Published 4 January 2016
The two gTLDs of .wine and .vin become available in January 2016. As well as having financial implications for the wine industry, some say it challenges national and regional classification systems too.
What is a gTLD?
Every website has a unique address (aka a ‘domain name’) which references a specific ‘resource’ on the Internet. The easiest way to think of a domain name is like an 0845 telephone number: when you dial one of these numbers, it routes the call to a specific location. Similarly, when you type in bigpinots.com into a web browser, you are directed to a specific place on the internet where this site’s code and content sits.
Domain names are set up in subordinate levels, with different people controlling them as you go down through the levels.
- At the top is Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): this nonprofic organisation oversees the whole system, deciding which names can be used in level 1 and which organisations are allowed to run them.
- Level 1: these are the last element of domain names (that is, the part after the final dot in the domain, such as .com, .gov, .us, .uk, .org) and are known as top-level domains (TLDs). They are split into various types, but most that you use are probably either country-based (such as .us, .au and .uk) or a ‘generic’ TLD (gTLD) such as .com, .org, .edu, .gov, .aero, .biz, .coop, .mobi.
- Level 2: these are addresses that are permitted by the controllers of the level 1 domain (that is, the TLDs).
- Level 3: these are the addresses that are permitted by the controllers of the level 2 domain.
- … and so on.
A simple example is this website: bigpinots.com
ICANN permits Verisign to run the .com TLD at level 1, and I bought the right to use bigpinots within .com from Verisign (level 2). As the owner of bigpinots.com at level 2, I could set up a subdomain at level 3, such as wine.bigpinots.com.
Until recently, there were only 22 gTLDs. In 2012, ICANN decided to relax their restrictions and invited applications for operators to propose essentially arbitrary words as gTLDs, including those containing non-Latin characters. On 13th June 2012, ICANN released details of who had applied for gTLDs: there were 1,930 applications, ranging from .aaa to .zulu – each application costing $185,000!
These applications included .wine and .vin
What is the significance of .wine and .vin?
Although typing in a new TLD may currently seem strange, you’ll probably get used to it. Whether consumers will expect to reach Berry Bros. at bbr.wine in the future remains to be seen. But, if you were in control of a large wine retailer, trade association (e.g. The Comité Champagne) or producer (e.g. Moet et Chandon), chances are you will buy the .wine and .vin domains out of a need for protection as you wouldn’t want a competitor to be taking any potential customers from you.
This risk of “cyber squatting” is what most people are unhappy about – especially regarding Geographical Indications (“GIs”). The Napa Valley Vintners, in 2013, said: “As ICANN prepares for the largest-ever expansion of the domain name system, the NVV is fearful of the new opportunities provided therein by nefarious actors intending to misappropriate the Napa Valley brand …”. In March 2014, The European Parliament got involved with similar concerns. However, despite all the discussions and pressure (from the European government, European Commission, the US Dept of Commerce and trade groups), there appears to be no agreement from the new owner of .wine or .vin to protect GIs.
Who controls the .wine and .vin gTLDs?
Although there was a three-way battle for both .wine and .vin, both were won by a start-up called Donuts. Donuts allegedly applied for 307 gTLDs after securing over $100m from private investors. The co-founders originally came up with a list of 3,000 prospective domain names: “We made a long list of dictionary terms, in multiple languages and character sets. We created our own proprietary way of valuing the [gTLDs], and that helped us narrow it down. But 307 is still a lot, obviously”, said Daniel Schindler (EVP at Donuts). I think we can assume that they are not specialists in the areas that they now control.
According to icannwiki, Donuts intends to implement an “open Internet philosophy” meaning that they won’t be restricting who can register domains under .wine and .vin. Donuts’ CEO, Paul Stahura, is quoted as saying “The Internet is an engine of information, ideas and commerce, and one that’s not restrictive unnecessarily. Donuts intends to preserve that openness for all users, not operate a ‘by invitation only’ section of the Internet.”
Will Bordeaux have to register nearly 100 domains just to protect its region? Cyber-squatting could certainly be a problem (or business opportunity depending on which side you sit). Whilst nobody has registered medoc.com to take advantage of the GI, medoc.wine is certainly a more attractive domain.
ICANN has opened Pandora’s box. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.