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ICANN asks the US to cut it loose

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has officially requested the loosening of its contractual ties to the US government.

In a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (pdf), ICANN president Rod Beckstrom said the US should finally make good on its promise to privatize the management of the internet’s naming and addressing resources.

Currently, ICANN manages the so-called IANA functions, which give it powers over the domain name system’s root zone, under a no-fee procurement deal with the NTIA.

That contract is up for renewal in September, and the NTIA recently issued a Notice Of Inquiry, soliciting public comments on how the IANA functions should be handled in future.

In Beckstrom’s response to the NOI, he says that a US government procurement contract is not the most suitable way to oversee matters of global importance.

Its close links to the NTIA are often cited by other governments as proof that ICANN is an organization that operates primarily in the interest of the US.

Beckstrom said there is “no compelling reason for these functions to be performed exclusively pursuant to a U.S. Government procurement contract.”

He noted that the original plan, when ICANN was formed by the Clinton administration in 1998, was to transition these functions to the private sector no later than September 2000.

The privatization of the DNS is, in effect, 11 years late.

Beckstrom wrote:

The IANA functions are provided for the benefit of the global Internet: country code and generic top-level domain operators; Regional Internet Registries; the IETF; and ultimately, Internet users around the world. Applying U.S. federal procurement law and regulations, the IANA functions should be performed pursuant to a cooperative agreement.

His position was not unanticipated.

At the start of ICANN’s San Francisco meeting last week, Beckstrom and former chairman Vint Cerf both said that a “cooperative agreement” would be a better way for the US to manage IANA.

VeriSign’s role in root zone management is currently overseen by this kind of arrangement.

The NTIA has specifically asked whether IANA’s three core areas of responsibility – domain names, IP addresses and protocol parameters – should be split between three different entities.

Beckstrom also argued against that, saying that there are “many examples of cross-functional work”, and that ICANN already has the necessary expertise and relationships in place to handle all three.

The NOI (pdf) is open until end of play next Thursday, March 31. Half a dozen responses have already been filed here.

At least one respondent believes the IANA powers could be broken up.

Facebook files 21 domain name complaints

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2011, Domain Policy

Facebook has filed a UDRP complaint covering 21 domain names that include its trademark.

All seem to belong to the same domainer: Mike Mann. His company, Domain Asset Holdings, which has over 162,000 domains to its name, is listed in the Whois for each.

It’s the largest single UDRP filing by Facebook to date, and only its second to include brand+keyword domains.

The contested domains include: aboutfacebook.com, facebookbabes.com, facebookcheats.com, facebookclub.com, facebookdevelopment.com, killfacebook.com and many more.

All 21 covered by the UDRP are currently available for sale at Mann’s DomainMarket.com, with list prices between $350 and $8,000 and above.

A quick search on that site for other well-known social media brands returned dozens of results.

Mann is known as co-founder of BuyDomains, and more recently as one of the former owners of sex.com, which sold for $13 million last year.

Canon’s sexy reason for .canon?

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2011, Domain Policy

Canon made headlines and gave a small amount of momentum to the idea of “.brand” top-level domains when it announced, a year ago, that it would apply to ICANN to manage .canon.

There are plenty of good reasons why the company would want the TLD.

Beyond the more obvious search-oriented branding opportunities, some say Canon could try to boost customer loyalty and create new revenue streams by offering camera buyers services such as photo hosting at personalized .canon domains.

But here’s another reason that doesn’t seem to have received many column inches: as I recently discovered from a few continental friends, “canon” also means “sexy” in French slang.

I expect this coincidence was the very least of Canon’s concerns when its executives met to discuss their .brand TLD strategy, but it does highlight a major issue that some companies will have to deal with when the ICANN new gTLD program gets underway.

They may think their brand is unique, but unless they’ve done their homework they may find themselves competing with, or blocked by, equally legitimate applicants from other nations.

Companies planning to participate in the program – even only as a challenger – will need to have done a fairly daunting audit of their key brands if they want to avoid nasty surprises.

Ensuring a brand is a unique, registered trademark in one’s home territory is only the beginning.

Companies need to also ask themselves what, if anything, their mark means in other languages, what it looks like in non-Latin scripts such as Arabic and Chinese, and whether it has similarity of “appearance, phonetic sound, or meaning” to any other potential new TLD string.

We already have at least one double entendre in the DNS – the ccTLD for the tiny Pacific island of Niue, .nu, means “.naked” in French, as the registry discovered to its benefit many years ago.

If Canon had not decided to apply for .canon, could a French-speaking pornographer have applied for the TLD instead, on the quite reasonable basis that it is also a “generic” string?

ICANN’s trademark protection policies would make such a delegation highly unlikely, but Canon would have found itself forced into a defensive fight to protect its mark.

Of more immediate concern to the company is of course the question of who gets to register canon.xxx.

It seems likely that ICM Registry’s sunrise policy is strong enough to ensure that this particular .xxx domain is never used for pornography, but only if a) no existing pornographer has a trademark on the string and b) Canon remembers to defensively register.

In the unlikely event that Canon forgets to defend its mark, a pornographer who registered canon.xxx for a legitimate French porn site could well find himself with a UDRP-winning domain.

And don’t get me started on Virgin…

US upset with ICANN over .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government has expressed disappointment with ICANN for approving the .xxx top-level domain, surprising nobody.

Fox News is reporting Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce and one of ICANN’s keynote speakers at the just-concluded San Francisco meeting:

We are disappointed that ICANN ignored the clear advice of governments worldwide, including the US. This decision goes against the global public interest, and it will open the door to more Internet blocking by governments and undermine the stability and security of the Internet.

As I reported Friday, ICANN used a literal interpretation of its Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice in order to make it appear that it was not disagreeing with it at all.

Essentially, because the GAC didn’t explicitly say “don’t delegate .xxx”, the ICANN board of directors was free to do so without technically being insubordinate.

Whether the GAC knew in advance that this was the board’s game plan is another question entirely.

Strickling is of course duty-bound to complain about .xxx – no government wanted to be seen to associate themselves with pornography – but he’s in a unique position to do something about it.

Strickling heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the named “Administrator” of the DNS root and ergo ICANN’s overseer.

It’s within his power to refuse to instruct VeriSign to inject .xxx into the DNS root system, but it’s a power few observers expect him to exercise.

As Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted yesterday:

If the US goes crazy and interferes with XXX’s entry into the root it will completely kill ICANN and open a Pandora’s box for governmental control of the DNS, a box that will never be closed.

Dire consequences indeed. It’s unlikely that the NTIA would risk killing off the ICANN project after so many years over a bit of T&A.

Porn rally underway at ICANN San Francisco

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2011, Domain Policy

A small group of Free Speech Coalition supporters are currently holding a protest against the .xxx top-level domain, outside the ICANN meeting in San Francisco.

The rally outside the Westin St Francis hotel on Union Square has attracted about 25 people by my count, chanting slogans such as “We want porn! No triple-X!”

Noted porn producer/performer John “Buttman” Stagliano is among them, although he seems to be keeping to the sidelines.

Not to judge, but another of the protestors appears to be the same homeless guy who’s been bothering me for change and cigarettes all week.

Also attending, first amendment attorney Paul Cambria. There’s an unsubstantiated rumor he’s ready to serve ICANN and/or ICM Registry with a lawsuit if .xxx gets approved tomorrow.

He declined to comment on the rumor.

There’s an FSC press conference shortly, and Cambria tells me he’s going to be making a statement at the ICANN public comment forum later this afternoon.

I’ll update when it becomes clearer what the FSC’s game-plan is.