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IANA contract up for rebid this week?

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2011, Domain Policy

As ICANN’s leadership heads off to Brussels to kick off two days of unprecedented talks about new top-level domains with international governments, one nation has an ace up its sleeve.

The US government could be just a day or two away from putting the IANA contract, from which ICANN derives much of its power over domain names, up for public discussion and rebidding.

It’s a matter of record that the IANA contract expires at the end of September, and that it will have to be renewed this year if ICANN wants to continue functioning as it is today.

But could the rebid process kick off as early as this week? It seems likely. The timing is right, especially if the US wants to make a statement.

It was February 21, 2006, five years ago this week, that the US Department of Commerce put out a “Request For Information” that led to the current five-year IANA deal with ICANN being signed.

No new RFI has been released yet. But Commerce could choose to pull rank, putting pressure on ICANN to recognize its authority, by issuing such a document this week.

There’s also the possibility that Commerce will issue not an RFI but instead a “Notice Of Inquiry”, a different type of public procurement procedure notice that would kick off not just a rebidding process but a whole lot of public argument about ICANN’s role in internet governance.

Over the years, it has not been unheard of for the US government to occasionally remind ICANN that it has a special relationship with it, particularly before important governance decisions are made.

Most recently, shortly before the ICANN meeting in Cartagena last December, Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at Commerce, warned that the new TLDs program wasn’t shaping up quite how the US expected.

Next week, Commerce’s Suzanne Sene is one of several Governmental Advisory Committee representatives expected to take a lead role in the ICANN-GAC negotiations.

One way or the other, the IANA contract is up for renewal this year, and the process may soon start that could see the function, hypothetically at least, change hands this September.

IANA, for Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is responsible for the high-level management of IP address allocations, protocol numbers, and top-level domains.

If a gTLD or ccTLD wants to make a change to its DNS records it has to go to IANA, in much the same way as domain owners such as you and me have to go to our registrar.

IANA decides whether to redelegate a ccTLD to a new registry, for example. When .co liberalized recently, it only did so after IANA approved the transfer of the domain to .CO Internet from a Bogota university.

It’s also responsible for making the call on adding new TLDs to the root. Assigning the IANA function to an entity other than ICANN could, for example, add latency to the go-live date of new TLDs.

For the last decade, IANA has been pretty much an ICANN in-house department. It’s not at all clear to me what would happen if IANA was contracted to a third party, especially one that disagreed with ICANN’s decisions.

Both the European Commission and the Internet Architecture Board have recently indicated that they believe the IANA-ICANN relationship could be due a rethink, as Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted last summer.

Wanted: official ICANN tweeter

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN is looking to beef up its media relations department, and has put out its feelers for someone to take over its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The organization has posted a job opening to its hiring page for a media and marketing coordinator, reporting to director of marketing and outreach Scott Pinzon and head flack Brad White.

Responsibilities include writing “blogs, tweets, and status updates on ICANN’s behalf for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other platforms”.

I believe that currently @ICANN is usually authored by Pinzon.

The role also includes more traditional media relations activities, such as writing press releases and fielding calls from journalists and bloggers.

ICANN has also started looking to fill an opening for a publications manager for its marketing department. I believe both positions are new.

Also of note: ICANN is no longer advertising for a compliance director, raising hopes in some quarters that it has finally found a replacement for David Giza, who left unexpectedly last July. UPDATE: it’s back.

ICANN cancels Jordan meeting

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN will not hold its 41st public meeting in Amman, Jordan, apparently due to safety concerns in the region, which is experiencing a rash of sometimes violent protest.

In an email to the GNSO Council half an hour ago, ICANN vice president of policy development support David Olive wrote:

The ICANN June meeting will not take place in Jordan. A decision was made and the Jordanian host has already been contacted about this change.

In a day or so, there will be a formal ICANN announcement concerning this matter as well information on the location for the next meeting.

The rumor currently circulating on Twitter and mailing lists is that Singapore is a likely replacement candidate. Singapore, like Jordan, recently received an IDN ccTLD in its local script.

Following popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt over the last several weeks, many Middle Eastern nations, including Jordan, have experienced anti-government protests, some of which have turned violent.

ICANN has been very sensitive to the security of its delegates since many stakeholders stayed at home rather than attend its terrorist-threatened meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, a year ago.

Rumor sites fair game under UDRP

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2011, Domain Policy

Could Apple shut down MacRumors.com using the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy?

That seems like a fair interpretation of a recent WIPO decision over the domain name LegoRumors.com, which was handed over to Lego Juris, maker of the popular toys.

LegoRumors.com leads to blog-style news site, not many months old, that reports on Lego products.

The site is a bit of a mess – poorly written, spammy, and ad-heavy. You’d have to be nuts to think it was an official Lego site.

It does appear to contain original content, and does not look to me like the kind of clear-cut cybersquatting that the UDRP was intended to address.

Lego succeeded in seizing the domain, regardless. The WIPO panelist (in a decision that could also have used a run through a spell-checker) found:

The disputed domain name consists of two different words, one consisting of the Complainants registered trademark and other of a generic term “rumors”. The Panel considers that the addition of the generic denomination, especially when added to a famous trademark is not sufficient to avoid confusion.

Pay attention, “rumors” sites.

The panelist also found that the domain name was registered in bad faith, on the basis that the registrant clearly was aware of Lego’s trademark (because he’s writing about Lego) and because the site contained sponsored links to potential competitors.

Apply this logic to MacRumors.com, which knowingly uses an Apple trademark in its domain name, writes about Apple products, and currently shows ads for BlackBerry and Adobe products that compete with Apple.

I’m not suggesting for a second that MacRumors is in any danger of losing its domain, but if the UDRP was implemented equitably, this case could be seen as scary precedent.

UDRP reform effort begins

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has kicked off a review of its Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy, the occasionally controversial process used to adjudicate cybersquatting complaints.

The GNSO Council on Thursday voted to ask ICANN staff for a so-called “Issues Report” on UDRP, indicating that reform of the process is likely.

This is the relevant portion of the resolution, passed unanimously:

RESOLVED #2, the GNSO Council requests an Issues Report on the current state of the UDRP. This effort should consider:

* How the UDRP has addressed the problem of cybersquatting to date, and any insufficiencies/inequalities associated with the process.

* Whether the definition of cybersquatting inherent within the existing UDRP language needs to be reviewed or updated. The Issue Report should include suggestions for how a possible PDP on this issue might be managed.

Issues Reports commissioned by the Council are expected within 15 days, and 15 days after that the Council is expected to vote on whether to kick off a Policy Development Process.

A PDP could lead to changes to the UDRP that would be binding on all ICANN-accredited registrars and their customers.

While the UDRP has proven very effective at dealing with clear-cut cases of cybersquatting over the last 12 years, critics claim that it is often interpreted too broadly in favor of trademark interests.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I frequently report on unfathomable UDRP decisions, but these are generally the exception rather than the rule.

Unrelated to UDRP, the GNSO Council has also voted against asking ICANN for an Issues Report on registry/registrar best practices for mitigating domain abuse.

Business interests wanted registrars to take more measures (voluntarily) to curb activities such as phishing, but registrars think this kind of rule-making is beyond the scope of the GNSO.

After a lot of heated debate and arcane procedural wrangling, the Council decided instead to ask for a “discussion paper”, a term that has no meaning under ICANN’s rules, meaning a PDP is less likely.