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Domain-hopping torrent site seized, founder arrested

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2016, Domain Policy

A joint US-Polish law enforcement operation has led to the arrest of the alleged owner of the piracy-focused BitTorrent links site KickAssTorrents.

The US Department of Justice announced yesterday that Ukrainian national Artem Vaulin has been arrested in Poland and that it will seek to extradite him to Chicago to face criminal copyright infringement charges.

The site, which has been banned at the ISP level in countries including the UK, provides links to download and share copyrighted works such as movies and music from other BitTorrent users.

But it’s perhaps best known in the domain name industry for regularly jumping from one TLD to another as its domains are terminated by local authorities.

According to the DoJ, it has been seen on kickasstorrents.com, kat.ph (Philippines), kickass.to (Tonga), kickass.so (Somalia) and kat.cr (Costa Rica).

The department said it has seized seven domain names as part of its operation.

According to my records, there are 20 examples of kickasstorrents.example domains in the Alexa one million, all in new gTLDs (though I’ve no idea whether they’re part of the same operation).

The DoJ reckons KAT makes annual revenue of between $12.5 million to $22.3 million from advertising accompanying its links.

Cruz’s ICANN paranoia is now official Republican policy

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2016, Domain Policy

US Republicans have endorsed hitherto fringe views on the IANA transition as official party policy.

Yesterday delegates at the Republican National Convention approved the party’s 2016 Platform of the party, which “declares the Party’s principles and policies”.

Internet policy takes up just half a page of the 66-page document, but it’s half a page straight out of the paranoid mind of former presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz.

It talks of the transition of the US government from its involvement in DNS root zone management (what the GOP calls “web names”) as an “abandonment” of internet freedoms to Russia, China and Iran, which are ready to “devour” them.

Here’s the relevant passage in (almost) full.

Protecting Internet Freedom

The survival of the internet as we know it is at risk. Its gravest peril originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government. The President… has unilaterally announced America’s abandonment of the international internet by surrendering U.S. control of the root zone of web names [sic] and addresses. He threw the internet to the wolves, and they — Russia, China, Iran, and others — are ready to devour it.

We salute the Congressional Republicans who have legislatively impeded his plans to turn over the Information Freedom Highway to regulators and tyrants. That fight must continue, for its outcome is in doubt. We will consistently support internet policies that allow people and private enterprise to thrive, without providing new and expanded government powers to tax and regulate so that the internet does not become the vehicle for a dramatic expansion of government power.

The internet’s independence is its power. It has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. We will therefore resist any effort to shift control toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations. We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach. The only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector. The internet’s free market needs to be free and open to all ideas and competition without the government or service providers picking winners and losers.

Previously, such views had been expressed by just a handful of elected Republicans, notably Cruz, who has introduced a bill to block the IANA transition until Congress passes law specifically allowing it.

The irony in the latest GOP statement is that the transition is actually a transfer of power away from governments (specifically, the US government) into the private sector.

The current plan for a post-US ICANN, which was put together over two years by hundreds of participants mostly from the private sector, would see Governmental Advisory Committee advice carry less weight unless it receives full consensus.

In other words, if Iran, China and Russia want to destroy freedom of speech, they’ll have to persuade over 150 other governments to their cause.

Should that ever happen, a new multi-stakeholder (and in this example, government free) “Empowered Community” would have the power to put a stop to it.

The goal is to have the transition completed shortly after the current IANA contract between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce expires at the end of September.

That’s before the US presidential elections, of course, which take place in November.

How many elephants did ICANN send to Helsinki?

Kevin Murphy, July 18, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN ships a quite staggering amount of equipment to its thrice-yearly public meetings, equivalent to more than 12 mid-sized cars at the recent Helsinki meeting.

That’s one of the interesting data points in ICANN’s just published “Technical Report” — a 49-page data dump — for ICANN 56.

It’s the second meeting in a row the organization has published such a report, the first for a so-called “Meeting B” or “Policy Forum” which run on a reduced-formality, more focused schedule.

The Helsinki report reveals that 1,436 people showed up in person, compared to 2,273 for March’s Marrakech meeting, which had a normal ICANN meeting agenda.

The attendees were 61% male and 32% female. Another 7% did not disclose their gender. No comparable numbers were published in the Marrakech report.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the Helsinki numbers show not a terrible gender balance as far as tech conferences go. It’s a bit better than you’d expect from anecdotal evidence.

Not many big tech events publish their male/female attendee ratios, but Google has said attendees at this year’s Google IO were 23% female.

Europeans accounted for most of the Helsinki attendees, as you might expect, at 43%. That compared to 20% in Marrakech.

The next largest geographic contingent came from North America — 27%, compared to just 18% in Marrakech.

The big surprise to me is how much equipment ICANN ships out to each of its meetings.

In March, it moved 93 metric tonnes (103 American tons) of kit to Marrakech. About 19 metric tonnes of that was ICANN-owned gear, the rest was hired. That weighs as much as 3.5 African elephants, the report says.

For Helsinki, that was up to 19.7 metric tonnes, more than 12 cars’ worth. Shipped equipment includes stuff like 412 microphones, 73 laptops and 28 printers.

In both reports, ICANN explains the shipments like this:

Much like a touring band, ICANN learned over time that the most cost-effective method of ensuring that meeting participants have a positive experience is to sea freight our own equipment to ICANN meetings. We ship critical equipment, then rent the remaining equipment locally to help promote the economy.

Rock on.

The Helsinki report, which reveals more data than anyone could possibly find useful, can be downloaded as a PDF here.

Web.com policy exec moves to ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 14, 2016, Domain Policy

Domain industry veteran Jennifer Gore is to become ICANN’s new director of registrar relations.

She takes over the role from Mike Zupke, who I gather is leaving ICANN, from next Monday. She will report to Cyrus Namazi in ICANN’s Global Domains Division.

Gore was most recently senior director of policy at Web.com, a role she held for over five years. Much of her earlier career was spent at Network Solutions and Verisign.

Her move from industry to ICANN means she has had to resign her position on the GNSO Council, where she represented the Registrars Stakeholder Group.

The RrSG will now have to hold an election to find her replacement.

Fight as ICANN “backtracks” on piracy policing

Kevin Murphy, July 1, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has clarified that it will not terminate new gTLD registries that have piracy web sites in their zones, potentially inflaming an ongoing fight between domain companies and intellectual property interests.

This week’s ICANN 56 policy meeting in Helsinki saw registries and the Intellectual Property Constituency clash over whether an ICANN rule means that registries breach their contract if they don’t suspend piracy domains.

Both sides have different interpretation of the rule, found in the so-called “Public Interest Commitments” or PICs that can be found in Specification 11 of every new gTLD Registry Agreement.

But ICANN chair Steve Crocker, in a letter to the IPC last night, seemed to side strongly with the registries’ interpretation.

Spec 11 states, among other things, that:

Registry Operator will include a provision in its Registry-Registrar Agreement that requires Registrars to include in their Registration Agreements a provision prohibiting Registered Name Holders from distributing malware, abusively operating botnets, phishing, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement, fraudulent or deceptive practices, counterfeiting or otherwise engaging in activity contrary to applicable law, and providing (consistent with applicable law and any related procedures) consequences for such activities including suspension of the domain name.

A literal reading of this, and the reading favored by registries, is that all registries have to do to be in compliance is to include the piracy prohibitions in their Registry-Registrar Agreement, essentially passing off responsibility for piracy to registrars (which in turn pass of responsibility to registrants).

Registries believe that the phrase “consistent with applicable law and related procedures” means they only have to suspend a domain name when they receive a court order.

Members of the IPC, on the other hand, say this reading is ridiculous.

“We don’t know what this clause means,” Marc Trachtenberg of the IPC said during a session in Helsinki on Tuesday. “It’s got to mean something. It can’t just mean you have to put a provision into a contract, that’s pointless.”

“To put a provision into a contract that you’re not going to enforce, has no meaning,” he added. “And to have a clause that a registry operator or registrar has to comply with a court order, that’s meaningless also. Clearly a registry operator has to comply with a court order.”

Some IPC members think ICANN has “backtracked” by introducing the PICs concept then failing to enforce it.

IPC members in general believe that registries are supposed to not only require their registrars to ban piracy sites, but also to suspend piracy domains when they’re told about them.

Registries including Donuts have started doing this recently on a voluntary basis with partners such as the Motion Picture Association of America, but believe that ICANN should not be in the business of content policing.

“[Spec 11] doesn’t say what some members of the IPC think it says,” Donuts VP Jon Nevett said during the Helsinki session. “To say we’re in blatant violation of that PIC and that ICANN is not enforcing that PIC is problematic.”

The fight kicked off face-to-face in Helsinki, but it has been happening behind the scenes for several months.

The IPC got mad back in February when Crocker, responding to Governmental Advisory Committee concerns about intellectual property abuse, said the issue “appears to be outside of our mandate” (pdf).

That’s a reference to ICANN’s strengthening resolve that it is not and should not be the internet’s “content police”.

In April (pdf) and June (pdf) letters, IPC president Greg Shatan and the Coalition for Online Accountability’s Steve Metalitz called on Crocker to clarify this statement.

Last night, he did, and the clarification is unlikely to make the IPC happy.

Crocker wrote (pdf):

ICANN will bring enforcement actions against Registries that fail to include the required prohibitions and reservations in its end-user agreements and against Registrars that fail to main the required abuse point of contact…

This does not mean, however, that ICANN is required or qualified to make factual and legal determinations as to whether a Registered Name Holder or website operator is violating applicable laws and governmental regulations, and to assess what would constitute an appropriate remedy in any particular situation.

This seems pretty clear — new gTLD registries are not going to be held accountable for domains used for content piracy.

The debate may not be over however.

During Helsinki there was a smaller, semi-private (recorded but not webcast live) meeting of the some registries, IPC and GAC members, hosted by ICANN board member Bruce Tonkin, which evidently concluded that more discussion is needed to reach a common understanding of just what the hell these PICs mean.