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Draconian Chinese crackdown puts domain industry at risk

Kevin Murphy, May 27, 2015, Domain Policy

The vast majority of top-level domain registries could soon be banned from selling domains into China due to a reported crackdown under a decade-old law.

That’s according to Allegravita, a company that helps registries with their go-to-market strategies in the country.

Allegravita released a report last week claiming that Chinese registrars will be forbidden to sell domains in TLDs that are not on a government-approved list.

The crackdown could come as early as July, the report says:

Foreign registries which have not applied for Chinese market approval are advised to do so in the near term, as unapproved Top-Level Domains are likely to be taken off the market from July this year.

As of April 30, there were only only 14 TLDs on the approved list. All of them are run by Chinese registries and only five do not use Chinese script.

Not on the list: every legacy gTLD, including .com, as well as every ccTLD apart from .cn.

The Draconian move is actually the implementation of regulations introduced by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology over a decade ago but not really enforced since.

As I reported in December, Donuts was facing problems launching its Chinese-script gTLDs due to this red tape.

MIIT announced in 2012 that new gTLD applicants would need licenses to sell into China.

According to Allegrevita, which until recently was working heavily with TLD Registry (“.chinesewebsite”) on its entry into the country, it’s “no longer ambiguous” that MIIT has asserted full oversight of the domain industry in China.

MIIT’s crackdown appears to be focused on the 93 Chinese registrars it has approved to do business.

Allegravita says these companies will not be allowed to sell unapproved TLD domains to Chinese registrants, but that existing registrations will be grandfathered:

by sometime in July 2015, the MIIT will not permit unapproved registries to operate or offer their domains for sale in China. The MIIT will not interfere with existing domain registrations for unapproved registries; however, new registrations will not be permitted to be sold by Chinese registrars to Chinese registrants.

Presumably, non-Chinese registrars will reap the benefits of this as Chinese would-be registrants look elsewhere to buy their domains.

China is an important market for many registries, particularly the low-cost ones.

Judging by MIIT’s web site, getting approval to sell your TLD in China involves a fairly stringent set of requirements, including having a local presence.

MIIT said in a press release last month that the “special action” is designed “to promote the healthy development of the Internet, to protect China’s Internet domain name system safe and reliable operation

Chehade quits as ICANN CEO

Kevin Murphy, May 21, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN president and CEO Fadi Chehade will step down from the post March 2016, he said in the last hour.

The shock news means he will have served just three and a half years in the top job by the time he leaves. He started September 14, 2012.

It sounds like he might already has a new job lined up. (UPDATE: He’s told AFP that he does, and the identity of his employer will be disclosed later this year.)

He’s told ICANN he intends “to move into a new career in the private sector (outside the Domain Name Industry)”, according to a press release.

Chehade will probably leave just about the same time as the transition of the IANA functions from US government oversight is finalized, assuming ICANN misses the target date of September 2015 and gets a six-month extension.

Here’s the full text of the press release:

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) today announced that President and CEO Fadi Chehadé has informed the Board he will be concluding his tenure in March 2016 to move into a new career in the private sector (outside the Domain Name Industry).

At the request of the Board, Chehadé will be available to work closely with ICANN after March 2016 to support the transition to a new leader, as well as to advise the Board on any issue they require including the implementation of the IANA Stewardship Transition from the US Government to ICANN and the technical operating community.

“I want to thank Fadi for his strong commitment,” said Dr. Stephen Crocker, Chair of the Board of Directors. I am very confident that with Fadi’s continued leadership and ICANN’s very experienced management team who have the breadth to ensure that ICANN continues to manage its key responsibilities effectively, that the organization’s work will proceed smoothly.”

“I am deeply committed to working with the Board, our staff, and our community to continue ICANN’s mission as we still have much to accomplish,” said Chehadé. “During the remaining 10 months of my tenure, it’s business-as-usual. My priority remains to continue strengthening ICANN’s operations and services to the global community.”

Personally, I think this is going to be horrible for continuity at ICANN. Chehade is a vision guy who had set out long-term goals for the organization that I don’t think he’ll be able to wrap up in his remaining 10 months.

What do you think?

.sucks and ICANN not invited to Congressional hearing on .sucks and ICANN

Kevin Murphy, May 8, 2015, Domain Policy

The witness list in next week’s US Congressional hearing into .sucks and ICANN accountability does not feature .sucks or ICANN.

The eight witnesses are largely drawn from outspoken critics of both ICANN and Vox Populi, either companies or trade associations and lobby groups. It’s stacked heavily in favor of intellectual property interests.

The hearing is titled “Stakeholder Perspectives on ICANN: The .sucks Domain and Essential Steps to Guarantee Trust and Accountability in the Internet’s Operation”.

With hindsight, the “Stakeholder Perspectives” bit gives away the fact that the judiciary subcommittee holding the hearing is more concerned with listening to ICANN’s critics than ICANN itself.

Mei-lan Stark, a senior intellectual property lawyer from Fox and 2014 president of the International Trademark Association, tops the list.

A critic of the new gTLD program, in 2011 Stark told Congress that the first round of new gTLDs would cost Fox “conservatively” $12 million in defensive registration fees.

It will be interesting to see if any Congresspeople confront Stark about that claim, which appeared like a gross overstatement even at the time.

One company that has been enthusiastically embracing new gTLDs — as an applicant, registry, defensive and non-defensive registrant — is Amazon, which has VP of global public policy Paul Misener on the panel.

Amazon has beef with ICANN for siding with the Governmental Advisory Committee over the battle for .amazon, which Amazon has been banned from obtaining, so it’s difficult to see the company as an overly friendly witness.

Next up is John Horton, president of LegitScript, the company that certifies legitimate online pharmacies and backs the .pharmacy new gTLD.

LegitScript is in favor of greater regulation of the domain name industry in order to make it easier to shut down potentially dangerous web sites (though opponents say it’s more often more interested in protecting Big Pharma’s profit margins). This month it called for a ban on Whois privacy for e-commerce sites.

Steve Metalitz, counsel for the Coalition for Online Accountability (a lobbyist for the movie and music industries) and six-term president of the ICANN Intellectual Property Constituency, is also on the list.

Jonathan Zuck, president of ACT The App Association (aka the Association for Competitive Technology, backed by Verisign and other tech firms) is on the list.

NetChoice director Steve DelBianco is also showing up again. He’s an ICANN hearing mainstay and I gather with this appearance he’ll be getting the final stamp on his Rayburn Building Starbucks loyalty card. That means a free latte, which is always nice.

Internet Commerce Association counsel Phil Corwin is a surprise invitee. ICA represents big domainers and is not a natural ally of the IP side of the house.

Bill Woodcock, executive director of Packet Clearing House, rounds off the list. PCH might not have instant name recognition but it provides Anycast DNS infrastructure services for scores of ccTLDs and gTLDs.

The committee hearing will take place at 10am local time next Wednesday.

A second hearing, entitled “Stakeholder Perspectives on the IANA Transition” will be held four hours later by a subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce committee. The witnesses for that one have not yet been announced.

It’s going to be a busy day for ICANN bods on Capitol Hill.

Congress to put .sucks on trial

Kevin Murphy, May 6, 2015, Domain Policy

The US Congress is to hold a hearing to look into the .sucks gTLD and ICANN accountability.

A hearing entitled “Stakeholder Perspectives on ICANN: The .sucks Domain and Essential Steps to Guarantee Trust and Accountability in the Internet’s Operation” has been scheduled by the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet

It will take place in Washington DC next Wednesday, May 13.

The list of witnesses does not yet appear to have been published.

I would guess we’d be looking at, at the very least, somebody senior from ICANN, somebody senior from .sucks registry Vox Populi, and an intellectual property lawyer.

It was ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency that complained about .sucks’ sunrise policies and fees, causing ICANN to refer the matter to US and Canadian trade regulators.

The title of the House hearing suggests that the .sucks controversy will be inextricably tied to the broader issue of ICANN accountability, which is currently undergoing a significant review as ICANN seeks to split permanently from US government oversight.

That’s not great optics for ICANN; I’m sure the organization would rather not have its performance judged on what is quite an unusual edge case emerging from the new gTLD program.

Dot-brand gTLD guilty of domain name hijacking

Kevin Murphy, May 6, 2015, Domain Policy

Fashion retailer Mango, which owns its own dot-brand gTLD, has been found guilty of Reverse Domain Name Hijacking after allegedly doctoring evidence in a .uk cybersquatting case.

The company, which runs .mango, lost a Nominet Dispute Resolution Service complaint against New Zealand-based domain investor Garth Piesse over mango.co.uk and mango.uk.

It’s only the sixth RDNH finding in 13 years of DRS history.

Mango tried to buy the domain using a pseudonym and, when Piesse asked for “six figures”, filed the DRS instead.

Piesse claimed in what appears to have been a well-argued defense that the person attempting to buy the domain on Mango’s behalf did not identify Mango as the would-be buyer.

Further, he claimed that Mango deliberately tried to hide this fact from the DRS panel by scrubbing its negotiator’s email address from evidence it submitted.

While DRS panelist Tim Brown did not agree that this omission alone was enough to find RNDH, he agreed that Mango did not have “entirely clean hands”. He ruled:

The sequence of events in the present case appears to show that the Complainant attempted to buy from the Respondent. When these negotiations failed the Complainant started proceedings under the DRS. As I have noted, the Complainant has relied on bare assertion and has provided a paucity of evidence to support its arguments.

Even a cursory reading of the Policy, Procedure and extensive guidance on Nominet’s website would quickly show that a matter concerning a clearly generic, dictionary term would require a higher standard of argument and evidence than is perhaps common. That the Complainant has failed to come anywhere close to providing sufficient argument or evidence is, in my view, strongly indicative that the Complainant pursued this dispute in frustration at the Respondent’s unwillingness to sell for a price it was willing to pay, rather than because of the merits of its position in terms of the Policy’s requirements.

I conclude that the Complainant brought a speculative complaint in bad faith in an attempt to deprive the Respondent of the Domain Names. I therefore determine that the Complainant has engaged in Reverse Domain Name Hijacking.

Spain-based Mango has owned its trademarks for well over a decade, and Piesse only got his hands on the domains in question in 2013 and 2014.

Piesse, who owns about 18,000 domains, was able to show that Mango the brand is unheard of in New Zealand and that he has a track record of buying fruit-based .uk domain names.