In a world driven by digital presence, it is surprising to discover that many cherished regional products, protected as Geographic Indications (GIs), are noticeably absent from the online realm. Our recent research uncovers an intriguing reality: GIs, designed to safeguard the origin and quality of unique goods, have yet to establish a strong foothold as registered domain names in Europe. In this blogpost, we delve into the findings that shed light on this disconnect and explore the implications for both GIs and the digital landscape.
Unveiling the data: methodology and key insights
To better understand the relationship between GIs and registered domain names, we embarked on a thorough analysis. Our research methodology involved obtaining a comprehensive list of registered GI strings from the official EU eAmbrosia register.
For each name in the list, the cleaning and conversions were performed in order to allow them to be queried as a domain name (e.g. replacing spaces with hyphens and creating versions of the GIs without spaces and punctuation). A list of roughly 6000 strings was created from this process which were then queried by 22 CENTR member registries for their availability as domain names in their zones. This list of protected GIs in Europe formed the basis of our investigation into the digital representation of GIs in the European country code top-level domain registry (ccTLD) space.
As we combed through the data, several key insights emerged:
A startling absence: our findings revealed that 68% of the checked GI strings had no registered domain name matches*. This highlights a significant gap in the digital presence of GIs.
- Domain name matches: among the remaining 32% of GI strings (1,956) that did yield matches, a notable trend became apparent:
- The majority of GI strings (1,167) were matched to a single domain name, with most strings falling within the ccTLD of the corresponding country of GI registration.
- In limited cases (789) the GI term was matched to a domain name in more than one ccTLD.
- The power of short strings: an interesting observation arose when examining the domain name matches. It became evident that the most commonly matched GIs were characterised by short character strings (e.g. ‘Var’, ‘Leon’, ‘Port’).
- Limited association: A closer look at the matched domain names also revealed that many of them were unlikely to be associated with the intended purpose of the GI. The allure of short character domains seemed to overshadow any direct link to the specific GI (see case study below).
The shortcomings of GI domain name matches
One particular case study, that of ‘Var’, illustrates the complex dynamics between GIs and domain names. ‘Var’, associated with a French wine, generated numerous domain name matches. However, upon closer inspection, we discovered that most of these matched domain names had little to no connection to the wine itself.
For example, when visiting var.be, .var.ch, var.de and ‘var’ under other ccTLDs on a browser, most appear not to have any functioning web content or at most a registrar holding page (known as a ‘parked domain’). Even under the French ccTLD which the GI was applied to, var.fr is used as a source of information about the region of Var and not the wine.
The case of ‘var’ highlights the difficulty in drawing any link between a short word GI and a matched domain name. Short character domain names have been popular for decades as they are easy to remember and more visually appealing. In other words, a GI holder is not the only legitimate user of a matching domain containing a protected GI, especially when it contains the name of a region or other terms which are generic in nature.
The regulatory question
In light of our research findings, it becomes crucial to question the necessity of recently proposed EU legislation that would require domain name registries to create alert systems, notifying GI rightsholders when a GI is registered as a domain name. The limited interest from GI rightsholders in domain names, as demonstrated by our study, raises doubts about the proportionality of such systems, as their use cases will remain low, while the associated costs in developing and maintaining such systems will be excessive.
The absence of a widespread digital presence for GIs in the form of registered domain names indicates that GI rightsholders themselves may not perceive the need for extensive online representation within the domain name space. The low number of matches, particularly for longer and more specific GI strings, suggests that producers and organisations associated with GIs may be pursuing alternative avenues to promote their unique products.
Encouraging a balanced approach
The creation of a domain registration alert system for GI holders is unlikely to be helpful given the complexities in how character strings are registered as domain names. To illustrate, consider the term “Pâté de Campagne Breton” which is a registered French GI under the category of food. Putting aside for the moment the complexity of converting this term to a string which does not use special characters/accents such as ‘â’ and ‘é’ (some ccTLD registries do not support these special characters), there would be many variations of how this GI could potentially be registered as a domain name. This includes (but is not limited to):
Taken over a few thousand GIs, the list of variations would run into the hundreds of thousands and still not provide certainty. Even if an alert system were based only on key words found in the same domain name, i.e. if the words pâté, campagne and breton appeared, it would nevertheless not be efficient. A central contributing factor is the number of short character GIs such as Bito (an Italian cheese) or Dons (a Danish wine), which would create thousands of notifications to process. Now, imagine for a moment the number of possible domain names that might be associated with the following GI: ‘Mantequilla de l’Alt Urgell y la Cerdanya’. With GIs like this, it is little wonder that few have clear matching domain names.
Another issue with the creation of an alert system is that it places the responsibility of how GIs could potentially be represented as domain names on centralised bodies within the EU, rather than on the GI holders who are likely to have much better localised knowledge of how their GIs are and should be represented. It would be more effective if GI holders were to use existing tools on the market to check the availability of names.
More awareness on the possibility for GI holders to register domain names and extend their regional identity online is a more appropriate way to promote GI diversity online.
The current state of GIs and their limited presence in registered domain names suggests that proposed legislation mandating alert systems for GI registrations are disproportionate. Our research findings demonstrate the limited interest from GI rightsholders in domain names, highlighting the need for a balanced approach to promoting and protecting GIs in the European domain name space. If the holder of a registered GI wishes to consider options in domain name registrations, they would be better off using existing services in domain availability tools to search for names they consider relevant to their registration. By fostering collaborative efforts and targeted initiatives, we can better showcase the unique products and cultural heritage associated with GIs, without placing unnecessary burdens on domain name registries.
* A match was achieved when an input string was matched to a domain name in one or more ccTLDs. The input string list was based on a prior conversion of Geographic Indication terms to strings which could be registered as a domain name. For example, the GI “Choucroute d'Alsace” was converted to: ‘choucroutealsace’ and ‘choucroute-alsace’ which were then searched as domain names in the ccTLDs.