Domain Name Registration Rules: What Took You Guys So Long?

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Applications for registering domain names will face strict rules as the country intensifies its effort to fight against pornographic websites, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) has announced Friday.

Applicants for domain name registration will be required to hand in written application forms, with a business license and the applicant’s ID.

Liu Zhijiang, vice director of CNNIC confirmed the news saying that the administration was determined to screen the applicant’s qualifications strictly to stop individuals obtaining domain names using fake information. (China Daily)

Seriously, my first reaction to this new policy when it was announced last week was to wonder why it took so long to be passed. This is an obvious choke-point for government intervention and supervision of Net content. We’ve had registration rules for certain kinds of websites for almost ten years now, so going after “.cn” domains seems like a natural fit.

The goals here are twofold:

1. Keep Internet activity focused on commercial activities and basic information exchange (e.g. Xinhua and People’s Daily newsfeeds) as opposed to individual sites that deal with pornographic, political or otherwise harmful content (you can also add copyright infringement to the list).

2. Make sure that if a registrant does, at some point, break the content rules, the government can easily track the registrant down, get the content removed, and punish the site owner if necessary.

ISPs are supposed to have all this information, but they are notoriously bad at verification, keeping track of data and sharing it with others (e.g. copyright owners).

I know a lot of people that are, how should I put this?, displeased at the latest crackdowns involving domain names, mobile content, and file sharing sites. I don’t really like some of it myself, although I realize that there are quite a few methods that people will employ to sidestep these rules. Let’s face it, these days the only way to really stop someone from publishing information on a personal site is either block it directly or take away their credit card (give someone a credit card and national boundaries fade away dramatically).

I certainly understand the ramifications involving content control by the government. However, looking just at these domain name rules, this could actually help (a bit) in the fight against online copyright violations. If the registration system means that user information has been collected and is accurate, it would be much harder for anyone involved in the enforcement process to beg off, claiming that it’s too difficult to track down the perpetrator.

Do I believe that all of these new rules are motivated by copyright piracy concerns? To use a good Chinglish phrase: not even a little bit. In fact, I believe that IP enforcement is being used as a convenient justification for the latest round of policies.

All that being said, this could actually end up having a salutary effect, leading to less online copyright infringement. This depends, of course, on how this information will be collected and used.