In May 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) established significant changes in the way Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) are operated, expanding the options from the 22 domains available until then to a wide range of choices. According to the introductory section of the gTLD Applicant Guidebook, signed by then-President Rod Beckstrom, this would mark a "new phase of diversity in languages, participants, and business models on the Internet."
Domains known as "new gTLDs" are targeted at more specific activities, and expand the possibilities of identifying a website from its address. While the use of the .org gTLD defines that a website belongs to an organization in general, the new gTLD .church demonstrates that this organization is specifically a church, which enables new ways of categorizing a website, as well as increasing price competitiveness compared to old domains, due to the introduction of more alternatives in the market.
One point to note, however, is that the administration of these domains is not done centrally, but rather conducted by various non-ICANN affiliated companies and institutions selected one by one through an evaluation process for the granting of the domain. As there is the possibility of contestation by any third party during such a process, disputes between different stakeholders in some domains have been raised.
One of such cases is .music, one of the most contentious of the new domains. The gTLD associated with the theme of music was required by 8 different actors, including giants such as Google, but also collective initiatives such as Far Further. There are some divergent points among the multiple applications, but the most important is the discussion of whether or not names within that domain should be granted only to those websites that comply with Intellectual property laws. It is also discussed how much emphasis should be placed on this aspect.
It would be a notable event if the domain winner made such a commitment to the worldwide music community, because ICANN primarily has the role of only operating names and numbers without dealing directly with content issues. However, even indirectly, such domain names would target issues that go beyond ICANN's proposal to manage the so-called "logical layer" of the Internet.
The intentions of how a domain will be used are expressed through a document entitled Public Interest Commitments (PIC). This document may be submitted by the applicant to express to the community what their intentions are in relation to that gTLD. For example, owners of a fictitious .medic could claim that they will only allow identifiable individuals or institutions belonging to the health sector to use the domain, in what can be seen as an attempt to generate trustworthiness for the gTLD.
In the case of .music, three candidates, Top Level Domain Holdings Ltd., Famous Four Media, and Donuts, presented PICs, and others expressed through open letters their intention to have varied levels of commitment to combat the propagation of websites that infringe Intellectual property laws. It is interesting to note how an issue that would not initially apply to old gTLDs has become central to this case.
However, we need to question the rationale behind this defense. Is it the case that actors interested in distributing pirated files would actually make use of .music in an expressive manner? There seems to be no evidence for this, and the action has a largely preventive character on the part of the candidates to the domain. The imposition of this restriction on this particular gTLD would not change the rules of any other, just making it specifically not attractive to potential infringers of Intellectual property laws.
It is plausible to assume that such concerns are more like a smokescreen for the real interest of the candidates, which is to get hold of a gTLD that carries a powerful word of high value that can be applied to a great deal of situations. Even if there is genuine interest in protecting rights, it is hard to imagine that the matter of profit is not more important, which is natural of any business.
For the time being, .music remains out of operation, awaiting further deliberations to decide who will be your legitimate operator. It's up to time to say if it really will bring the returns imagined by the candidates, as it is still uncertain whether the new gTLDs will be accepted by the general public once they are being used widely. It is also interesting to continue to look at how content issues are approaching ICANN, whether or not the institution wants this to happen.