Citation(2002) 14 SAcLJ 85
Published date01 December 2002
Date01 December 2002

1 Internet domain name disputes present interesting legal problems because of the way the Internet works.

2 The facts of Viacom International Inc v Elitist Technologies Co Ltd,1 the first case to be dealt with under the Singapore Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, clearly illustrate this.

3 The complainant was an entertainment company incorporated in the State of Delaware, USA, with its principal place of business in New York, USA. One of its divisions, MTV Networks, operated “MTV: Music Television”, a widely distributed television programming service that featured entertainment oriented television programmes. The complainant was also the registered proprietor of various trade marks incorporating the initials “MTV”.

4 The respondent was a company incorporated in Taiwan. It had registered the domain name “” with the Singapore ccTLD2 domain name registration authority, and was using the domain name for a website providing an e-mail service and links to certain entertainment websites. Internet users from around the world were potentially able to access the respondent’s website through their Internet web browsers by typing the URLs3“” or “”.

5 The complainant wished to have the domain name “” transferred to it. The respondent did not agree to the transfer.

6 If the complainant was considering litigation, it would have to address the following questions:

  1. (1) In which jurisdiction should proceedings be brought, bearing in mind the different nationalities of the complainant, the respondent and the domain name registration authority, and the fact that the respondent’s website was potentially accessible by Internet users from around the world?

  2. (2) Would the domain name registration authority be bound by the judgment of a court in a different jurisdiction from that in which the domain name registration authority was located?

  3. (3) Must the domain name registration authority be made a party to the litigation?

  4. (4) What should the proper law for the determination of the dispute be?

  5. (5) What cause of action, if any, did the complainant have against the respondent?

7 The complainant would also want to consider whether there were any effective alternatives to litigation.

8 Suppose that the disputed domain name was not “” but “”. “.com” is a gTLD4 for which the central authoritative database is operated by USA-based VeriSign Global Registry Services. Would those questions be answered in the same way?

9 This paper considers some of these issues. The paper begins with an introduction to the Domain Name System and explains how domain name disputes arise. Next, the paper discusses the different domain name dispute resolution mechanisms that are available. In particular, the paper considers the legal and jurisdictional problems associated with litigation. The paper also discusses two dispute resolution mechanisms that have been developed to try to circumvent these problems, namely, the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy and the Singapore Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. The paper discusses the position as at 25 May 2002.

An Overview of the Domain Name System
The Internet

10 The Internet refers to the global network of interconnected host computers that communicate using the TCP/IP protocol.

11 A protocol is a set of rules on how to transmit data. IP or “Internet Protocol” provides a mechanism for sending packets of data from one computer to another. TCP or “Transmission Control Protocol” provides the mechanism that ensures that data transmitted from one computer to another is in fact received by the second computer. If a packet of data is lost in the course of transmission, TCP will cause the packet of data to be re-sent. The TCP/IP protocol allows different computers to transmit data to each other reliably.

12 Data on the Internet is provided by host computers that are connected to the Internet throughout the day.

13 Every host computer on the Internet must have a unique IP address to enable it to be contacted. Presently, an IP address consists of four numbers ranging from 0 to 255, separated by periods, e.g.

14 Although IP addresses provide a convenient, compact representation for specifying the source and the destination for packets of data sent across the Internet, Internet users prefer human-friendly and pronounceable names to identify computers on the Internet as these are easier to remember. Domain names serve this function.

Domain Names

15 A domain name is a textual address for a location on the Internet. Domain names correspond to IP addresses. Examples of domain names include: “” (for the Supreme Court, Singapore), “” (for the Singapore Academy of Law), “” (for the National University of Singapore) and “” (for Yahoo! Inc).

16 A domain name such as “” has three components. Moving from right to left:

  1. (1) the first component (sg) is a Top Level Domain or “TLD”, which, in this case, is the country code Top Level Domain or “ccTLD” for Singapore;

  2. (2) the second component (edu) is a Second Level Domain, and this reflects the nature of the organisation registering the domain name, which, in this case, suggests that the registrant is an educational institution; and

  1. (3) the third component (nus) is the Third Level Domain, and this is what the organisation registers with the “.sg” domain name registry.

17 Host computers of organisations affiliated with the National University of Singapore can be named as subdomains of the domain name “” to show that these organisations are affiliated with the National University of Singapore. For instance, the Law Faculty’s host computer has the subdomain name “”.

18 A domain name such as “” has two components. Moving from right to left:

  1. (1) the first component (com) is a global or generic Top Level Domain or “gTLD” which, in this case, suggests that the registrant is a commercial organisation; and

  2. (2) the second component (yahoo) is the Second Level Domain that the organisation registers with the “.com” domain name registry.

19 A domain name should be distinguished from a hostname such as “”. A domain name is the textual address of the location of a set of computers. A hostname is the name of a host computer that resides within the “” domain. It is common practice to have Internet web servers running on host computers with hostnames beginning with “www” (for “world wide web”).

20 A domain name should also be distinguished from a URL such as “”. URL stands for “Universal Resource Locator” or “Uniform Resource Locator”. A URL refers to the location (in textual form) of a particular document (such as a webpage) on the Internet. Since the document resides on a particular computer, both the domain name and the hostname often appear as part of the URL.

The Domain Name System

21 As computers only understand numerical IP addresses while Internet users remember textual domain names, hostnames or URLs, there must be a record that computers can refer to that maps “” to a specific IP address before Internet users can access that particular webpage.

22 The Internet Domain Name System (“DNS”) is a set of databases that help to establish Internet connections by translating domain names into IP addresses. These databases are located in name servers that are distributed throughout the Internet. Name servers are computers that map domain names into IP addresses. Root name servers provide authoritative information on the identities of other name servers that provide authoritative

information on Top Level Domains or “TLDs”. The authoritative name servers for TLDs in turn identify the name servers that provide information on the lower level domains.

23 When an Internet user types a URL such as “” in his web browser, his computer sends a query to the local name server to which his computer is connected. If the local name server has the corresponding IP address, this will be provided to the user’s computer, which will then contact “” directly using the IP address provided. If the local name server does not have the corresponding IP address, it will send the query to a root name server. The root name server will direct the local name server to the authoritative “.com” TLD name server. The local name server then sends the same query to the authoritative “.com” TLD name server. The authoritative “.com” TLD server will provide the local name server with the correct IP address, and the local name server will in turn transmit this information to the user’s computer. The user’s computer will then contact “” directly using the IP address provided.

24 The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (“IANA”) is the authority responsible for the day-to-day administration of the DNS. IANA carries out the administrative responsibilities for the assignment of IP addresses, TLDs and other parameters of the DNS and its protocols. These Internet technical management functions of IANA were previously performed by a contractor engaged by the United States government.

25 In 1998, the United States government issued a policy statement to initiate the transfer of the IANA technical management functions from the United States government to the private sector. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) was formed as a non-profit, private sector organisation in October 1998 to take over the IANA functions. ICANN also coordinates the operation of the root name server system and is responsible for making policies concerning the DNS. Unlike the previous operators of IANA, ICANN does not receive payment from the United States government for its services in running the IANA functions. Instead, ICANN is funded...

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