US Congress takes aim at Whois false information problem

Trademark owners have been waging war against the proliferation of false contact information in the publicly accessible Whois database, which can impede the ability of intellectual property owners to enforce their rights by making it difficult, if not impossible, to contact the registrants of domain names containing their protected marks.

In response to the problem, Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and Howard Coble (R-NC) have introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives to increase the penalties against internet users who knowingly submit incorrect contact information when registering web addresses. The bill provides that:

"Whoever knowingly and with intent to defraud provides material and misleading false contact information to a domain name registrar, domain name registry or other domain name registration authority in registering a domain name shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."

On May 22 the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property heard testimony on the accuracy and integrity of the Whois database; the witnesses testified as to the significance of current, accurate and complete data. Federal Trade Commission Chairman J Howard Beales emphasized the importance of accurate data to the commission's internet investigations. Berman and Coble expressed frustration at the lack of action by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers in addressing the false contact information problem.

The experiences of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) exemplify the problem. The OECD recently won a battle to regain control of its French language website 'OCDE.org' from a notorious cybersquatter. Instead of bringing a Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy complaint against the cybersquatter, the OECD requested that NameScout, registrar of the domain name, initiate the false contact procedures detailed in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement. The registrant was given 15 days to correct the invalid data. When it failed to do so, NameScout cancelled the registration and returned the domain name to the OECD.

The Berman-Coble bill has now been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, with additional hearings expected later this month.

James L Bikoff and Patrick L Jones, Silverberg Goldman & Bikoff, Washington DC

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