Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

ICANN denies it’s in bed with trademark lawyers

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby has strongly denied claims from non-commercial stakeholders that its attitude to Whois reform is “biased” in favour of “special interests” such as trademark lawyers.

In a remarkably fast reply (pdf) to a scathing October 17 letter (pdf) from the current and incoming chairs of the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, Chalaby dismissed several of the NCSG’s claims of bias as “not true”.

The NCSG letter paints ICANN’s efforts to bring Whois policy into line with the General Data Protection Regulation as rather an effort to allow IP owners to avoid GDPR altogether.

It even suggests that ICANN may be veering into content regulation — something it has repeatedly and specifically disavowed — by referring to how Whois may be used to combat “fake news”.

The “demonstrated intention of ICANN org has been to ensure the unrestrained and unlawful access to personal data demanded by special interest groups”, the NCSG claimed.

It believes this primarily due to ICANN’s efforts to support the idea of a “unified access model” — a way for third parties with “legitimate interests” to get access to private Whois data.

ICANN has produced a couple of high-level framework documents for such a model, and CEO Goran Marby has posted articles playing up the negative effects of an inaccessible Whois.

But Marby has since insisted that a unified access model is still very much an “if”, entirely dependent on whether the community, in the form of the Whois EPDP working group, decides there should be one.

That message was reiterated in Chalaby’s new letter to the NCSG.

The conversation on whether to adopt such a model must continue, but the outcomes of those discussions are for the community to decide. We expect that the community, using the bottom-up multistakeholder model, will take into account all stakeholders’ views and concerns.

He denied that coordinating Whois data is equivalent to content regulation, saying it falls squarely within ICANN’s mandate.

“ICANN’s mission related to ‘access to’ this data has always encompassed lawful third-party access and use, including for purposes that may not fall within ICANN’s mission,” he wrote.

The exchange of letters comes as parties on the other side of the Whois debate also lobby ICANN and its governmental advisors over the need for Whois access.

ICANN 63, Day 0 — registrars bollock DI as Whois debate kicks off

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2018, Domain Policy

Blameless, cherubic domain industry news blogger Kevin Murphy received a bollocking from registrars over recent coverage of Whois reform yesterday, as he attended the first day of ICANN 63, here in Barcelona.

Meanwhile, the community working group tasked with designing this reform put in a 10-hour shift of face-to-face talks, attempting to craft the language that will, they hope, bring ICANN’s Whois policy into line with European privacy law.

Talks within this Expedited Policy Development Process working group have not progressed a massive amount since I last reported on the state of affairs.

They’re still talking about “purposes”. Basically, trying to write succinct statements that summarize why entities in the domain name ecosystem collect personally identifiable information from registrants.

Knowing why you’re collecting data, and explaining why to your customers, is one of the things you have to do under the General Data Protection Regulation.

Yesterday, the EPDP spent pretty much the entire day arguing over what the “purposes” of ICANN — as opposed to registries, registrars, or anyone else — are.

The group spent the first half of the day trying to agree on language explaining ICANN’s role in coordinating DNS security, and how setting policies concerning third-party access to private Whois data might play a role in that.

The main sticking point was the extent to which these third parties get a mention in the language.

Too little, and the Intellectual Property Constituency complains that their “legitimate interests” are being overlooked; too much, and the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group cries that ICANN is overstepping its mission by turning itself into a vehicle for trademark enforcement.

The second half of the day was spent dealing with language explaining why collecting personal data helps to establish ownership of domains, which is apparently more complicated than it sounds.

Part of this debate was over whether registrants have “rights” — such as the right to use a domain name they paid for.

GoDaddy policy VP James Bladel spent a while arguing against this legally charged word, again favoring “benefits”, but appeared to eventually back down.

It was also debated whether relatively straightforward stuff such as activating a domain in the DNS by publishing name servers can be classed as the disclosure of personal data.

The group made progress reaching consensus on both sets of purposes, but damn if it wasn’t slow, painful progress.

The EPDP group will present its current state of play at a “High Interest Topic” session on Monday afternoon, but don’t expect to see its Initial Report this week as originally planned. That’s been delayed until next month.

While the EPDP slogs away, there’s a fair bit of back-channel lobbying of ICANN board and management going on.

All the players with a significant vested interest in the outcome are writing letters, conducting surveys, and so on, in order to persuade ICANN that it either does or does not need to create a “unified access model” that would allow some parties to carry on accessing private Whois data more or less the same way as they always have.

One such effort is the one I blogged about on Thursday, shortly before heading off to Barcelona, AppDetex’s claims that registrars have ignored or not sufficiently responded to some 9,000 automated requests for Whois data that its clients (notably Facebook) has spammed them with recently.

Registrars online and in-person gave me a bollocking over the post, which they said was one-sided and not in keeping with DI’s world-renowned record of fairness, impartiality and all-round awesomeness (I’m paraphrasing).

But, yeah, they may have a point.

It turns out the registrars still have serious beef with AppDetex’s bulk Whois requests, even with recent changes that attempt to scale back the volume of data demanded and provide more clarity about the nature of the request.

They suspect that AppDetex is simply trawling through zone files for strings that partially match a handful of Facebook’s trademarks, then spamming out thousands of data requests that fail to specify which trademarks are being infringed and how they are being infringed.

They further claim that AppDetex and its clients do not respond to registrars’ replies, suggesting that perhaps the aim of the game here is to gather data not about the owner of domains but about registrars’ alleged non-compliance with policy, thereby propping up the urgent case for a unified access mechanism.

AppDetex, in its defence, has been telling registrars on their private mailing list that it wants to carry on working with them to refine its notices.

The IP crowd and registrars are not the only ones fighting in the corridors, though.

The NCSG also last week shot off a strongly worded missive to ICANN, alleging that the organization has thrown in with the IP lobby, making a unified Whois access service look like a fait accompli, regardless of the outcome of the EPDP. ICANN has denied this.

Meanwhile, cybersecurity interests have also shot ICANN the results of a survey, saying they believe internet security is suffering in the wake of ICANN’s response to GDPR.

I’m going to get to both of these sets of correspondence in later posts, so please don’t give me a corridor bollocking for giving them short shrift here.

UPDATE: Minutes after posting this article, I obtained a letter Tucows has sent to ICANN, ripping into AppDetex’s “outrageous” campaign.

Tucows complains that it is being asked, in effect, to act as quality control for AppDetex’s work-in-progress software, and says the volume of spurious requests being generated would be enough for it ban AppDetex as a “vexatious reporter”.

AppDetex’s system apparently thinks “grifflnstafford.com” infringes on Facebook’s “Insta” trademark.

UPDATE 2: Fellow registrar Blacknight has also written to ICANN today to denounce AppDetex’s strategy, saying the “automated” requests it has been sending out are “not sincere”.

Registrars still not responding to private Whois requests

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2018, Domain Policy

Registrars are still largely ignoring requests for private Whois data, according to a brand protection company working for Facebook.

AppDetex wrote to ICANN (pdf) last week to say that only 3% of some 9,000 requests it has made recently have resulted in the delivery of full Whois records.

Almost 60% of these requests were completely ignored, the company claimed, and 0.4% resulted in a request for payment.

You may recall that AppDetex back in July filed 500 Whois requests with registrars on behalf of client Facebook, with which it has a close relationship.

Then, only one registrar complied to AppDetex’s satisfaction.

Company general counsel Ben Milam now tells ICANN that more of its customers (presumably, he means not just Facebook) are using its system for automatically generating Whois requests.

He also says that these requests now contain more information, such as a contact name and number, after criticism from registrars that its demands were far too vague.

AppDetex is also no longer demanding reverse-Whois data — a list of domains owned by the same registrant, something not even possible under the old Whois system — and is limiting each of its requests to a single domain, according to Milam’s letter.

Registrars are still refusing to hand over the information, he wrote, with 11.4% of requests creating responses demanding a legal subpoena or UDRP filing.

The company reckons this behavior is in violation of ICANN’s Whois Temporary Specification.

The Temp Spec says registrars “must provide reasonable access to Personal Data in Registration Data to third parties on the basis of a legitimate interests pursued by the third party”.

The ICANN community has not yet come up with a sustainable solution for third-party access to private Whois. It’s likely to be the hottest topic at ICANN 63 in Barcelona, which kicks off this weekend.

Whois records for gTLD domains are of course, post-GDPR, redacted of all personally identifiable information, which irks big brand owners who feel they need it in order to chase cybersquatters.

Book review — “Domain Names: Strategies and Legal Aspects”

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2018, Domain Policy

I’ve only ever read two books about the domain name industry.

The first one was Kieren McCarthy’s excellent Sex.com, the 2007 barely believable non-fictional tech-thriller that seemed to deliberately eschew inside-baseball policy talk in favor of a funny and rather gripping human narrative.

The second, Domain Names – Strategies and Legal Aspects, by Jeanette Soderlund Sause and Malin Edmar, is pretty much the diametrical opposite.

The book, published in its second edition in June, instead seems bent on explaining the complex intersection of domain names and intellectual property rights in as few words as it is able.

Coming in at a brisk 150 pages, it’s basically been engineered to funnel as much information into your brain as possible in as short a space of time as possible.

I blazed through my complimentary review copy during a three-hour train journey a couple months ago.

About half-way through, I realized I had done absolutely no background reading about the authors or publisher, and had no idea who the intended reader was.

The introduction, written for the 2014 first edition by a Swedish civil servant then on the GAC, gives the misleading impression that the book has something to say about multistakeholderism, DNS fragmentation, or new gTLD controversies.

It doesn’t. If the authors have any political opinions, you will not learn them from Domain Names.

What you will get is a competent reference work geared primarily towards IP lawyers and brand management folk who are newbies to the world of domain names.

The authors are both Swedish IP lawyers, though Soderland Sause is currently marketing VP for the .global gTLD registry.

The first half of their book deals with introducing and briefly explaining the high-level technical aspects of the DNS and the basic structure of the market, then discussing the difference between a trademark and a domain name.

An occasionally enlightening middle section of about 30 pages deals with strategies for selecting and obtaining domains, either as fresh registrations or from third parties such as cybersquatters, investors or competitors.

But the second half of the book — which deals with UDRP and related dispute resolution procedures — is evidently where the authors’, and presumably readers’, primary interest lies.

It goes into comparative depth on this topic, and I actually started to learn a few things during this section.

As a newcomer to the work, I cannot definitively say whether the new and updated content — which I infer covers developments in new gTLDs and such over the last four years — is worth the £120 upgrade for owners of the first edition.

It also seems to have gone to the printers before it was fully clear how ICANN was going to deal with GDPR; a third edition will likely be needed in a couple of years after the smoke clears.

I’d be lying if I said I had any fun reading Domain Names, but I don’t think I was supposed to.

I can see myself keeping it near my desk for occasional reference, which I think is what it’s mainly there for.

I can see IP lawyers or ICANN policy wonks also keeping copies by their desks, to be handed out to new employees as a primer on what they need to do to get their hands on the domains they want.

These juniors can then absorb the book over a weekend and keep it by their own desks for future reference, to be eventually passed on to the next n00b.

If that’s what it’s for, I think the authors have done a pretty good job of it.

Domain Names – Strategies and Legal Aspects, 2nd edition, by Jeanette Soderlund Sause and Malin Edmar, is published by Sweet & Maxwell.

ICANN says it can spend quarter-billion-dollar auction fund however it likes

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN can tap into its $236 million new gTLD auction fund whenever it wants, and there’s nothing the community can do about it, according to its board of directors.

The board this week said it has a “legal and fiduciary responsibility” over the money, and would be obliged to spend the cash to meet ICANN’s obligations if it ever needed to.

The statement came in a letter to the leaders of a community working group that this week published a set of preliminary recommendations (pdf) for how the money should be distributed.

The group — a cross-community working group or CCWG — laid out a few options for how the money should be administered, either by ICANN alone or in conjunction with a charitable third party, and distributed.

The money was collected from new gTLD applicants that participated in ICANN’s “last-resort” auctions to settle their contention sets. Over half of the money came from Verisign’s winning bid for .web, which is still being contested.

The CCWG said that the money should be used to:

  • Benefit the development, distribution, evolution and structures/projects that support the Internet’s unique identifier systems;
  • Benefit capacity building and underserved populations, and;
  • Benefit the open and interoperable Internet

But the CCWG could not agree among itself whether ICANN Org or community groups such as the GNSO or GAC should be able to grab some of the cash, which is currently held in a special fund, separated from ICANN’s operational budget.

The group asked the board for its opinion, and the board responded (pdf):

ICANN maintains legal and fiduciary responsibility over the funds, and the directors and officers have an obligation to protect the organization through the use of available resources. In such a case, while ICANN would not be required to apply for the proceeds, the directors and officers would have a fiduciary obligation to use the funds to meet the organization’s obligations.

In other words: it doesn’t matter what rules you put in place, it’s our money and we’re duty-bound to spend it if we have to.

The board added, however, that ICANN Org “currently does not foresee a situation where it would need to apply for the proceeds”.

ICANN is pretty well-funded. It would have to hit hard times indeed before it needed to crack open the auction nest egg.

The board also said that supporting organizations and advisory committees would not be able to apply for funding because they’re not legal entities and wouldn’t pass the due diligence.

The CCWG’s initial report is now open for public comment until November 27.