SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Amazon is the world’s biggest online retailer. It is also the world’s largest rain forest.
The question is who owns the name.
This is the core of an epic battle between the tech behemoth Amazon.com and eight South American countries that contain parts of the rain forest.
At stake is the domain name .amazon, and who should control it on the internet.
Amazon.com could use the name to advance its branding and marketing. But the nations objecting to the company’s request are concerned about a corporation symbolically taking control of a name synonymous with their heritage, as well as more mundane matters like whether their own tourism industries would lose the opportunity to use trip.amazon, hotels.amazon and other domain names.
“It’s technical, but it’s also very emotional,” said Achilles Emilio Zaluar Neto, the director of technology issues at Brazil’s Foreign Ministry, noting that Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com’s founder, named his company after the Amazon River.
“We’ve heard strong speeches from politicians in the Amazon,” he said. “They feel that in symbolic terms their heritage is being taken away by a company.”
The clash traces to 2012, when Amazon.com applied to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the independent body that oversees global Web addresses, to use the domain name, .amazon.
Brazil and Peru, two of the countries that are part of the Amazon Basin region, protested to Icann, which makes the final decision on such matters. Eventually Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname also joined forces to block the company’s bid.
“It’s not the classic issue of two different parties applying for the same name,” said Rodrigo de la Parra, the regional vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean at Icann. “The governments didn’t apply for .amazon — they only have concerns about its usage by a private company given its cultural and natural heritage for the region.”
In some ways, the debate is similar to those over trademark issues, but it is taking place in the limitless and relatively new space of the internet, where the rules are still being devised.
It began at a time when the number of internet names was expanding rapidly. Many new country codes like .ca, for Canada, were registered years ago. Then, in 2012, as many as 2,000 requests for top-level domains were made for brand names like .avianca, as well as for names like .lawyer and .gay, and for geographic names like .nyc.
Amazon.com was a very active participant in the 2012 internet land grab aimed at seizing territory and control. The company not only put in a bid for .amazon, but it also applied for .shop, .game, .mobile, .free and a host of other domain names.
“We spent eight years defining the rules and evicting cybersquatters,” Mr. de la Parra said. One of the rules they established was that applications involving geographic names required the approval of the local or regional governments. National domain names had already been assigned.
Names like .nyc and .rio were approved. But in the case of .patagonia, for example, the sportswear maker Patagonia, Inc., withdrew its request for the domain after Argentina and Chile objected.
But Amazon.com has persisted.
The company declined to comment for this article. But in a 2017 letter to Icann, Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, wrote: “Amazon has repeatedly offered to work with the concerned governments to find an amicable solution, offering to explore how we can best use .AMAZON for our business purposes while respecting the people, culture, history, and ecology of the Amazonia region.”
Mr. Huseman wrote that the company had proposed creating domains that reflect the name of the region in the languages that are spoken there, like .amazonia or .amazonas.
The countries challenging the retailer, however, said they wanted shared governance of the .amazon domain, to protect the name and to ensure they will have a say in how it is used in the future.
“We would like to be able to raise objections to specific names,” said Mr. Zaluar.
In its latest counterproposal, Brazil put forward the idea of a committee with representatives from all eight governments and Amazon.com that would approve extensions of the domain.
Mr. Zaluar said Brazil would not oppose names like book.amazon or furniture.amazon. “But what if tomorrow, they decide to use hotel.amazon or trip.amazon?’’ he added. “Our tourism operators would be at a disadvantage.”
The dispute has dragged on for seven years, with a number of proposals and counterproposals. Last year, Amazon.com offered $5 million worth of Kindle e-readers and various hosting services as part of a proposed compromise.
“We are not looking for financial compensation,” Francisco Carrión Mena, Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States, wrote in a letter to Icann, the internet body that governs web addresses, explaining that the group of eight countries had rejected Amazon’s most recent proposal because it did not provide shared governance of the domain name.
In an additional complication, the eight countries are no longer participating as a single entity.
Just as negotiations over control of .amazon appeared to be entering the final stretch, a political crisis erupted in January in Venezuela, with Juan Guaidó declaring himself the country’s rightful leader in defiance of President Nicolás Maduro. About 50 countries now recognize Mr. Guaidó, while others continue to recognize Mr. Maduro.
“There’s no difference in views — they both want to defend the name of the Amazon, but it’s made it impossible to coordinate a joint counterproposal,” Mr. Zaluar said. As a result, each country has been responsible for submitting its own initiative.
Amazon and the eight countries missed an April 7 deadline to reach a compromise solution. Now, Amazon has until Sunday to produce a new proposal that takes into consideration the countries’ concerns.
The final decision rests with the internet body that oversees domain names.
Orignially published in NYT.