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Do uncontroversial new TLDs exist?

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee wants ICANN to drastically scale back the first round of new top-level domain applications, limiting it to “uncontroversial” strings.

In a letter last Thursday, interim GAC chair Heather Dryden wrote that ICANN should consider a “road test” or “fast track first round” made up of “relatively straightforward, non-sensitive and uncontroversial gTLD proposals”.

This doesn’t make much sense to me, for a few reasons.

First, Dryden’s letter does not attempt to define what such a TLD would look like, other than noting that they should include “community, cultural and geographical applications”.

Neither does it give ICANN any ideas about how it might separate out uncontroversial applications for special treatment before any applications have actually been received.

The idea might have worked had the Expressions Of Interest plan not been canned in Nairobi, but right now I can’t see an obvious way to do it without actually asking all applicants to file their apps before they have any idea of the rules their applications will be subject to or on what timeline.

It’s a recipe for, if not disaster, then for at least months and months of more delays as ICANN tries to design a parallel pre-approval process for uncontroversial strings.

Second, there’s no category of new TLD that is exclusively “uncontroversial” in nature.

The GAC wants “an initial fast track round for a limited number of non-controversial applications which should include a representative but diverse sample of community, cultural and geographical applications”.

This would seem to suggest that community, cultural and geographical TLDs are somehow less prone to controversy than other categories of application, which is not the case.

On the geoTLD front, you only need look at the large number of contested regional/city domains that we already know about – Berlin, Barcelona and Bayern, without leaving the B’s – to see that controversy is likely.

Even uncontested cityTLDs have potential for conflicts. Take .london, for example. Last time I checked, the one .london applicant we know of made it clear that .london would exclusively represent London in the UK.

If you’re a business in London, Ontario, or any other London, and nobody contests the .london bid, you’re forever excluded from the namespace. That, I would argue, could be controversial.

As for the cultural/ethnic TLDs, are the proposed .kurd, .eus (Basque) and .sic (Székely) TLDs really totally uncontroversial?

I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know they are designed to represent peoples largely originating from (relatively recently at least, if not currently) contested territories.

And what of “community” TLDs? It’s almost impossible to argue that this category is by definition less controversial, given that essentially any applicant is eligible to designate itself a “community” TLD.

There’s a pretty decent chance that one or more .gay bids will be a community-backed application. And I strongly suspect that the GAC doesn’t like the prospect of that TLD one little bit.

Third, ICANN has already executed two limited new TLD rounds.

The whole point of the 2000 round of new TLDs was to create a “test-bed”. Similarly, a key reason the 2003 round was limited to “sponsored” TLDs was to increase the TLD pool in an orderly fashion.

The reason the GAC says wants a limited launch this time is to help ICANN in “collecting relevant information” relating to the “economic impacts of a large number of new gTLD strings”.

There’s an assumption here that the behavior of registrants, such as trademark holders, will be the same when a small number of TLDs are released as when a large number are released, or that one can extrapolate the latter from the former, which may not be the case.

If ICANN wants a limited launch in order to measure the economic impact, it has two previous such rounds to study already. But if it wants empirical data on a large number of TLDs being launched, there’s unfortunately only one way to get it.

Personally, I think the GAC’s talk of “economic analysis” and “uncontroversial strings” is more likely a smokescreen for its real concerns about nations unilaterally blocking strings they don’t like at their borders, potentially leading to root fragmentation.

Anti-terror rule dropped from new TLD guidebook

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN will cut references to terrorism from its Draft Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains, after criticism from some Arab stakeholders.

The ICANN board of directors decided on Saturday at its retreat in Trondheim that it will revise its policy of doing background checks on new TLD applicants:

The background check should be clarified to provide detail and specificity in response to comment. The specific reference to terrorism will be removed (and the background check criteria will be revised).

The reference to “terrorism” first showed up in DAGv4, the latest draft. It caused a bit of a stir, with at least two Arab community members harshly criticizing ICANN for its inclusion.

Khaled Fattal of the Multilingual Internet Group told ICANN it would “be seen by millions of Muslims and Arabs as racist, prejudicial and profiling” while Abdulaziz Al-Zoman of SaudiNIC observed that’s it’s not globally accepted “who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter”.

It appears that their complaints have been heard.

US seeks powers to shut down domains

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2010, Domain Policy

COICA is the new acronym we’ll all soon be talking about — it’s the law that could give the US its very own Great Firewall of China.

A bipartisan group of US senators today introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, legislation that would enable the government to quickly turn off domain names involved in piracy.

The bill would enable the Department of Justice to seek a court order against a domain name it believes is involved in piracy or selling counterfeit goods.

If the sponsoring registrar or registry is located in the US, the order would force it to stop the domain from resolving and lock it down.

The likely effect of this would be to force piracy sites out of .com and into offshore registrars. But the bill has thought about that too.

If it’s a non-US registrar and registry, injunctions could be sought to block the domain at the ISP level.

That’s right folks – if this bill passes, the US would get its very own Chinese-style national firewall.

The bill would allow the domain registrant to petition the court to lift the order.

“By cracking down on online piracy of television shows and movies, we hope this bill will encourage copyright owners to develop innovative and competitive new choices for consumers to watch video over the internet,” said Sen. Herb Kohl.

Which is about as disingenuous a statement as it gets, when you think about it, given that it essentially eliminates a major incentive for business model innovation.

Man asks ICANN for “list of all domains”

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2010, Domain Policy

A man has used ICANN’s freedom of information procedure to ask for “a list of all registered domains”, forcing the organization to politely decline.

Barry Carter wrote (pdf):

Per http://www.icann.org/en/transparency/didp-en.htm please provide me a list of all registered domains (including all public registrant information). If you are unable to provide this information, please let me know why.

As you might imagine, with the number of registered domains in the gTLDs and ccTLDs numbering in the hundreds of millions, that’s what you might call a Big Ask.

ICANN’s response (pdf) patiently explains that it doesn’t have such a list and that assembling one would constitute an unreasonable request under its Documentary Information Disclosure Policy.

Still, worth a shot, eh?

RapidShare’s UDRP campaign seizes 44 domains

Kevin Murphy, September 17, 2010, Domain Policy

The final results are in. RapidShare’s recent campaign to reclaim its brand from the pirates using the UDRP appears to be over, and it had about a 90% success rate.

Over the last few months the file-hosting company filed 46 UDRP complaints, covering a total of 49 domains, and it managed to win all but five of them.

The vast majority of the contested domains, 43 in total, contained the word “rapidshare”, which RapidShare has trademarked.

The company won all of them with one notable exception: rapidshare.net. The panelist in that case found that the domain had been registered before RapidShare had acquired its rights.

The remaining six domains just contained the term “rapid”. In these cases, the company had a harder time proving its case and therefore had mixed results.

It lost its complaints over rapiddownload.net, rapidbay.net, rapid4me.com and rapid.org largely on the grounds that “rapid” is not sufficiently confusingly similar to “rapidshare”.

However, it managed to win rapidpiracy.com on the dubious basis that “piracy” and “share” are conceptually similar, as I blogged earlier this month.

It also managed to secure rapidpedia.com, on the even more dubious (and barely discussed) grounds that the domain “replicates the first and dominant element of the trademark”.

All of the complaints were handled by WIPO.