The .za Domain Name Authority (.za DNA) has recently announced a formal, regulated process that aims to resolve domain name disputes without the need to employ a lawyer. This process came under fire for being too expensive, and may now be adjusted.

The minimum cost for a ruling on a domain name using this new process is R 10 000-00, which drew sharp criticism from some sources who said that it opens the door for extortion by unscrupulous domain name squatters.

Lodging a dispute with the Authority will cost between R10,000 for a one-adjudicator panel and R24 000 for a three-adjudicator panel which means that it may be cheaper and less cumbersome to offer a domain name squatter R 9500-00 for the domain name rather to go the formal route.

Hasmukh Gajjar, chairman of the .za Domain Name Authority, said that the .za DNA, together with the accredited service providers, will monitor this issue and consider any alterations or adjustments that may need to be made. Gajjar is however still confident that the current system will benefit the industry.

“We firmly believe that many rights holders will take a principled approach now that a quicker and relatively inexpensive mechanism is in place for domain name dispute resolution, rather than submitting to extortion by abusive registrants. We would encourage them to do this, in order to protect their rights. This will also allow the Authority, together with the accredited service providers, to assess the number and nature of complaints,” he said.

“However, where there is not a clear cut case of an abusive registration, but rather of potentially competing rights, the introduction of the ADR process may have the benefit of helping establish the value of contended domain names at below R10 000. Secondly, the accredited dispute providers may (in terms of their supplemental rules) allow for multiple complaints by a single complainant. If this is allowed, an entity with 10 complaints could conceivably have them considered together (subject to such supplemental rules) thus paying R1 000 per domain alleged to be abusively registered,” Gajjar continued.

“Unlike court cases, the arbitrators cannot make damages awards against registrants - so the cyber squatters get a free ride and the complainants must fork out the money, regardless of whether the dispute is decided in favour of the complainant or not,” said online law expert Reinhardt Buys from Buys Inc.