By Andrew Longstreth
(Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc may be setting the stage
for a court battle and a test of antitrust law if it is allowed
to go ahead with its plans to buy control of new Web address
suffixes such as .book and .author.
Publishers and authors have voiced concerns over plans by
the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to sell
control of book-industry-related domains, citing worries about
potential market abuses.
Scott Turow, lawyer, novelist and president of the Authors
Guild, wrote in a letter to ICANN that "(p)lacing such generic
domains in private hands is plainly anticompetitive, allowing
already dominant, well-capitalized companies to expand and
entrench their market power. The potential for abuse seems
Interviewed by Reuters on Tuesday, Turow, a partner at SNR
Denton, had no comment on a potential legal challenge.
But he voiced concern that .author would assume greater
relevance to the public than .com in searches for an author's
"It seems to make more sense to go to scottturow.author
(than to scottturow.com)," Turow said. "It's troubling to me
that I'm going to have to ask Amazon and pay them a fee."
Over the last seven years, ICANN has embarked on a process
of introducing more domain names to try to bolster competition
in that space. Last year it attracted 1,930 applications.
Applicants have to pass a rigorous process, and are expected to
start receiving their names this year.
Amazon has made applications for several dozen domain names,
according to ICANN's website, including .book and .author. Legal
experts suggest that authors and publishers could be among
potential plaintiffs who may bring an antitrust claim against
Amazon and ICANN over the sale of certain book-related domain
names. Other potential plaintiffs could also include Amazon's
competitors, states or the federal government.
One potential claim could be made under Section 7 of the
Clayton Act, which bars the acquisition of assets that could
substantially lessen competition or create a monopoly.
A key to making a Clayton Act claim challenging Amazon's
deals, according to Maurice Stucke, a professor at the
University of Tennessee College of Law, may be whether consumers
looking for books will prefer websites ending in .book over
If there is an expectation that .book will become the
preferred website ending for books, plaintiffs could allege that
the deal allows Amazon to extend or maintain its monopoly power
in online book retailing longer than it would be able to do
without the transaction. The claim could force a court to weigh
the market potential for untested domain names such as .book or
"We don't know what consumer behavior will be in the future
- how they'll react to having multiple registry names," Stucke
Amazon already has addressed some concerns voiced over its
proposed acquisitions. Stacey King, senior corporate counsel
with Amazon, argued in a letter to ICANN that expanding
alternatives to .com would benefit consumers. She also said that
historically generic terms used for domain names have not led to
"Why should a company be able to own 'widget.com' and not
'.widget?" King wrote. "Currently, .com may be considered more
'valuable' space, but that does not create a competition issue
for the owner of the generic second level domain."
An Amazon spokesman said the company had no additional
Allen Grunes, a partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
specializing in antitrust law, acknowledges that if plaintiffs
pursued a case against ICANN, it would have strong
"ICANN is going to say, 'We're opening up a whole bunch of
competitive alternatives,'" Grunes said. "'If a few of them are
tied up, what's the harm? You can't demand that we be perfect.'"
A spokesman for ICANN said that it cannot comment on any
If plaintiffs bring a Clayton Act claim to challenge
Amazon's acquisitions of book-related domain names, a key
precedent would be a 1963 Supreme Court case known as United
States v. Philadelphia National Bank, Stucke said.
Under that case's holding, Stucke said that the plaintiffs,
such as authors, would have to show that "not having the .book
or .author or .read would put them at a significant competitive
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