Vox Populi Registry is to launch its .sucks gTLD at the end of the month, and its plans are likely to piss off trademark owners no end.
As previously reported, the company has backpedaled on its idea of pricing its sunrise period names at $25,000 per name per year, but it’s introducing some new concepts that seem almost designed to get hackles up in the IP community.
From March 30 to May 29, any company with a trademark registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse will be able to buy their matching .sucks domains at sunrise for $2,499. That’s also the annual renewal fee.
It’s a tenth of the price previously touted, but still pretty steep even by sunrise standards.
Vox Pop isn’t doing anything particularly unusual with its sunrise, which is governed by policies closely regulated by ICANN.
But its big new idea is its “Sunrise Premium” list, a list of strings dominated by famous trademarks.
Vox Pop CEO John Berard told DI yesterday that the Sunrise Premium list has been compiled from strings registered or blocked in other TLDs’ sunrise periods.
While he declined to characterize it as a list of trademarks, he acknowledged that it will be trademark-heavy.
If your mark is on this list, you will never be able to get a .sucks domain at the regular general availability retail price of $249 a year. It will always be $2,499 a year.
Despite the name, Sunrise Premium names are only available during general availability, which begins June 1.
On the one hand, this mandatory premium pricing for the world’s most well-defended marks appears to have benefits for some trademark owners.
While Sunrise Premium names are not restricted to owners of matching marks, the $2,499 fee applies whether you’re the mark owner, a legitimate third-party registrant, or a cybersquatter.
So the high price looks like a deterrent to cybersquatting, suggesting that Vox Pop is fighting from the IP corner.
But then we discover that Sunrise Premium names will never be eligible for the .sucks “Block” service — similar to .xxx’s Sunrise B, a Block is a non-resolving registry reservation — which is expected to retail at a discounted $199 per year.
Berard said that the registry wants to encourage use.
“If you are on the Sunrise Premium list or want a premium name, those can’t be blocked,” Berard said. “It’s all part and parcel of us trying to put more power in the hands of individuals and to cultivate a commitment on behalf of the commercial world to participate in the dialogue.”
But the fact remains: if you have a track record of defensively registering your trademark, Vox Pop is essentially penalizing you with higher fees.
Feel those hackles rising yet?
Vox Pop’s stated goals are to give companies a way to manage customer feedback and individuals a way to exercise their rights to criticize.
“A company would be smart to register its name because of the value that consumer criticism has in improving customer loyalty, delivering good customer service, understanding new product and service possibilities,” Berard said.
“They’re spending a lot more on marketing and customer service and research. This domain can another plank in that platform,” he said. “On the other hand, we also want to make sure that these names are also accessible to individuals who have something to say.”
Companies on the Sunrise Premium list have an additional thing to worry about: the .sucks Consumer Advocate Subsidy, which will bring the price of a .sucks domain down to $9.95 per year.
The subsidy will only be available to registrants unaffiliated with the trademark-owning company, and they’ll have to direct their domains to a discussion forum platform called Everything.sucks.
Berard said Everything.sucks will be operated by a third party, but could not yet disclose the details.
The subsidy program will be available on regular and Sunrise Premium names, but not Sunrise names. It is not expected to launch until September.
It’s not yet clear how flexible and configurable the service will be.
It seems likely that if somebody wants to write a blog, say, criticizing a certain company, product, service or public figure, they will incur the usual $249 annual reg fee.
It’s not exactly “free” speech.
On the whole, the finalized policies and fees may look like they’re specifically designed to irk the IP lobby, but they do seem to be aligned with Vox Pop’s mission statement.
If you’re of the view that trademark owners should have the sole right to use the string matching their mark as a domain name, you’re likely to be unhappy with what Vox Pop is doing.
If, on the other hand, you’re an advocate of the right of every free person to stick it to The Man, you may view the policies more favorably.
Either way, it could be a money-spinner for Vox Pop.
I’m expecting .sucks to be only the third new gTLD to top 1,000 sunrise registrations (assuming .porn and .adult will be the first).
Assuming the registry’s slice of the $2,499 fee is over $2,000, the company is looking to clear in excess of $2 million in annually recurring sunrise revenue alone.