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New TLD ownership rules punted to ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2010, Domain Policy

The ICANN board will be asked to untangle the policy mess that currently bans domain name registrars from applying for new top-level domains, after a GNSO working group failed to reach consensus.

The Vertical Integration WG was tasked with figuring out whether registrars should be allowed to own new TLD registries and vice versa, but only managed to reach deadlock.

The GNSO Council is now likely to punt the issue to the ICANN’s September 24-25 retreat, asking the board to consider the issues raised by the WG’s non-committal interim report.

It’s a dismaying case of pass-the-parcel that highlights both the trickiness of the VI problem and the limits of ICANN’s bottom-up policy-making process.

ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook currently says that cross ownership between registrars and new TLD registries should be limited to 2% and that all new TLDs need to be offered to all accredited registrars.

This was in response to fears from some quarters that if a registrar also owned a new TLD registry, it would have an unfair advantage over other registrars, ultimately harming registrants.

The DAGv4 text was an overt, deliberately Draconian placeholder – it would ban all registrars and some registries, as well as making “.brand” TLDs unworkable – designed to force the GNSO find a better solution to the perceived problem.

The WG, which is ongoing, has so far failed to do so, and now seems set to pass the hot potato back from whence it came.

What all this means is that the ICANN board (and, let’s face it, staff) will be forced to assemble a workable VI policy for the first round of new TLD applications from the piecemeal suggestions of the WG; to do over two days or less what the WG failed to do over six months.

What the board will decide remains to be seen, but it could wind up governing the first round of new TLD applications, potentially making it a considerably smaller round.

Some Skype domain names still owned by ex-employees

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2010, Domain Policy

Oops! A number of Skype’s domain names are still registered in the names of people who no longer work for the company.

The embarrassing oversight was revealed in the company’s S-1 registration statement (huge HTML file), filed yesterday as the company prepares to launch its IPO.

Here’s the relevant section, with my emphasis.

Third parties have registered domain names that contain the Skype trademark without our consent, and a small proportion of the Skype domain names are registered in the names of our former employees rather than in our name. While we are seeking to have these domain names transferred to us, we may not be successful and to the extent that Skype domain names are not under our control in certain countries, it could hinder our marketing efforts, cause confusion to our users and may harm our reputation in those countries if those domain names are used in ways unrelated to our business or in ways with which we would not agree.

The company appears to be having a hard time protecting its brand in the offline world, too.

According to the S-1, News Corp arm BskyB, which runs Sky TV in the UK, has been objecting to Skype’s trademark applications, and it recently manage to block one such application in the EU.

It’s also having problems getting trademark protection in Asia, where others have registered very similar marks.

Cash-for-gold firm aims UDRP at “sucks” site

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2010, Domain Policy

An Arizona cash-for-gold company has filed a UDRP claim against a gripe site that says it “sucks”.

HBT Investments, which does business at valleygoldmine.com, has filed its claim with WIPO against the owner of valleygoldminesucks.com.

The gripe site isn’t particularly exciting. It’s a blog with two entries, both dating from May 2009 and both primarily questioning the objectivity of an ABC news report.

The registrant probably has a strong defense.

There’s oodles of UDRP precedent protecting “sucks” sites, mainly on the grounds that there’s nothing “confusingly similar” about a domain that treats the trademark owner with contempt.

Valley Goldmine has a Better Business Bureau A+ rating displayed prominently on its web site, so it obviously values its reputation, which is fair enough.

But filing a UDRP against a gripe site does have the unfortunate effect of making it look like you’re trying to stifle free speech.

Valleygoldminesucks.com is, however, the second domain name that appears when one Googles for “valley goldmine”, which is probably more of a concern.

Massive BackCountry.com UDRP case ignores rude typos

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2010, Domain Policy

Amusingly, a huge 41-domain typosquatting UDRP case just filed by BackCountry.com contains none of the obvious, profane typos.

The claim, apparently filed by an outdoor equipment retailer, covers typos such as backxountry.com, backcountru.com and even backc9untry.com.

It does not include the typo that first occurred to me. You know the one I mean.

That domain exists, and is currently parked with suggestive, adult-oriented ad links.

In fact, none of the 41 domains listed in the National Arbitration Forum claim contain the particular four-letter Shakespearean pun that I’m thinking of.

New UDRP provider headed by “ace cyber lawyer”

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2010, Domain Policy

A new Indian group appears to have applied to become ICANN’s fifth approved UDRP provider.

The New Delhi-based Indian Technology Mediation & Arbitration Center is headed by ICANN veteran Pavan Duggal, who describes himself as “India’s ace cyber lawyer”.

ITMAC has 18 wannabe panelists listed on its web site, some of whom are said to have previously mediated domain name disputes for the World Intellectual Property Organization and Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre.

The outfit says it will be able to mediate disputes in a dozen or so Indian languages, as well as English, and would be able to handle internationalized domain names.

The base price for a single-domain, single-panelist case would be INR 106,000, roughly $2,279 at today’s exchange rates.

That’s actually almost quite a lot more expensive than WIPO, say, which charges $1,500 for an equivalent service. Quite surprising really – one lakh goes a lot further in India than in the US.

ICANN’s board of directors has the item “Receipt and Posting for Public Comment of the Application to be a New UDRP Provider” on the agenda for its meeting next Thursday.

(Via Managing Internet IP)