That’s the question the ICANN Ombudsman is asking today.
Several new gTLD applicants that have lost objections — many in decisions that appear to diverge from ICANN’s rules or are inconsistent with other decisions — have been in touch to ask for redress, Ombudsman Chris LaHatte blogged this morning. He wrote:
The real problem as it seems to me, is that apart from the internal review procedures, there is no ability to seek an appeal from the panel decisions. A number of complainants had mentioned the need for an appeal process, emphasising that some of the decisions were in their view, inconsistent or not following the majority views.
LaHatte noted that his role is to decide issues of fairness in ICANN’s own decisions. As objections are all handled by third-party arbitration bodies, it’s not at all clear whether he has any authority at all over objection decisions.
Applicants have also been invoking the Reconsideration process en masse in an attempt to have successful objections overturned, but all Reconsideration requests to date have been rejected.
Reconsideration generally requires that the requester provide ICANN with new evidence that was not considered at the time of the original decision.
The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration, appears to be happy to leave objections in the hands of the arbitrators so far.
But the new gTLD objection process is a bit of a joke at the moment.
String Confusion Objection panelists have delivered inconsistent decisions, while Community Objection and Limited Public Interest Objection panels often seem to be making up rules as they go.
So should ICANN have an appeals process? If one is created it will undoubtedly be broadly used.
The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has decided to “file an official objection to the use of gTLDs .Islam and .Halal”, following a summit of 56 foreign ministers.
In a resolution (pdf) from the OIC’s high-level summit in Guinea this week, the organization also said it will become “an effective member” of ICANN, closely monitoring its work.
As previously reported, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was unable to reach a consensus to object to .islam and .halal, leaving it to ICANN’s board of directors to decide whether to approve them.
The OIC’s resolution is expected to become an important input to that decision-making process, after GAC chair Heather Dryden asked ICANN to take note of the Guinea meeting’s output.
The resolution also calls for the OIC to investigate how to run its own Islamic gTLDs.
The OIC has of course missed the boat by several months if it wants to file an objection to these gTLDs within the rules of the new gTLD program.
Instead, it’s going to have to hope that its entreaties to the ICANN board will be effective.
ICANN is going to have to decide whether to approve the new gTLDs .islam and .halal, after the Governmental Advisory Committee punted the issue.
“[T]he GAC concluded its discussions on these applications with the advice provided in the Beijing Communiqué,” Dryden said. “Accordingly, no further GAC input on this matter can be expected.”
ICANN is therefore left with the following advice:
The GAC recognizes that Religious terms are sensitive issues. Some GAC members have raised sensitivities on the applications that relate to Islamic terms, specifically .islam and .halal. The GAC members concerned have noted that the applications for .islam and .halal lack community involvement and support. It is the view of these GAC members that these applications should not proceed.
My take on this is that the GAC has provided what is often called a “non-consensus” objection, which I believe triggers one of the vaguest parts of the Applicant Guidebook.
One of the three types of GAC Advice on New gTLDs reads:
The GAC advises ICANN that there are concerns about a particular application “dot-example.” The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns. The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.
It seems pretty obvious now that ICANN’s board — nowadays its New gTLD Program Committee — is expected to make a decision whether to accept or reject .islam and .halal.
It would be the first time that ICANN has had to decide whether to reject a gTLD for public policy reasons without the full backing of the GAC in this application round.
It faced a similar conundrum in the 2003 round — albeit using different rules of engagement — when it had to decide the fate of .xxx (which it obviously chose to approve).
The applicant for .islam and .halal is Turkey-based Asia Green IT System.
The Organization for Islamic Cooperation, which claims to represent 1.6 billion Muslims, does not support the bids. It backed two formal Community Objections to the applications, which both failed.
The OIC’s Council of Ministers is meeting this week in Conakry, Guinea, and is expected to come out with some kind of formal statement opposing Islamic-oriented gTLDs that lack support.
The strength of that statement may prove decisive when ICANN comes to consider the issue.
It seems like it’s been an age since we last heard the intellectual property lobby pushing for stronger rights protection mechanisms in new gTLDs, but they’re back just in time for the first launches.
The Intellectual Property Owners Association has written to ICANN this week to warn about loopholes in the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement related to premium name reservations that the IPO said “will adversely affect trademark rights holders”.
The letter (pdf) makes reference to two specific parts of the contract.
Specification 5 enables registries to reserve up to 100 names “necessary for the operation or promotion of the TLD” in section 3.2 and an unlimited number of names in section 3.3.
Section 3.3 is vague enough that I’m aware of new gTLD applicants that still don’t know whether it allows them to reserve an unlimited number of “premium” names or not.
However, most new gTLD registries I’ve talked to appear to be convinced that it does. DotKiwi’s recently announced premium plan seems to be taking advantage of 3.3.
The IPO is worried that massive lists of premium names will wind up containing lots of strings matching trademarks, which will prevent mark holders from defensively registering during Sunrise.
Worse, the IPO said it could lead to registries milking trademark owners for huge fees to register their “premium” marks. It said:
such reservations would invite the abuse of protected marks. For instance, Registry Operators may reserve the marks of protected brands to leverage premium sales. Further, Registry Operators may use this ability to release names to market competitors of the brand owners.
The counter argument, of course, is that owners of spurious trademarks on generic terms could game Sunrise periods to get their hands of potentially valuable domain names (cf. the .eu sunrise)
The IPO wants ICANN to expand the Trademark Clearinghouse to send Trademark Claims notices to new gTLD registries when they reserve a name matching a listed trademark.
It also wants a new dispute procedure that mark owners could use to get names released from reserved status. It would be like UDRP, but modified to allow for registries to reserve dictionary words related to their gTLD strings, the IPO said.
If my sense of the mood of ICANN’s leadership during last month’s Buenos Aires meeting is anything to go by, I can’t see these last-minute requests for changes to RPMs getting much traction, but you never know.
UK registry Nominet has withdrawn its lawsuit against a domainer who had allegedly published “defamatory” remarks about CEO Lesley Cowley on his blog.
Nominet said yesterday that it “continues to refute entirely the untrue allegations made” on the site, which focuses on Cowley’s “dishonest” behavior surrounding Direct.uk and the ongoing controversy related to the 2008 board-level scandal and subsequent employment tribunal of former policy chief Emily Taylor.
Cowley said in a statement:
With a major programme of work underway to transform the .uk namespace, this action is now an unwelcome distraction. I refute the allegations entirely, but recognise that a far better use of the team’s time and energy is to focus on steering Nominet safely through a period of unprecedented change.
Nominet will pay Wingate’s costs.
It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a win for Wingate, who has continued to blog throughout the legal proceedings.
Wingate stood unsuccessfully for a seat on Nominet’s board of directors this year, alongside fellow Nominet critic Lucien Taylor, husband to Emily.