.CHURCH Launching September 17

The number of premium domain names available to churches and related religious organizations is about to increase significantly. On September 17, 2014, the domain name extension .church – a new alternative to domain name extensions like .com and .org – officially opens to the general public. As explained below, churches and related organizations should consider taking advantage of this new opportunity to expand the reach of their marketing and communication efforts. If your organization is interested in obtaining a .church domain name, such as www .YourChurchName.church, read on to learn about important and quickly approaching deadlines for .church.

.CHURCH Creates New Opportunities and Poses New Dangers for Churches and Other Religious Organizations

Today, nearly every church and religious organization has a web presence. For many, that presence is anchored by a website offering calendars, newsletters, and other important information. The most common way members and prospective visitors access a church’s website is by entering the church’s domain name into a web browser. In a way, knowing a church’s domain name is like receiving a room number when checking into a hotel. If you forget your room number, you may not find your room absent returning to the front desk and asking them to search their registration system based on your name. In the same way, when a potential web visitor forgets a church’s domain name, the would-be visitor may struggle to find the church's webpage. Although a person can search the Internet for your church’s website without knowing your domain name, the Internet is extremely crowded. By its very nature, the Internet presents opportunities for prospective visitors or members to become frustrated, confused, or simply distracted. On the other hand, when potential visitors can associate your church with an easy-to-remember domain name, they have a direct line to your website and, ultimately, to your church. This reality has made securing an easy-to-remember and aesthetically pleasing domain name a very significant communication and marketing tool.

The .church extension provides new opportunities for obtaining these “premium” domain names and gaining a foothold in cyberspace. At the same time, however, the new .church extension also provides opportunities for wrongdoers looking to abuse the trademarks, names, and goodwill of churches and related organizations. Even if your organization is not interested in using a .church domain name, it might consider “defensively” registering domain names that could be used by third parties to impersonate or criticize your church or organization.

The Structure of a Domain Name

Domain names have two parts: an “extension” or “generic top-level domain” (gTLD) and a “second-level domain.” The two parts are separated by a “dot” symbol. The second-level domain is the part to the left of the dot that is customizable. In many instances, churches use their church name as the second-level domain. The gTLD is the part to the right of the dot. Churches, like other organizations, may choose from only a limited number of gTLD options. The gTLDs most commonly used for church domain names are .com and .org. Although churches have long-used .com and .org domain names for lack of a better option, that trend is about to change—and savvy church administrators should take note.

The Coming Wave of .CHURCH Domain Names: the Deadlines You Need to Know

On September 17, 2014, the general public—including parties other than churches or religious institutions—can begin claiming (“registering”) new domain names with the gTLD .church. Because traditional gTLDs like .com and .org have been around for decades, most short or aesthetically pleasing domain names have long been taken. Domain names that include only the church name, such as churchofchrist.org, have higher traffic and are more highly sought and valuable than domain names that include locations and/or acronyms or symbols, such as coloradochurchofchrist.org or church-of-christNY.org. However, the availability of a new gTLD designed for churches and related organizations presents a fresh opportunity to claim premium domain names. In light of that opportunity, we anticipate a sizeable rush to register .church domain names when the new gTLD becomes available to the general public in September.

And we aren’t alone. Donuts Registry, the top-level organization responsible for allocating the .church domain name, anticipates a rush too. To prepare for the rush, Donuts is offering an advanced “sunrise registration period” for trademark owners who have participated in ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse.” The Trademark Clearinghouse (“TMCH”) is a mechanism designed to protect trademark rights. Any owner of a U.S. or foreign trademark registration may record its registered trademarks with the TMCH. The principal benefit of recordal with the TMCH is the ability to secure .church domain names identical to the recorded trademark(s) prior to the public opening of .church. The TMCH also provides other benefits for trademark owners, such as access to a notification system that alerts an owner when someone registers a domain name identical to the owner’s trademark. The sunrise registration period for .church is currently open and runs until September 6, 2014. Organizations with U.S. trademark registrations should seriously consider participating in the TMCH and the sunrise registration period.

Following the sunrise registration period, another advanced registration period called the “landrush registration period” will open. Unlike the sunrise registration period, which is reserved for owners of U.S. or foreign trademark registrations, the landrush registration period will allow anyone willing to pay a premium fee to claim a church domain name before they become available to the general public. The premium fee for registering a domain name during the period varies depending on how far the desired registration date is from the September 17, 2014 launch. The fee is a staggering $12,000 on the earliest day of the landrush period, September 10, 2014, but drops to $129 on the final day before the gTLD opens to the general public, September 16, 2014. Organizations that do not own U.S. registrations for their trademarks or names should consider participating in the landrush registration period. The landrush registration period may be particularly useful for churches that share a name in common with several other churches (e.g., First Christian Church). That said, administrators should weigh the benefit obtained from securing a .church domain name against the increased cost of seeking a landrush registration.

A final and less expensive alternative is to “preregister” a .church domain name through an accredited registrar. Preregistration does not secure a domain name in advance like sunrise and landrush registrations, but it does ensure that your order will be instantly processed when the .church gTLD opens to the public on September 17, 2014 (assuming that your order is the first order received for the domain name). Preregistration for a domain name does not guarantee you the domain. The domain may have been registered during the sunrise or landrush registration period or a third party may have preregistered for the domain before you. However, preregistration is inexpensive, with an average cost around $30.

We reiterate that churches and related organizations uninterested in claiming a .church domain name as a communication and marketing tool should still consider securing .church domains for defensive reasons. By securing control over domain names containing institutional names and other trademarks, churches can better prevent unauthorized third parties from registering the domain names and using them to display disparaging content or to unfairly benefit from the goodwill associated with the names or trademarks. Defensively registering a domain name is far cheaper than retrieving a domain name from a third party that has already secured and used it in bad faith.

Other New gTLDs on the Way

Other potential new gTLDs of interest to religious institutions, including .catholic, .islam, .halal and .kosher, are also on the way. We will keep you updated on the status of these gTLDs should ICANN approve them for launch.

Please contact Nate Edwards or Kyle Siegal with any questions regarding the .church gTLD and ICANN’s New gTLD Program, or with general questions about Internet, trademark, copyright, or patent law.