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Legal fight breaks out over .pr domains

Kevin Murphy, July 18, 2011, 13:43:57 (UTC), Domain Registries

The University of Puerto Rico has accused the manager of the .pr top-level domain of hoodwinking ICANN in order to “illegally” take over the registry.

It recently filed a lawsuit seeking to regain control of .pr, saying that the current registry operator has made an estimated $2 million from domain registrations since it somehow took over the ccTLD.

The lawsuit and other documents tell a remarkable story, one in which a University department quietly spun itself out as a private for-profit company and took .pr with it.

If the claims are true, ICANN may have made a huge screw-up by inadvertantly allowing the ccTLD to be transferred from the University into private hands.

According to an archived copy of the IANA delegation record for .pr, the ccTLD was from 1988 until about 2007 delegated to:

University of Puerto Rico
Gauss Laboratory
Facundo Bueso Building
Office 265
Rio Piedras 00931
Puerto Rico

That’s the Sponsoring Organization. The administrative and technical contacts also stated that UPR was in charge of the domain. The contact email address was @uprr.pr, the University’s domain.

Today, the IANA record is quite different:

Gauss Research Laboratory Inc.
Calle Vesta 801
San Juan 00923
Puerto Rico

The University is no longer listed. The contact email addresses are now @nic.pr. These new details have been in effect apparently since some time in 2007.

To my eye, this looks like the stewardship of .pr was transferred from one organization, the University of Puerto Rico, to another, Gauss Research Laboratory Inc.

But IANA never produced a redelegation report – as it must when a registry changes hands – and the ICANN board never voted to redelegate.

According to a July 2007 letter (pdf) circulating this week from David Conrad, who was then IANA general manager at ICANN, the changes merely reflected a “structural reorganization” of the registry:

Since the underlying organization performing registry services for .PR did not change (it was Gauss Laboratory before and after the change), this is not considered a full redelegation, and therefore does not result in a public report with board approval.

But the University claims that long-time manager Oscar Moreno set up Gauss as a non-profit organization to handle .pr when he retired from UPR, then in 2007 changed it to the for-profit corporation that is now the designated registry manager.

A 2009 letter from UPR to ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey (pdf), which emerged on mailing lists last week, said Moreno was trying to sell his company, and the ccTLD, to a third party.

IANA, according to the letter, was fooled into thinking the University backed the transfer of control due to a letter from a faculty member who did not have the authority to authorize the changes.

The University sued Moreno in late May (pdf), seeking an injunction ordering him to transfer .pr back to UPR and to return the $2 million it believes .pr domain sales have raised since 2007.

IANA redelegations are rarely straightforward.

A recent report from the Country Code Names Supporting Organization found that ccTLD redelegations have been basically a bloody mess – unpredictable, opaque and poorly documented.

ICANN does not discuss IANA requests, but I’m currently aware of a handful of ongoing redelegation battles, such as those over Niue’s .nu and Rwanda’s .rw.

It is suspected that Irish operator IEDR is currently trying to have .ie taken away from its nominal sponsor, University College Ireland, which has put the fear into at least one registrar.

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Comments (6)

  1. theo says:

    Wow ! Nice article Kevin !! This is unreal !

  2. Michael says:

    With registration and renewal fees of $1,000 for .pr names, it doesn’t exactly seem like a charity.

  3. Samit Madan says:

    Wait, so if I get this right, the company providing the back-end services to the registry filed a ‘change’ of structure and basically hijacked the ccTLD out from under the college?

    And ICANN won’t even acknowledge the ‘change’ cos ‘the underlying entity’ was the same??? I find it difficult to believe they don’t understand the difference between a service provider and an authorised signatory.

    Unreal.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Not quite. Gauss Lab wasn’t just the back end, it was the official delegated sponsor, admin and tech contact. But it was a Uni department then, and now it’s not.

  4. The actual date of the hidden redelegation is December 2006. See the Generic NIC time database at http://shr.tn/oZk6

    You can also follow it on Twitter : http://twitter.com/ianawhois

  5. Remarkable story and thanks for posting Kevin. The domain industry is also the one who loses out here….and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of us if the governing body(s) can’t even seemingly keep order.

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