about the questionable practices followed by Donuts and Radix and their deals with Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA): Should Donuts or any other domain registry be the internet (copyright) police? Apparently others agree.
You can download the complete whitepaper that includes a very useful table here.