There can be no denying that ICANN’s new CEO was well received at the Toronto meeting last week.
From his opening speech, a sleeves-rolled-up address that laid out his management goals, and throughout the week, Fadi Chehadé managed to impress pretty much everybody I spoke to.
Now Chehadé has turned his attention to the formative Trademark Clearinghouse and the Registrar Accreditation Agreement talks, promising to bring the force of his personality to bear in both projects.
“I’m coming out of Toronto with two priorities for this year,” he said during an interview with ICANN’s media relations chief, Brad White, last Friday.
“The first one is obviously to get the Trademark Clearinghouse to work as best as possible, for all parties to agree we have a mechanism that can satisfy the interests of the parties.”
“The second one is the RAA,” he said. “Without question I’m going to be inserting myself personally into both these, including the RAA.”
These are both difficult problems.
Work on the TMCH hit a snag early last week when ICANN chief strategy officer Kurt Pritz told the GNSO Council that the “community consensus” implementation model proposed by registries presented a big problem.
The “live query model” proposed for the Trademark Claims service, which would require the TMCH to sit in the live domain registration path, should be taken “off the table”, he said.
ICANN is/was worried that putting a live database of trademark checks into the registration model that has functioned fairly well for the last decade is a big risk.
The TMCH would become a single point of failure for the whole new gTLD program and any unanticipated downtime, ICANN has indicated, would be hugely embarrassing for ICANN.
“I’m personally concerned that once you put the Clearinghouse in the path for that it’s very difficult to unring the bell, so I’d rather proceed in a way that doesn’t change that,” Pritz said.
His remarks, October 14, angered backers of the community model, who estimated that the live query model would only affect about 10% to 15% of attempted domain registrations.
“Taking it off the table is a complete mistake,” said Jeff Neuman of Neustar, one of the authors of the alternative “community” TMCH model.
“It is a proven fact that the model we have proposed is more secure and, we believe, actually looks out much more in favor of protecting trademark holders,” he said.
He noted that the community model was created in a “truly bottom-up” way — the way ICANN is supposed to function.
NetChoice’s Steve DelBianco, in a rare show of solidarity between the Business Constituency and the registries, spoke to support Neuman and the centralized community model.
“The BC really supports a centralized Trademark Clearinghouse model, and that could include live query,” DelBianco said. “I’m disturbed by the notion that an executive decision took it off the table.”
“My question is, was that the same executive decision that brought us the TAS and its glitches?” he added. “Was it the same executive decision process that gave us Digital Archery that couldn’t shoot straight?”
Pritz pointed out the logical flaw in DelBianco’s argument.
“The group that brought you TAS and Digital Archery… you want to put that in the critical path for domain names?” he said. “Our job here is to protect trademark rights, not change the way we register domain names.”
But Neuman and DelBianco’s dismay was short-lived. Within a couple of hours, in the same room, Chehadé had told the GNSO Council, in a roundabout sort of way, that the live query model was not dead.
Chehadé’s full remarks are missing from the official transcript (pdf), and what remains is attributed to GNSO Council chair Stephane Van Gelder, but I’ve taken a transcript from my own recording:
The very first week I was on the job, I was presented with a folder — a very nice little folder — and little yellow thing that said “Sign Here”.
So I looked at what I’m signing, as I normally do, and I saw that moving forward with a lot of activities related to the Trademark Clearinghouse as really what I’m being asked to move forward with.
And I’ll be frank with you, my first reaction was: do all the people who will be affected by this agreement… did we hear them all about this before we sign this? Are they all part of the decision-making that led us here?
And the answer was muddled, it was “Yes… and…”. I said: No, I want to make sure that we use the time we have in Toronto make sure we listen to everybody to make sure before I commit any party — any party — to anything, that this party is very much part of the process and part of the solution.
I know I wasn’t the only person in the room to wonder if the anecdote described an incident in which an ICANN executive attempted to pull a fast one on his new, green boss.
A day later, after private discussion with ICANN board and staff, supporters of the community TMCH model told me they were very encouraged that the live query model was still in play.
The problem they still face, however, is that the Intellectual Property Constituency — ostensibly representing the key customers of the TMCH — is publicly still on the fence about which model it prefers.
Without backing from the IPC, any TMCH implementation model would run the risk of appearing to serve contracted parties’ cost and risk requirements at the expense of brand owners.
Getting the IPC to at least take a view will likely be Chehadé’s first priority when it comes to the TMCH.
Finding common ground on the Registrar Accreditation Agreement could be an even more complex task.
While the bulk of the work — integrating requests from certain law enforcement agencies and the Governmental Advisory Committee into the contract — has been completed, Whois remains a challenge.
European registrars claim, in the light of correspondence from a EU privacy watchdogs, that implementing ICANN’s demanded Whois data re-verification and retention rules would make them break the law.
Registrars elsewhere in the world are less than impressed with ICANN’s proposed ‘opt-out’ solution, which would essentially create a two-tier RAA and may, they say, have some impact on competition.
Privacy advocates in Toronto told ICANN that if certain governments (largely, I suspect, the US) want their own local registrars to retain and re-verify Whois data, they should pass laws to that effect, rather than asking ICANN to enforce the rule globally.
The GAC told ICANN’s board of directors last Tuesday that the privacy letters emerging from the EU did not represent the views of the European Commission or the GAC, and nothing more was said on the matter.
How ICANN reacts to the European letters now seems to be rest with ICANN’s executive negotiating team.
While everyone at ICANN 45 seemed to be super-impressed by Chehadé’s competence and vision for sorting out ICANN, the other recurring meme is that actions speak louder than words.
During his first 40 days in the job he managed to persuade India into an about-face on its support for an intergovernmental replacement for ICANN, an impressive feat.
Can he chalk up more early wins by helping resolve the TMCH and RAA deadlocks?
“There’s frankly universal agreement that if I participate personally in these activities I would help these activities come to hopefully a reasonably conclusion that we can bank on,” he said in the White interview.