Before "Amazon" was a global e-commerce company, it was a rain forest in South America.
That's something most of us have forgotten amid the explosion of free shipping, instant gratification and buy-anything-ness that Amazon now stands for. But not Peru, Brazil and a group of other South American countries that are locked in a battle with Amazon.com over who gets to control a new ".amazon" Web domain.
A couple of U.S. lawmakers have now leapt into that debate, writing a letter last week siding with Jeffrey P. Bezos (who, in addition to running Amazon, also owns The Washington Post).
"Neither Brazil nor Peru has any legally recognized rights — let alone intellectual property rights — in the term 'Amazon,'" write Reps. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), who co-chair a congressional caucus on trademarks. "There is no basis in international law for either country to assert rights in the term."
What Amazon's southerly critics object to is the corporate appropriation of a historically and culturally significant name. And how the fight gets resolved could have implications for all kinds of similar conflicts. How does Apple the tech company deal with apple farmers? Or Patagonia the clothing company with people who represent the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia?
The fight over .amazon has been going on for several years, but the issue's taking on greater urgency as the United States prepares to officially transition its Internet oversight authority away to a third party, the non-partisan Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN recently prevented Amazon's application for .amazon from moving forward after Peru objected in 2013.
".Amazon is a geographic name that represents important territories of some of our countries which have relevant communities with their own culture and identity associated with the name," said Peru's representative at an ICANN meeting in Durban, South Africa, in 2013. Joining Peru then were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay.
Amazon has accused the countries of making the issue "politicized" and says it has every right to use ".amazon" in a non-geographic context. A spokesperson for Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for ICANN declined to comment. But the more ICANN becomes a visible part of how the Internet's run, the more people will try to make it a venue for their own self-interested battles.