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A domain name dispute is a legal complaint made on the grounds that a domain name (a proprietary string of language that is registered and recognized by the Domain Name System) has been inappropriately and illegitimately used or assigned. Domain names are typically legitimized on the basis of trademark law, which frames the manner in which domain name disputes are generally validated and resolved.
The Domain Name System (DNS) was invented by a computer scientist named Paul Mockapetris in 1983. Mockapetris was given the task of figuring out how to improve ARPANet’s existing name and address system, which at the time was overseen by the Network Information Center at the Stanford Research Institute. The new Domain Name System differed from ARPANet’s earlier model in that it was automated (rather than managed by a technical staff) and it distributed its tasks over a much larger network of servers (SRI tracked its names and addresses on a single master file that was distributed and collectively managed among administrators).
The DNS essentially links domain names with Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. These names must be registered with an ICANN-authorized registrar. With the internet’s rise in popularity during the 1990s came widespread cybersquatting, which became a problem for many large companies and brands. One notable early domain name dispute involved an MTV video jockey by the name of Adam Curry, who registered MTV.com while he was still employed by the network but retained ownership after he left. The network then sued Curry on the basis of trademark infringement, which led to both parties settling out of court and MTV acquiring the rights to the domain name.