ICANN may be heading for a bust-up with its Governmental Advisory Committee over the issue of a special domain name block-list for intergovernmental organizations.
The board of directors this week indicated at a meeting with the GAC in Beijing that it’s prepared to deny the GAC’s official demand for IGO protection at second level in all new gTLDs.
The GAC wants the names and acronyms of hundreds of IGOs — any organization that qualifies for a .int domain name — blocked, so that nobody would be able to register them, in every new gTLD.
It would, for example, give the European Forest Institute the exclusive rights to efi.tld in all future gTLDs.
Other well-known cybersquatting targets such as the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region of Africa (ICGLR), would also be protected.
Some potentially very useful operational domains, such as a who.tld, would be banned (because of the World Health Organization).
Clearly, the GAC’s demands are a solution looking for a problem, giving special protection to many organizations that simply don’t need it, potentially at the expense of legitimate users.
The GAC had indicated that clashes with legitimate uses could be handled in a similar way to country names will be controlled in new gTLDs, where registries have to request special permission from the governments concerned to release the domains to others.
This would open a whole can of worms, however, the implications of which were outlined in an April 1 letter from ICANN board chair Steve Crocker to the GAC.
The board’s case was also succinctly articulated by director Chris Disspain during the board’s meeting with the GAC on Tuesday, and worth quoting in full. Disspain said:
This would mean that the Church of England would require the approval of the Council of Europe to register coe.church. It means the government of Canada would require the approval of the Andean Community to register can.anything. It means the International Standards Organization would require the approval of the International Sugar Organization to register iso.anything.
Even if this is what you intended in principle, the implementation of this advice is extremely problematic.
Who at each IGO would make a decision about providing consent? How long would each IGO have to provide consent? Would no reply be equivalent to consent? What criteria would be used to decide whether to give consent or not? Who would draft that criteria? Would the criteria be consistent across all IGOs or would consent simply be granted at the whim of an IGO.
The board believes that all these issues make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accept the advice as is.
Rather than rejecting this advice we seek an acknowledgement from the GAC in its communique that there are issues to be worked through, and we seek agreement with the GAC that they will work with the board and staff on these issues from now until Durban [this July] when the board will make a decision?
Disspain added that despite a board decision in November to set the ball rolling on IGO protections, it most certainly has not already decided to grant the GAC’s request.
This is an excellent development in GAC-board relations, in my view.
Rather than quaking at GAC advice, or rush-approving it to meet new gTLD program deadlines, the board is schooling the GAC about the obvious flaws in its position, and inviting it to think about the problems in a bit more depth, hearing alternate views, before lobbing advice grenades.
It’s a stark contrast to its treatment of the GAC’s 2011 advice on International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent names, where the board agreed to special protections in order to get the new gTLD program out of the door, creating thousands of extra person-hours of work for the GNSO.
When the GAC issued its IOC/RC/RC advice, it assured ICANN that the organizations concerned were special cases.
Others warned — presciently, as it turned out — that such protections would be merely the top of a slippery slope that would lead to a much longer list of protected names.
An effect of ICANN’s strong position now is that the slope is less steep and less slippery.
What happens next with the IGO names depends on the GAC’s communique from the ongoing Beijing meeting.
If it decides to engage with ICANN to sort out the problems it’s trying to create, they have until Durban to come to a deal. If it stands firm, ICANN may have to invoke the part of its bylaws that allows it to overrule the GAC, which has only done once before, when it approved .xxx.