The spoils of separation


For the general public registration of Internet addresses in Cyrillic script did not start at the end of March as was expected, but was postponed for another 6 weeks.

Sunrise registration, when only trademark holders and state enterprises can buy domain names, still goes on. For the rest it is another chance to stop and think: what an interesting time there is ahead, time for a great grab.

Five months ago at its annual meeting in Seoul the global internet regulator ICANN voted that domain names should be allowed in Cyrillic and several other non-Latin scripts. This decision has paved the way for the Domain Name System (DNS), a sort of Internet phonebook, to start recognising Internet addresses in Russian. So, instead of we shall soon have мойдомен.рф, an obvious advantage for those who do not read English.

Russian internet users are comparatively few: less than 50 million, which is only 3% of the web audience. Yet, they are probably the most fast growing segment of the net, building up an increasing percentage every year. In just a few years Runet will double or even triple. And it will do so by recruiting those who do not speak English, do not type in it, and do not wish to learn it.

While it is not the end of the English dominance on the net, nor even the beginning of the end, it is likely that instead of one Anglo-Saxon biased web there will be several, separated by language and cultural perceptions.

For cybersquatters, who buy domain names to resell, the change means enormous opportunities. Getting the right deal may make a fortune. In a sense, we are reliving our past. Picking the right address is no longer the matter of an ingenious guess or an entrepreneurial luck: we know how much each word is worth.

So, how will these assets be distributed? Are there any rules?

Trademark holders have a priority to register a similar domain. For some that will work; but not for all. ‘Trademark owners are often late in registering their trademarks as domains,’ says Vladimir Biriulin, a partner from Gorodissky and Partners, ‘and so they have problems later. The same will probably happen to the Cyrillic domains.’

Many trademark holders will not be able to use the sunrise period if their brands have not been registered in Cyrillic script. Daimler AG, for instance, would not have any special rights to words Мерседес-Бенц (Mercedes-Benz), unless they had already registered the Russian version of the brand.

Yet the main problem is words which are not trademarks but which are worth a fortune. Who should own domains like страховка.рф (insurance), ипотека.рф (mortgage), or, the most lucrative one, секс.рф (sex)?

What has been happening gradually so far - an evolution rather than revolution - will happen in Russia in a matter of weeks, perhaps days, or even hours. The language itself is for sale.


April 3, 2010
photo: alexcoolok -