We are currently in the midst of trying to re-obtain an expired .ca domain for one of our customers. This particular individual decided many years after a re-branding they no longer needed their old domain name and let it expire. Letting your domain expire is typical, getting it back is hard, CIRA is now making it close to impossible.
Most times a domain squatter will pick up one of these domains and advertise something benign something totally harmless like backpacks, school supplies or baby products. Although they can also host not so benign material. The particular domain squatter that grabbed this domain decided on some rather obscene content instead. The former holder being a family oriented business was shocked when customers started calling and asking why some web searches were taking them to this material.
In hurried panic we were brought in, our first step was to establish trademark rights. Did the customer own the trademark to the name itself? A little bit of digging and the whirl of our fax machine shortly produced a collection of legal documents showing the customer in fact owned the trademark completely and outright. The problem now seems like an easy win. Contact the domain holder, present the documents showing trademark, and pay their modest ransom fee to re-obtain the domain. As we found out, not so easy.
CIRA has decided recently to offer domain privacy as an option. On it’s face this is great, it stops you from being spammed, it stops other registries from sending the less tech savvy domain holders misleading renewal bills. However these protection must be balanced with the legitimate need of the Public to know who is behind a particular domain. For instance, the if domain operator has registered a domain in bad faith and is damaging the trademark holders name and reputation with obscene content one needs this information in order try and resolve the problem in any method short of a full blown lawsuit.
Going to the Registry of the domain obviously get’s you sent back to CIRA, which does offer a privacy bypass contact form on their site. Using this form you may contact the domain holder, without any of their information being revealed. The form even says that if the domain holder does not respond to contact CIRA after two weeks.This seems like a very fair and balance solution, it protects the majority but seems to indicate that one can still obtain the information if required through a two week waiting process and by going through CIRA directly.
After waiting those two weeks and getting no response we just found out that this is in fact a farce. We received this response from CIRA today.
“Individual registrant information is always private and will not be given out. You can try again to contact the registrant and hopefully they will reply. You message will be again forwarded to the Registrant’s Administrative Contact but CIRA cannot guarantee that messages will be read, and/or responded to.”
It appears that CIRA was not all that enlightened in doing it’s public duty. I’m not quite sure why they bother to even invite us to contact them after two weeks. It seems obvious that while a domain holder has a right to some privacy they also have an obligation to respond to these contacts, and if they fail to do so then they waive that right to privacy. Just as one can do a search in the public registry for who has registered a trademark, or corporation name, so too should one be able to search for who owns a domain.
Allowing domain holders to hide under a complete veil of secrecy invites all sorts of problems. As I stated earlier barriers to this information are fine and very much correct, but complete obstruction undermines the fact that this is ultimately public information. .CA is a domain property owned by Canadians, CIRA is a government body in charge or registration, and most importantly domains are publicly accessible portals.
We have a right to be able to know who is running these portals, and we shouldn’t have to resort lawsuits just to find out who is damaging a trademark. Why are we protecting the needs of domain squatters over the needs of legitimate business? Balance CIRA, balance!