Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Online businesses have grown tremendously in the past decade. As a larger percentage of the U.S. economy moves onto the Internet, a larger percentage of people doing business online will find themselves disagreeing with each other. How those disputes are resolved presents an ongoing challenge in a world where traditional ordering mechanisms, like geographical boundaries, become increasingly antiquated. As contracts are formed across state and national lines, dispute resolution systems built around spatial locations become ever more unwieldy. The complications and costs of securing a favorable decision from a far-off decisionmaking body make reliance on geographic-based systems exceedingly difficult. Out of this situation, a growing number of alternative dispute resolution ("ADR") options have emerged. As technology evolves, many of these ADR options include new, electronic dimensions. These so- called online dispute resolution ("ODR") systems represent a blending of traditional ways of solving conflicts while maintaining the advantages of operating online. By creating problem-solving systems which themselves cross borders, ODR systems represent one of the most promising means of ensuring that problems will be fairly resolved. The rate of adoption of ODR procedures, however, remains relatively slow. Despite the need for such systems, many companies opt to leave the issue to be resolved by customers on a case-by-case basis. As a result, many online customers have little confidence that disputes can be taken to anyone but the company with which the consumer transacted. For some potential customers, the risks of doing business online may remain too great.

This Note is intended to advance the debate about ODR adoption by suggesting a new approach. While much has been written about what an ODR system should look like, the question of how any such system would be implemented remains problematic. Rather than looking to create new ODR requirements country by country, this Note suggests the creation of a new requirement for all businesses operating online: that they provide an ODR process for their customers which can fairly address the disputes that arise between them. This new obligation would be enforced by the consumers themselves, thus constituting a new weapon for customers to wield against companies that mistreat them. The obligation would take the form of a requirement in the domain name registration contract. Should a company refuse to comply, a disgruntled customer could initiate a proceeding which would result in the deregistration of the company's domain name.

Part II opens with a brief description of how the Internet works and how the registration of domain names provides an opportunity to regulate online behavior. It also gives an overview of the present state of both ADR and ODR options for businesses and of the only currently employed mandatory international ODR system. Part III describes some of the chief benefits that could be realized through greater ODR usage, as well as the problems with many of the current options for expanding that usage. Part IV lays out the proposed system and details how it could be implemented, and Part V addresses the potential problems raised by the adhesive nature of the registration contracts being targeted by this system.