Emoji domain names: the latest craze or here to stay?
Last week, domain name registry, dotFM, announced that it was the latest domain name registry to accept emojis within .fm domain names, following in the… Read more
Last week, domain name registry, dotFM, announced that it was the latest domain name registry to accept emojis within .fm domain names, following in the footsteps of .ws and .to domains. In this brief article IP solicitors at Kemp Little consider emoji domain names and the potential pros and cons.
How does it work?
The word “emoji” is derived from the Japanese words for picture and character. Emojis are small digital icons used to depict emotions and items such as animals, food or symbols. Emojis are already common place on personal messaging, websites and social media channels and in May 2015 was named as the world’s fastest growing “language”.
When used in a domain name, the browser uses “punycode” to convert the emojis into complicated strings like “xn--j28hc4i.ws”, which are utilised to take users to the corresponding website. The domain name registries create the punycodes, so users only have to decide what emojis to use. You can currently only register emoji domain names in country code top-level domains (“ccTLD”) that permit them, e.g. .ws (Western Samoa) and not generic top-level domains (“gTLD”, including .com and .org).
While it has technically been possible to register emoji domain names for several years, the registration process was previously difficult, with users requiring a level of familiarity with punycode to search for available domains and purchase them. However, internet domain registrar and web hosting company, GoDaddy, announced in late 2016 that it was launching a search engine for emoji domains to simplify this process. This means that anyone with a phone or MacBook Pro can now search for emoji domain names and see if they are available to buy.
In a society where time is a luxury, could emoji domain names be the solution to simplifying everyday tasks and are they a must have for brand owners? Could we soon be using emoji domains to; order a pizza, check the latest sports results or hire a taxi? Perhaps, but first let’s consider some of the potential issues arising from emoji domain names.
Domain name squatting
Emoji domain names have already proved very popular with many of the single emojis already being registered on .ws. However, many of these emoji domain names link to unused sites which invite visitors to make an offer to purchase the domain name, which suggests that popular emoji domain names will be the latest target for cybersquatters.
Ordinarily, it is possible for a brand owner to recover a domain name registered by a third party if it infringes the brand owners’ trade marks. However, it is not clear what rights will arise in relation to emoji domain names, so the only way of obtaining a registered emoji domain name may be to negotiate a commercial settlement with the owner – which could be extremely costly.
Emoji domains will be easily accessible on personal devices and Apple’s latest MacBook Pro (its top row touch bar can be turned into a row of emojis), as emoji keyboards are supported on most iOS and Android devices. However, it’s not quite as easy to access emoji domain names on a traditional computer keyboard unless you know the punycode. While this may become less of a problem, as more of the world’s internet browsing is done on mobile phones and personal devices, this still limits many users from accessing sites in this way.
Further, the variety of emojis available to users is linked to the version of the operating software on the user’s device. Therefore, if users do not update their software or are unable to do so (e.g. if their device is no longer supported due to its age), then they may be hindered from easily accessing a website unless there is also a standard domain name…or they can remember the punycode.
The simple work-around for these issues is for brand owners to have emoji domain names (if they so wish) and standard text domain names which link to the same page, thereby maximising the ways people can access their webpages and engage with their brand.
Interpretation and representation
Care also needs to be taken in relation to the emoji domain name registered. While some emojis (such as the love heart and smiley face) are straightforward to interpret; others are a little more subjective (e.g. the grimacing face is often mistaken for a smiley face).
Further, it is important to ensure that the emojis chosen appear the same on different platforms, as this could alter the intended meaning and cause offence. For example, what appears on iOS 10 and Samsung platforms as a toy water gun, in fact looks like a pistol on other platforms such as Google and Microsoft. This may not be ideal if your business is selling children’s toy water guns…
Anyone considering using an emoji domain name for a brand should carefully review how it is interpreted by different users and represented across different platforms, in order to avoid any potential reputation issues.
While the likes of Coca-Cola (😄.ws), Budweiser (❤️🍺.ws) and North American opticians and glasses retailer, Warby Parkers(👓.ws) have been quick to register emoji domain names, we have to question whether brand owners need emoji domains, or whether they should focus on protecting their core brand. Currently, emoji domain names appear to be used as a light-hearted way to engage with a brand’s target consumers opposed to a serious marketing strategy.
However, it is possible that this position could change and brand owners may lose out to quick-fingered cybersquatters who register their preferred emoji domain name first. Having a clear strategy about domain registration and protection should ensure that cybersquatting can be dealt with quickly and/or limits the need for extensive legal action if most of the traffic is going in the right direction in any event.