.AT Domain Names Face Limited Number Of Disputes, Finds Latest .AT Report

Austrian domain names are subjected to few disputes, with only 1200 domains disputed and of these, only ten per cent of disputes end up in court, the latest .at report notes. The third .at report in 2011 focuses on legal issues faced by the Austrian registry, including the impact of the global financial crisis that has seen the legal department facing an increase on the average of 2000 .AT domain names involved in insolvency proceedings each year.In addition, the growing awareness of the value of domain names means that the importance of domain names to business is increasing. This means disputes need to be handled carefully.The report outlines the procedures that are implemented when a domain name is disputed.”The report emphasises that the internet is not a ‘law free’ area and shows that in Austria the courts have learnt a lot in the last few years,” Richard Wein, general manager of, told the Goldstein Report. “This has meant that domain name registrants have a lot more security in knowing what their rights are.””It also means that we as a registry have a lot more certainty in how we go about our daily business, and in particular, how to apply existing laws to domain names.”The Austrian registry is a wholly owned subsidiary of Internet Foundation Austria (IPA), a non-profit foundation set up by Internet Service Provider Austria (ISPA) in 2000.The objective of the foundation is to support development of the internet in Austria, and to manage the top level domain .AT in trust for the general public.Disputes involving .AT domain names first see the disputed domain name put in a “wait” status while the parties negotiate an outcome, and if not, what a court determines. During this period the registrant retains ownership of the domain name, and it cannot be transferred to a third party, but the domain remains operational during this period.Since the year 2000, almost 1200 domain names have been put on a wait status while disputes are resolved. And the number of domain names entering this status declined in 2010, partly due to the administration of laws regarding domain names. And of all domain names entering wait status, around ten to 20 per cent end up being disputed in court.But winning a court case involving a .AT domain name does not mean transfer of the domain name to the party winning. This only happens where negotiations between the parties disputing the domain lead to settlement. At the end of a court case, the domain name is deleted and becomes available on a first come, first served basis.The downturn in the global economy has seen an increase in insolvencies in Austria that peaked in 2009, and on average each insolvency, where there are domain names involved, sees three domain names involved.
The latest .at report also asks Franz Schmidbauer, chair of the Domain Name Council and a judge in Salzburg, a few questions. Schmidbauer also runs the specialist website, (“internet4jurists”), with an extensive archive of material on domain name law in Austria.Schmidbauer says that in principle, law regarding domain names has been settled, but there are occasionally issues regarding rights to names, brands and trademarks that arise that have not been previously decided. He notes issues such as trademark protection as opposed to free expression of opinion in the case of domain names is one such area.Schmidbauer also recommends disputing parties to negotiate settlements rather than go to court, as this can be a time consuming process. He also believes disputes will rise when new gTLDs are introduced, and while WIPO will be able to resolve most disputes, it is likely courts in Austria will also be involved in such disputes more often.The latest .at report is available to download from the website here in English and here in German.