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auDA rejects domaining ban but approves second-level domains

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2019, Domain Policy

Australian ccTLD registry auDA has rejected a proposal that would have essentially banned domainers from the .au space.

In response to recommendations of its Policy Review Panel, auDA management said that the PRP “has not provided any evidentiary material” that so-called “warehousing” is harmful.

It further concluded that the policies proposed for monitoring and rooting out suspected domainers would disproportionately increase compliance costs for both registrants and auDA itself.

In management’s response (pdf) to the PRP, auDA wrote that the ban would make investors second-class citizens when compared to powerful trademark owners:

The warehousing prohibition appears to disproportionately target domain investors as the licence portfolios or holdings of trademark and brand owners will be excluded under the PRP proposal. This proposal elevates the rights of trademark and other intellectual property owners over other licence holders in the .au domain, which may give rise to issues of market power and anti-competitive practices. Management believes that further information is required to assess whether the net benefit to the community of prohibiting warehousing in respect of a class of registrants outweighs the competition issues. For these reasons Management believes that there should be no change to the existing policy position.

It added:

Management does not support the PRP recommendation for a resale and warehousing prohibition for the reasons set out earlier. The proposed test for determining whether a registrant has contravened the resale and warehousing prohibition will increase compliance costs for registrants and administration, monitoring and enforcement costs for auDA. These costs may be disproportionate to the risk or severity of the harm to the community from warehousing and the cost of a licence in the .au domain.

Not only did it decide not to crack down on domainers, but auDA also plans to make their lives a little easier by updating current eligibility policy to explicitly state that parking, or “monetization”, is permitted.

To ensure there is no ambiguity or reliance on interpreting ‘content’, auDA management has recommended an additional allocation criteria can be applied to com.au and net.au which would include that a domain name could be used for the purpose of pay-per-click or affiliate web advertising/ lead generation, or electronic information services including email, file transfer protocol, cloud storage or managing Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

It’s a comprehensive win for domainers, such as those represented by the Internet Commerce Association, which had been outraged by the PRP’s findings.

It’s less good news when it comes to the perhaps more controversial plans to allow direct, second-level registrations under .au.

auDA has decided to go ahead with these longstanding plans, which domainers worry will promote confusion and dilute the value of their third-level .com.au portfolios.

The new draft plans (pdf) for the launch of 2LDs would see existing 3LD registrants given “priority status” to register the exact-match 2LD.

There would be a six-month application window for registrants to lodge their claims, beginning October 1 this year.

If the .com.au version and .org.au version, for example, were owned by different parties, the registrant with the earliest registration date would have priority.

After the application window closed, any unclaimed domains would be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.

These rules, and all the results of auDA’s response to the PRP, are open for public comment until May 10.

ICANN takes the reins again as .amazon talks fail

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has re-involved itself in the fight over the .amazon gTLD, after Amazon and eight South American governments failed to reach agreement over the name.

ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby wrote this week to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization to inform the group that it is now ICANN that will decide whether the proposed dot-brand domain is approved or not.

ICANN’s board had given Amazon and ACTO until April 7 to come to a mutual agreement that addressed ACTO’s sovereignty concerns, but they missed that deadline.

According to the BBC World Service, citing unnamed diplomats, ACTO wanted Amazon to create a kind of policy committee, with seats at the table for governments to veto second-level domains Amazon decides it wants to register in .amazon in future.

Amazon declined this demand, instead offering each of the eight ACTO countries its two-letter country-code under .amazon — br.amazon for Brazil, for example — the Beeb reported at the weekend.

Now that ICANN’s deadline has passed, ACTO appears to have lost its chance to negotiate with Amazon.

ICANN has now asked the company to submit a plan to address ACTO’s concerns directly to ICANN by April 21.

From that point, it could go either way. ICANN might approve the .amazon application, reject it, or push it back to Amazon for further work.

But .amazon may not necessarily be on the home straight yet. A straightforward approval or rejection will very likely provoke howls of anguish, and further appeals action, from the losing side.

ICA opposes Aussie domaining ban

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

The Internet Commerce Association has weighed in to the debate about whether domain investing should be effectively banned in Australia’s .au ccTLD.

Naturally enough, the domainer trade group opposes the ban, saying that investment is a natural part of any market, and very probably supplying the registry with millions of dollars of revenue.

The comments came in a letter to auDA (pdf) from ICA general counsel Zak Muscovitch in response to auDA’s latest policy review proposals, which I reported on two weeks ago, that propose to further crack down on “warehousing”.

auDA wants to ban the practice of registering domains “primarily” for resale or warehousing, clarifying the current rule that prohibits registering “solely” for resale (which is easily evaded by, for example, parking).

A set of indicators would be used to zero in on offenders, such as observing the registrant’s history of selling or offering to sell domains, the existence of an auction listing for the domain, or the fact that the registrant owns more than 100 .au names.

But ICA reckons the effort is misguided and could even be damaging to auDA’s finances, pointing out that it and its registrars likely receive millions of dollars from the registration and renewal of speculative domain names.

Muscovitch’s letter goes on to question whether the policy review panel that came up with the proposals did any research into the potential economic impact of banning domain investment, pointing out that in some cases to seize domainers’ portfolios could wipe out a family’s life savings.

ICA also questions whether the panel has sufficiently thought through how enforceable its proposed rules would be, given the additional complexity introduced into the system.

The policy review paper is still open for comments, but if you want to chip in you’d better be quick. The comment period ends at 1700 AEST Friday, which is 0700 UTC.

“Just give up!” ICANN tells its most stubborn new gTLD applicant

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has urged the company that wants to run .internet as new gTLD to just give up and go away.

The India-based company, Nameshop, actually applied for .idn — to stand for “internationalized domain name” — back in the 2012 application round.

It failed the Geographic Names Review portion of the application process because IDN is the International Standards Organization’s 3166-1 three-letter code for Indonesia, and those were all banned.

While one might question the logic of applying for a Latin-script string to represent IDNs, overlooking the ISO banned list was not an incredibly stupid move.

Even a company with Google’s brainpower resources overlooked this paragraph of the Applicant Guidebook and applied for three 3166-1 restricted strings: .and, .are and .est.

But rather than withdraw its .idn bid, like Google did with its failed applications, Nameshop decided to ask ICANN to change its applied-for string to .internet.

There was a small amount of precedent for this. ICANN had permitted a few applicants to correct typos in their applied-for strings, enabling DotConnectAfrica for example to correct its nutty application for “.dotafrica” to its intended “.africa”.

But swapping out .idn for .internet was obviously not a simple correction but rather looked a complete upgrade of its addressable market. Nobody else had applied for .internet, and Nameshop was well aware of this, so Nameshop’s bid would have been a shoo-in.

To allow the change would have opened the floodgates for every applicant that found itself in a tricky contention set to completely change their desired strings to something cheaper or more achievable.

But Nameshop principal Sivasubramanian Muthusamy did not take no for an answer. He’s been nagging ICANN to change its mind ever since.

There’s a lengthy, rather slick timeline of his lobbying efforts published on the Nameshop web site.

He filed a Request for Reconsideration back in 2013, which was swiftly rejected by the ICANN board of directors.

In July 2017, he wrote to ICANN to complain that Nameshop’s string change request should be treated the same as any other:

It seems that if ICANN can allow string changes from a relatively undesirable name to a more desireable name based on misspelling, then ICANN should allow a change from a desireable name in three characters(IDN) to longer name in eight characters (Internet) based on confusion with geographical names

Meetings with ICANN staff, the Ombudsman, the Governmental Advisory Committee and others to discuss his predicament several times over the last several years have proved fruitless.

Finally, today ICANN has published a letter (pdf) it sent to Muthusamy on Friday, urging him to ditch his Quixotic quest and get his money back. Christine Willett, VP of gTLD operations, wrote:

Given we are unable to take further action on Nameshop’s application, we encourage you to withdraw the application for a full refund of Nameshop’s application fee.

I doubt this is the first time ICANN has urged Nameshop to take its money and run, but it seems ICANN is now finally sick of talking about the issue.

Willett added that ICANN staff and directors “politely decline” his request for further in-person meetings to discuss the application, and encouraged him to apply for his desired string in the next application round, whenever that may be.

“Stringent” new online censorship law could affect domain companies

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

Blame Zuck.

The UK government is planning to introduce what it calls “stringent” new laws to tackle abusive behavior online, and there’s a chance it could wind up capturing domain name registries and registrars in its net.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport this morning published what it calls the Online Harms White Paper, an initial 12-week consultation document that could lead to legislation being drafted at a later date.

The paper calls for the creation of a new independent regulator, charged with overseeing social media companies’ efforts to reduce the availability of content such as incitements to violence, self-harm, suicide, child abuse, “hate crime” and even “fake news”.

It basically would increase the amount of liability that companies have for user-generated content hosted on their services, even when that content is not necessarily illegal but is nevertheless considered “harmful”.

The regulator would have to create a code of conduct for companies the legislation covers to abide by.

When the code is breached, the regulator would have the authority to issue fines — possibly comparable to the 4% of profits that can be fined under GDPR — against not only the companies themselves but also their senior management.

The paper seems to most directly address ongoing tabloid scandals related to Facebook and its ilk, such as the suicide of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old who viewed material related to self-harm on Instagram before her death.

While it does not mention domain names once, the government clearly anticipates casting a wide net. The paper states:

The scope will include companies from a range of sectors, including social media companies, public discussion forums, retailers that allow users to review products online, along with non-profit organisations, file sharing sites and cloud hosting providers.

That’s a broad enough definition such that it could even cover blogs, including this one, that allow users to post comments.

The paper also discusses asking search engines to remove sites from their indexes, and compelling ISPs to block abusive sites as a “last resort” measure.

There’s a short mental hop from ISP blocking to domain name takedowns, in my view.

The paper also discusses steps the regulator could take to ensure companies with no UK legal presence are still covered by the rules.

While the paper, as I say, does not mention the domain name industry once, subsidiary services provided by registrars, such as hosting, could be directly affected.

There’s no guarantee that the paper will become a bill. There’s already a backlash from those who believe it constitutes unacceptable censorship, comparable to regimes such as in China.

There’s also no guarantee such a bill would eventually become law. The UK government is arguably currently the weakest it has ever been, with a propped-up minority in Parliament and many MPs in open revolt over Brexit.

With talk of an early general election incessant recently, it’s also possible the government may not last long enough to bring its plans to fruition.

Still, it’s probably something the domain industry, including ICANN, should probably keep an eye on.

The full 100-page white paper can be found here (pdf) and an executive summary can be read here.