Big changes are coming to Whois, privacy services and resellers, among other things, under the terms of a newly agreed contract between domain name registrars and ICANN.
A proposed 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement that is acceptable to the majority of registrars, along with a plethora of supporting documentation, has been posted by ICANN this morning.
This “final” version, which is expected to be approved by ICANN in June, follows 18 months of often strained talks between ICANN and a negotiating team acting for all registrars.
It’s expected that only 2013 RAA signatories will be able to sell domain names in new gTLDs.
Overall, the compromise reflects ICANN’s desire to ensure that all registrars adhere to the same high standards of conduct, bringing contractual oversight to some currently gray, unregulated areas.
It also provides registrars with greater visibility into their future businesses while giving ICANN ways to update the contract in future according to the changing industry landscape.
For registrants, the biggest changes are those that came about due to a set of 12 recommendations made a few years ago by law enforcement agencies including the FBI and Interpol.
Notably, registrars under the 2013 RAA will be obliged to verify the phone number or email address of each registrant and suspend the domains of those it cannot verify.
That rule will apply to both new registrations, inter-registrar transfers and domains that have changes made to their Whois records. It will also apply to existing registrations when registrars have been alerted to the existence of possibly phony Whois information.
It’s pretty basic stuff. Along with provisions requiring registrars to disclose their business identities and provide abuse points of contact, it’s the kind of thing that all responsible online businesses should do anyway (and indeed all the big registrars already do).
Registrars have also agreed to help ICANN create an accreditation program for proxy and privacy services. Before that program is created, they’ve agreed to some temporary measures to regulate such services.
This temporary spec requires proxy services to investigate claims of abuse, and to properly inform registrants about the circumstances under which it will reveal their private data.
It also requires the proxy service to hold the registrant’s real contact data in escrow, to be accessed by ICANN if the registrar goes out of business or has its contract terminated.
This should help registrants keep hold of their names if their registrar goes belly-up, but of course it does mean that their private contact information will be also stored by the escrow provider.
But the biggest changes in this final RAA, compared to the previously posted draft versions, relate to methods of changing the contract in future.
Notably, registrars have won the right to perpetual renewal of their contracts, giving them a bit more long-term visibility into their businesses.
Under the current arrangement, registrars had to sign a new RAA every five years but ICANN was under no obligation to grant a renewal.
The 2013 contract, on the other hand, gives registrars automatic renewal in five-year increments after the initial term expires, as long as the registrar remains compliant.
The trade-off for this is that ICANN has codified the various ways in which the agreement can be modified in future.
The so-called “unilateral right to amend” clauses introduced a few months ago — designed to enable “Special Amendments” — have been watered down now to the extent that “unilateral” is no longer an accurate way to describe them.
If the ICANN board wants to introduce new terms to the RAA there’s a series of complex hoops to jump through and more than enough opportunities for registrars to kill off the proposals.
Indeed, there are so many caveats and a so many procedural kinks that would enable registrars to prevent ICANN taking action without their consent I’m struggling to imagine any scenario in which the Special Amendment process is successfully used by the board.
But the final 2013 RAA contains something entirely new, too: a way for ICANN’s CEO to force registrars back to the negotiating table in future.
This seems to have made an appearance at this late stage of negotiations precisely because the Special Amendment process has been castrated.
It would enable ICANN’s CEO or the chair of the Registrars Stakeholder Group to force the other party to start talking about RAA amendments with a “Negotiation Notice”. If the talks failed, all concerned would head to mediation, and then arbitration, to sort out their differences.
My guess is that this Negotiation Notice process is much more likely to be used than the Special Amendment process.
It seems likely that these terms will provide the template for similar provisions in the new gTLD Registry Agreement, which is currently under negotiation.
The 2013 RAA public comment period is open until June 4, but I don’t expect to see any major changes after that date. The documents can be downloaded, and comments filed, here.