Following India’s objection to Chrysler’s application to register the communally sensitive website domain name, .ram, the global auto giant has proposed to sign an agreement to use the domain with caution, in view of the sensitivity attached to the name.
Chrysler, which sells a range of vehicles under the name of Ram trucks, had filed an application to register the domain name with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) last year. However, on receiving India’s objection, a team from the company recently flew down to the country and met officials of the department of electronics and information technology.
According to a senior government official directly aware of the matter, Chrysler has proposed to sign an agreement with the government that it will not further sell the .ram domain name to anyone if it registers it. It has also agreed to take down the website if the Indian government finds its string objectionable.
“What if someone registers a domain name such as www.sex.ram? It could create a lot of communal tension in the country,” the official added, justifying the government’s objection to the allocation of the domain name. “We are deliberating on the issue internally to decide whether India should sign such an agreement,” said the official wishing not to be named.
In an emailed response, a Chrysler spokesperson confirmed the development. “Chrysler Group LLC takes India’s concerns very seriously, and we appreciate the government’s willingness to discuss the matter. The company hopes an agreement can be reached that adequately addresses the government’s concerns but still allows Chrysler to register and operate ‘.ram’ for legitimate business purposes,” the company said in a statement.
The government has also raised serious objections to the bids of some foreign agencies to register with ICANN domain names such as .islam, .bible and .halal. According to it, these domain names, if allocated and misused by using demeaning prefixes, could potentially pre-empt religious tensions.
The reason for objecting to the .ram domain name, according to India, is that Ram is worshipped as a Hindu God and is the hero of the Ramayana, an epic of the country. “Under Indian Trade Mark Act Section 9(2) clearly mentions that a mark shall not be registered if it contains or comprises of any matter likely to hurt the religion susceptibilities of any class or section of the citizens of India, we believe the gTLD (general top level domain) string “.ram” should be set aside by ICANN.”
These domain names are being administered by ICANN as part of a global process to award gTLD names that could be anything from the name of a company to a country to a sport or an object. So far, ICANN has received 1,930 applications — 20 of those from India — for names including .tata, .infosys and .hdfc.
In the past, there have been several protests in the country over religious content being posted online. The most recent example is the one concerning the Northeastern states that led to a major exodus of residents of these states from other parts of the country.
According to industry experts, India may be able to win this battle over domain names but it may not be possible for it to skim through every piece of content on the internet and prevent communal tensions.
Parminder Jeet Singh, executive director of IT for Change, a technology research and advocacy firm, supported the move. “Caution has to be exercised in such matters as the internet will become mainstream even in villages in the next five years. If negative messages are sent from domains such as .hindu or .islam, it might have serious law-and-order implications.”
The process of registration of customised domain names started last year. ICANN has provided a window to raise objections to specific applications and a dispute-resolution mechanism.
While ICANN did not specifically comment on the application for .ram, ICANN’s Director of global media affairs, Brad White, said in an emailed response that an applicant would be given the domain names only if it prevailed in all dispute-resolution proceedings.
“As a result of a dispute-resolution proceeding, either the applicant will prevail (in which case the application can proceed to the next relevant stage), or the objector will prevail (in which case either the application will proceed no further or the application will be bound to a contention-resolution procedure),” he added.
The government official added that the government of the UAE had also objected to the registration of .islam and .halal by a private agency and the matter would be taken up in a meeting next month in South Africa.