The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) has sought cancellation of a domain by the name of “Startupindia.in”, owned by a Delhi-based startup entrepreneur, which he got registered in February 2014 — about two years before Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the ‘Startup India’ program.
The demand to cancel the domain came last week on request from Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. In an email reviewed by Moneycontrol, sent by the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) to the entrepreneur on May 29th, it is mentioned that the “domain is misleading and is in violation with the Startup India program.”
The domain for the government’s initiative is startupindia.gov.in. While on the face of it, it looks like similar looking domain names are causing troubles for the government’s initiative, it wasn’t immediately clear as to how the same was “in violation with the Startup India program”, considering that the portal was started way before the government started its initiative.
The company is being run as an advisory service provider to tech based entrepreneurs. The website – ‘StartupIndia.in’ has now also put up a disclaimer citing that it has nothing to do with the government’s initiative of Startup India and that it is a website of the Startup India Advisory Services Pvt Ltd, a company incorporated in the Ministry of Corporate Affairs in July 2015.
An email sent to Ramesh Abhishek, secretary DIPP and NIXI remained unanswered till the time of publication of this story.
‘Directive can be challenged in courts’
A senior government official who is familiar with the working of NIXI on the condition of anonymity told Moneycontrol that if the government wants a particular domain, the registrant is bound to do away with it.
“NIXI only acts if someone — a government department, asks for it. NIXI doesn’t have any kind of power vested within that it can hold, block or transfer a domain. But whenever a government entity gives it some kind of a directive, then NIXI has to act,” he said adding that in case the owner of the domain wants to contest this, it can be done at a court’s level.
He also said that according to the rules for the registrants, there’s a reservation of rights for the .IN registry. However, a clarity on why the initiative has been taken after a considerable gap of the Startup India initiative is lacking.
Cyberlaw experts say that such a directive can be challenged legally and it may encourage entrepreneurs to book less of ‘.in’ domains. “There is no government rule or regulation that nobody can have startupindia.in. The message coming out (from the government) is not very healthy. This person registered the domain much before the Startup India programme. Any government rule can only be prospective in nature, it can’t be retrospective,” said Pavan Duggal, cyber law expert and advocate, Supreme Court of India.
According to experts, booking domain names happens on a first come first serve basis. If there’s a conflict, the case mostly goes through a dispute resolution mechanism. If someone has booked a similar looking or similar type of domain, then it goes to an arbitrator.
“Mostly people book private companies’ names, not government ones. If they book government related schemes or names, they may not gain much in monetary benefit,” said Dr Govind, former chief executive officer of NIXI.
“If someone feels his name has been taken by an entity before or after, he can go through these arbitrators, and prove that his business will be affected if someone has taken their name,” he added.
Another domain and policy matters expert who chose to remain anonymous said that in this case the domain owner’s registration is ‘really old makes his case strong’.
The company — Startup India Advisory Pvt Ltd, also has a registration with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which could give the domain owner an additional advantage, the expert claimed.
“NIXI’s work is more ex-post facto, they try to act on an issue reported to them by the type of work. Here it is a pre-approved name. Given the specific wording of the email, I would argue, it is neither a rule nor a requirement,” said a Delhi-based internet governance expert.
Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center partnered firm
Can the government ask a company to cancel a domain citing an issue such as violation with respect to a certain program?
“I think the person can mount a legal challenge. He could reply to this notice, stating that he or she doesn’t agree to the grounds that has been specified. There seems to be no actual misleading activity. He has a valid company registration granted to him by India’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs,” the expert said.
The company Startup India Advisory Pvt Ltd last month partnered with non-profit organisation Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center to launch its Milestone Makers India program, where about 25 startup entrepreneurs are being mentored in the current batch. .
The domain StartupIndia.in is not the only one that looks similar to the government initiated program. Another South Delhi-based organisation called startup-india.org helps entrepreneurs launch and scale social innovation ventures.
Another domain called StartupIndia.org has been registered in the name of one Narasimhan Kasthurirengan, with his address at Cupertino, California dated February, 2011.
“If the government or private entity has not been able to book a particular domain name, then even the exact domain name of a new scheme or programme could be owned by a private entity. This is usually followed by some negotiation between the two parties,” said Dr Govind, who was instrumental in scaling up the ‘.IN’ registry in India.
The .IN registry which was launched in January 2005 serves as an autonomous body. Its primary responsibility is to maintain the .IN country code top level domain and see that it operates in a secure manner. Most countries have their own country code top-level domains such as ‘.us’ for the US, ‘.au’ for Australia or ‘.jp’ for Japan.