This article summarises the development of the domain name regimes in China and Hong Kong in the past 12 months and gives a quick overview of the new measures and policies adopted by the respective administrative bodies, i.e. China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC) and Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation Limited (HKIRC).

Internationalised Chinese Domain Names

Internationalised Domain Name Country Code Top Level Domains (IDN ccTLDs) ".?? (meaning .CN)" and ".?? (meaning .HK)" were approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) at its meeting in Brussels in late June 2010.

CNNIC announced in August 2010 that the existing ".?? (meaning .CN)" domain names have already been included into the DNS root server system by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) as directed by ICANN. Users can now surf the Internet using Chinese anywhere in the world by keying in the relevant registered Chinese domain names at the address bar of the major browsers (excluding Google's Chrome and Tencent's TT).

Recently, HKIRC has also announced its plan to launch the new Chinese ".?? (meaning .HK)" internationalised domain name (IDN) in around February or March 2011. To prepare for the launch, HKIRC will no longer accept applications for Chinese .HK domain names from 18 January 2011 onwards. For all existing registrants of the Chinese .HK domain names (i.e. registrations prior to 18 January 2011), they will be automatically allocated a corresponding Chinese ".?? (meaning .HK)" IDN ccTLD for free after the launch.

Key Measures to Strengthen the Regulatory Framework of Domain Names/Websites in China

  1. Obscene/Illegal Content Complaint Mechanism - Since 10 December 2009, CNNIC has set up a domain name complaint centre to receive complaints about undesirable use of domain names (obscene or other illegal contents such as phishing websites) and illegal domain name registrations. Complaints can be filed by phone (24-hour hotline), fax or email. Unlike the traditional domain name administrative complaint procedure, no two-year limitation period is imposed.

  2. Verification of the Identities of Domain Name Owners - On 11 December 2009, CNNIC issued "The Notification about Further Enhancement of Auditing Domain Name Registration Information («????????????????????»)". New rules concerning domain name registration are implemented to further ensure the authenticity, accuracy and integrity of the domain name registration information. These have come into effect since 14 December 2009, details of which are set out below:
    • Each new domain name applicant is required to submit a formal paper based application (with full and valid contact details) within five days once the online application is completed. The supporting documents must include copies of the PRC Company Business Licence (??????), PRC Organisation Code Certificate (???????) and PRC ID card of the Administrative Contact Person. CNNIC appears to be making moves to limit future registration of domain names to local PRC companies only. From 14 December 2009 onwards, CNNIC no longer entertain domain name/keyword applications filed by individuals, even if they are local PRC citizens. Foreign companies are only allowed to register .CN and Chinese domain names as well as Internet and/or Wireless Keywords under the names of their subsidiaries or affiliate companies in China (if they have one).
    • For all existing registered domain names, the PRC domain name registrars have since December 2009 asked the registrants for copies of their identification documents (same as above) for verification purpose. Foreign companies may satisfy this requirement by providing a Certificate of Good Standing, a Business Registration Certificate, a Certificate of Incorporation or equivalent document (preferably accompanied with a Chinese translation). The documentation provided should bear a corporate seal or chop on the first page, otherwise it has to be notarised and legalised. If the existing registrant is an individual, the registrars will ask for a copy of his or her ID card, passport, or driving license.
    • The above identification documents are also required for a domain name renewal if they have not been submitted to the registrars for verification earlier. If the registrant is a foreign company, the PRC registrars may likely require the domain name(s) to be renewed in the name of the registrant's Chinese subsidiary or affiliate company instead. However, according to our experience, some registrars are less stringent and will allow a domain name to be renewed in the foreign registrant's own name.
    • On 11 February 2010, CNNIC issued another notification that the registrars should neither ask for any payment during the verification process nor request for any documents other than those required by CNNIC. More importantly, CNNIC requires the registrars to explain the verification procedures to the registrants clearly and guarantee the confidentiality of the registrants' identification documents.
    • CNNIC issued "The Notification about the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology's Request for Domain Name Registration Information Verification" («????????????????????????????») on 3 September 2010 and mandated that all domain name particulars had to be verified by 30 September 2010. Failure to meet this requirement may result in de-linking of such domain names with the domain name servers (i.e. suspension of DNS mapping) without prior notice.
    • According to our experience, if a domain name registrant fails to submit the required documents for verification:

      1. transfer of that domain name to another owner may be prohibited;
      2. transfer of that domain name from the existing registrar to another registrar may be prohibited;
      3. renewal of that domain name may not be allowed; and/or
      4. the WHOIS record of that domain name will be temporarily suspended.

  3. Web Security - On 30 January 2010, the PRC Ministry of Industry and Information technology (MII) issued "The Notification about Further Enhancement of Protective Measures of Domain Name System Security" («????????????????????») to all PRC ISPs, telecommunication operators, domain name registrars, related governmental or semi-governmental bodies (including CNNIC) urging them to take steps to strengthen domain name and web security. The MII expressly asks all the stakeholders to:
    1. enhance the domain name system generally and improve the efficiency of DNS resolution;
    2. fully implement the recordal measures (including the domain name owner identity verification and website recordal) and monitor and update the domain name registration particulars from time to time;
    3. monitor the domain name servers' operations, resolution rates, data flow, etc. to increase the capability to detect and prevent internet security events such as web attacks, unauthorised data modification, domain name hijacking, etc.;
    4. keep proper log records for better audit trail to facilitate future investigation; and
    5. prepare contingency plans for possible web/domain name security risks.

  1. Website Recordal & Verification of the Identities of Website Operators - The law requires that all PRC based websites (commercial or non-commercial) be duly recorded with the MII. The registration can be made via MII's website or through the local ISPs. On 23 February 2010, akin to the domain name owner identity verification process, CNNIC issued a tentative proposal setting out all the necessary requirements that the ISPs have to comply with in verifying the website operators' identities and particulars. These new measures have been fully implemented by the ISPs since July 2010.

New Internet Keyword/Wireless Keyword Dispute Resolution Policies

In late July 2010, CNNIC issued new dispute resolution policies for Internet Keywords and Wireless Keywords which came into effect on 29 August 2010. The key amendments are as follows:

  1. Imposing a time limit of two years upon registration for filing an administrative complaint with a dispute resolution provider (Art. 2 of the new policies).
  2. Refining the bad faith circumstances - mere offer for sale or sale of a domain name will no longer be treated as bad faith per se. It would only be regarded as bad faith if a keyword is offered for sale, or is sold or rented to the complainant or its competitor for unjustified profits (Art. 6 of the new policies).
  3. Specifying the circumstances in which the registrant will be taken to have legitimate interests in the keyword - e.g. the keyword has been used in connection with a bona fide supply of goods or provision of service; the registrant has already acquired a certain level of fame in respect of the keyword even though no trademark has been registered; or the keyword has been used reasonably or for non-commercial purpose and without intent to make commercial gains and to mislead consumers (Art. 7 of the new policies).

These amendments are to bring the Dispute Resolution Polices for Internet Keywords and Wireless Keywords in line with the policies for ".CN" and Chinese domain names currently in force.