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Hundreds of new gTLD applicants still in GAC limbo

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2013, Domain Policy

A little over five months after the Governmental Advisory Committee issued its controversial Beijing communique, demanding strict controls over hundreds of new gTLDs, ICANN has still not taken any action.

ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee “accepted” a bunch of the GAC’s advice on new gTLDs during its meeting last week, but yet again punted the most crucial issue — how to handle the so-called “Category 1” strings.

In a resolution last Tuesday, published on Friday, the NGPC addressed 21 pieces of GAC advice from the July Durban meeting but took no action on the April Beijing advice.

One application was killed off as a result — Better Living Management’s bid for .thai — on geographic grounds.

Applications for .spa, .yun, .广州 (.guangzhou), and .深圳 (.shenzhen), which are all geographic strings, have been put on hold “until the agreements between the relevant parties are reached”.

Amazon’s applications for its brand in Latin and other scripts are also on hold again pending ICANN’s review of its lengthy response to the GAC’s decision to object to them in Durban.

Two applications — .date and .persiangulf — which had raised geographic concerns in Beijing have been given leave to proceed after the GAC decided not to object in Durban.

Applications for .wine, .vin, .ram and .indians appear to be safe, but it’s not 100% clear based on the NGPC’s resolution.

Category 1 strings

“Category 1” strings were those strings that the GAC deemed applicable to “Consumer Protection, Sensitive Strings, and Regulated Markets”.

The GAC wants these gTLDs, if approved, to be subject to oversight by regulatory or self-regulatory bodies and to implement strict security controls.

The Category 1 advice has been criticized by many, including members of the NGPC, for being too vague to implement and for unfairly moving the goalposts on applicants at the last minute.

In Durban, the NGPC had indicated that it was very unhappy with the Category 1 advice.

Last week, it chose to essentially ignore the Beijing communique in which the Category 1 advice was delivered, and instead “accept” the Category 1 advice from Durban, which simply stated:

The GAC will continue the dialogue with the NGPC on this issue.

The NGPC in response stated in an annex to its resolution:

The NGPC accepts this advice. The NGPC looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the GAC on this issue.

So the 500-odd applications captured by Category 1 are still in limbo, unable to sign registry contracts with ICANN, pending the outcome of these GAC-NGPC negotiations.

On the upside, it looks like ICANN is keen to get the issue resolved before ICANN’s next public meeting, which takes place in Buenos Aires in November. ICANN said:

The NGPC and staff are working with the GAC to identify a time and place for further dialogue on these items.

Community support

The NGPC also addressed the GAC’s demands relating to community support for applications. In doing so, it again deployed its tactic of “accepting” the letter of the GAC’s advice whilst plainly rejecting it in spirit.

The GAC had said in Durban:

the GAC advises the ICANN Board to consider to take better account of community views, and improve outcomes for communities, within the existing framework, independent of whether those communities have utilized ICANN’s formal community processes to date.

The GAC was basically worried about the new gTLD program not giving sufficient weight to informal objections from organizations that could be affected by applied-for strings.

The NGPC responded:

The NGPC accepts this advice. The NGPC will consider taking better account of community views and improving outcomes for communities, within the existing framework, independent of whether those communities have utilized ICANN’s formal community processes to date. The NGPC notes that in general it may not be possible to improve any outcomes for communities beyond what may result from the utilization of the AGB’s community processes while at the same time remaining within the existing framework.

In other words, due to the inclusion of the phrase “within the existing framework”, ICANN can do absolutely nothing else to address the GAC’s concerns and can still say it “accepted” the advice.

The NGPC had previously used the same tactic to avoid dealing with the GAC’s Beijing advice on giving “communities” the ability to kill off applications without going through the proper channels.

First three Community Objections decided: DotGay and Google win but Donuts loses

Kevin Murphy, September 10, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Chamber of Commerce has delivered the first three Community Objection decisions in the new gTLD program, killing off one application and saving two others.

These are the results:

.gay

The objection filed by Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, a gay political organization, against DotGay LLC has failed.

The panelist, Bernhard Schlink, decided that Metrolplex lacked standing to file the objection, stating:

while the conservative segment, with which Metroplex claims association, is a segment of the clearly delineated gay community, it is not a clearly delineated community in and of itself. That some LGBTQ people hold conservative political views and vote for conservative candidates may bring them into a statistical category, but does not make them connect, gather, interact, or do anything else together that would constitute a community, or, that would make them publicly visible as one.

It was the only objection against this .gay application, meaning it can now proceed to later stages of the new gTLD process.

.fly

The objection was filed by FairSearch.org, a coalition of companies that campaigns against Google’s dominance of online markets, against Google’s .fly application.

The application was originally for a “closed generic” registry, but Google has since stated that it has changed its mind and run .fly with an open registration policy.

FairSearch lost the objection, despite ICC panelist George Bermann giving it the benefit of the doubt multiple times during his discussion on its standing to object.

Instead, Google prevailed due to FairSearch’s failure to demonstrate enough opposition to its application, with Bermann writing:

A showing of substantial opposition to an application is critical to a successful Objection. Such a showing is absent here.

He also decided that Google presented a better case when it came to arguing whether or not its .fly would be damaging to the community in question.

.architect

Finally, Donuts has lost its application for .architect, due to an objection by the International Union of Architects, which supports Starting Dot’s competing application for .archi.

Donuts had argued that UIA did not have standing to object because an “architect” does not always mean the kind of architect that designs buildings, which is the community the UIA represents. It could mean a software architect or landscape architects, for example.

But panelist Andreas Reiner found that even if the UIA represents a subset of the overall “architect” community, that subset was still substantial enough, still a community, and still represented by the string “architect”, so that it did have the standing to use the Community Objection.

It also did not matter that the UIA does not represent all the “structural architects” in the world, the panelist found. It represents enough of them that its opposition to .architect passes the “substantial” test.

He eventually took the word “architect” in its most common use — people who design buildings — in determining whether the UIA was closely associated with the community in question.

On the question of whether architects would be harmed by Donuts’ plan for .architect, the panelist noted that architects are always licensed for public safety reasons.

Here are some extracts from his decision, which seem important:

Beyond concerns of public safety, habitat for human beings is of essential importance in society, at the human-social level, at the economic level and at the environmental level

it would be compatible with the above references public interests linked to the work of architects and with the related consumer protection concerns, to allow the domain name “.architect” to be used by anyone other than “architects” who, by definition, need to be licensed

The use of the top-level domain “.architect” by non-licenced architects is in itself an abuse. This top-level domain refers to a regulated professional service. Therefore all safeguards must be adopted to prevent its use by a non-licensed person.

The top-level domain “.architect” raises the legitimate expectation that the related website is the webiste of a licensed architect (or a group of licenced architects). Correct information is essential to consumers visiting websites.

Basically, Reiner trashed Donuts long-standing argument in favor of blanket open registration policies.

He noted specifically that whether to allow a gTLD to proceed might be considered a free speech question, but said that free speech often has its limits, such as in cases of consumer protection.

Worryingly, one of the pieces of evidence that the panelist considered was the Governmental Advisory Committee’s Beijing communique, which contains the GAC’s formal advice against over 500 applications.

Trademark+50 coming in October

Kevin Murphy, September 10, 2013, Domain Policy

The controversial “Trademark+50” anti-cybersquatting service for new gTLDs is set to go live October 11 or thereabouts, ICANN announced last night.

Trademark+50 is the name given to a function of the Trademark Clearinghouse that enables trademark owners to obtain protection for strings that they’ve previously won at UDRP proceedings.

The service will be limited to 50 strings per trademark, with the total number of strings only limited by the total number of trademarks submitted.

ICANN said:

Rights holders may submit these domain name labels for association with existing Clearinghouse records as early as 11 October 2013. Once previously-abused labels have been verified, they will be integrated into the Trademark Claims service. ICANN expects this to occur by 18 October 2013, ahead of the earliest anticipated new gTLD Claims period.

In July at ICANN’s meeting in Durban, an IBM rep said that a Trademark+50 launch would be “difficult to reach before the middle of September”, which seems to have proven correct.

Pricing for Trademark+50, which we assume will entail a great degree of manual validation, does not appear to have been published yet.

Strings added to the IBM-run TMCH database under Trademark+50 will be eligible for Trademark Claims notifications, but not Sunrise periods, when new gTLDs launch.

Critics have repeatedly raised Trademark+50 as an example of ICANN going outside of its usual community-based policy-development processes in order to push through an unpopular mechanism.

Non-commercial users have criticized the system because it assumes that all strings won at UDRP are inherently cybersquatty, whereas the UDRP itself also requires the domain to have been used in bad faith.

Trademark owners have been able to submit their marks to the TMCH for several months, but Trademark+50 was a later addition to the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms.

Government forces Nominet into ludicrous porn review

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2013, Domain Policy

Should Nominet ban dirty words from the .uk namespace?

Obviously not, but that’s nevertheless the subject of a formal policy review announced by Nominet today, forced by pressure from the British government and the Murdoch press.

Nominet said it has hired Ken MacDonald, former director of public prosecutions, to carry out the review.

He’s tasked with recommending whether certain “offensive” words and phrases should be banned from the .uk zone.

According to Nominet, MacDonald’s qualifications include his role as a trustee of the pro-free-speech Index on Censorship and a human rights audit he carried out for the Internet Watch Foundation, the UK’s child abuse material watchdog.

Nominet said:

Lord Macdonald will work with Nominet’s policy team to conduct a series of meetings with key stakeholders, and to review and assess wider contributions from the internet community, which should be received by 4 November 2013. The goal is to deliver a report to Nominet’s board in December of this year, which will be published shortly thereafter.

You can contribute here.

The review was promised by Nominet in early August following an article in the Sunday Times, subsequently cribbed quite shamelessly by the Daily Mail, which highlighted the fact that Nominet’s policies do not ban strings suggesting extreme or illegal pornography.

You may recall a rant-and-a-half DI published at the time.

While my rant was written without the benefit of any input from Nominet — I didn’t speak to anyone there before publishing it — it appears that Nominet already had exactly the same concerns as me.

The company has published a set of lightly redacted correspondence (pdf) between itself and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport which makes for extremely illuminating reading.

In a July 23 letter to DCMS minister Ed Vaizey, Nominet CEO Lesley Cowley uses many of the same arguments — even giving the same examples — as I did a week later. She was much more polite, of course.

She points out that as a matter of principle it probably should not be left to a private company such as Nominet to determine what is and isn’t acceptable content, and that it’s difficult to tell what the content of a site will be at the point the domain is registered anyway.

In relation to the questions of practicality, the permutations of offensive words and phrases that can be created in the 63 characters of a domain name are almost limitless, so the creation of some kind of exclusion list would ultimately not prevent offensive phrases being registered as domain names. Were we to have a set of words or phrases that could not be registered, we would likely end up restricting many legitimate registrations. A good example is Scunthorpe.co.uk, which contains an offensive term within the domain name, or therapist.co.uk which could be read in more than one way.

She also points out that domains such as “childabuse.co.uk”, which may on the face of it cause concern, actually just redirect to the NSPCC, the UK’s main child abuse prevention charity.

The real eye-opening correspondence discusses the Sunday Times article that first compelled Vaizey to lean on Nominet.

As I discussed in my rant, it was based on the musings of just one guy, a purported expert in internet safety called John Carr, who once worked for the IWF and now apparently advises the government.

The examples of “offensive” domains he had supplied the Sunday Times with, I discovered, were either unregistered or contained no illegal content whatsoever.

Nominet’s correspondence contains several more .uk domains that Carr had given the newspaper, and they’re even less “offensive” than the “rape”-oriented ones it eventually published.

The domains are teens‐adult‐sex‐chat.co.uk, teendirtychat.co.uk, teens.demandadult.co.uk, teenfuckbook.co.uk and ukteencamgirls.co.uk, all of which Nominet found contained legal over-18s pornography.

One of them is even owned by Playboy.

Carr, it seems, didn’t even provide the Sunday Times or Nominet privately with any domains that suggest illegal content in the string and actually contain it in the site.

Judging by the emails between Nominet’s PR people (which, admittedly, may not be the best place to obtain an objective viewpoint) the Sunday Times reporter was “not interested in the complexity of the issue” and:

has taken a very hostile stance and is broadly of the view that the internet industry is not doing enough to stop offensive (legal) content.

The Sunday Times’ downmarket sister publication, The Sun, is famous primarily for printing topless photographs of 18-year-old women (in the 1980s it was 16-year-old girls) on Page 3 every day.

The Sun, the UK’s best-selling daily, is currently resisting a valiant effort by British feminists, which I wholeheartedly support, to have Page 3 scrapped.

In other words, the level of media hypocrisy, government idiocy and registry cowardice that came together to create the MacDonald review is quite outstanding.

Still, Nominet in recent years has proven itself pretty good at making sure its independent reviews turn out the way it wants them to, so it’s looking fairly promising that this one is likely to conclude that banning rude words would be impractical and pointless.

Famous Four says that Demand Media’s .cam should be rejected

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2013, Domain Policy

Demand Media’s application for .cam should be rejected because it lost a String Confusion Objection filed by .com registry Verisign, according to rival applicant Famous Four Media.

“The process in the applicant guidebook is now clear: AC Webconnecting and dot Agency Limited proceed to resolve the contention set, and United TLD’s application cannot proceed,” chief legal officer Peter Young told DI.

dot Agency is Famous Four’s applicant for .cam, which along with AC Webconnecting survived identical challenges filed by Verisign. United TLD is the applicant subsidiary of Demand Media.

Serious questions were raised about the SCO process after two International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelists reached opposition conclusions in the three .cam/.com cases last month.

Demand Media subsequently called for an ICANN investigation into the process, with vice president Statton Hammock writing:

String confusion objections are meant to be applicant agnostic and have nothing to do with the registration or use of the new gTLD.

However, Famous Four thinks it has found a gotcha in a letter (pdf) written by a lawyer representing Demand which opposed consolidation of the three .cam cases, which stated:

Consolidation has the potential to prejudice the Applicants if all Applicants’ arguments are evaluated collectively, without regard to each Applicant’s unique plan for the .cam gTLD and their arguments articulating why such plans would not cause confusion.

In other words, Demand argued that the proposed usage of the TLD should be taken into account before the ICDR panel ruled against it, and now it saying usage should not have been taken into account.

Famous Four’s Young said:

Whether or not one ascribes to the view that usage should not be taken into account, and we believe that it should (otherwise we would not have argued it), the fact is that United TLD were very explicit prior to the publication that usage should indeed be taken into account.

The SCO debate expanded yesterday when the GNSO Council spent some time discussing .cam and other SCO discrepancies during its regular monthly meeting.

Concerns are such that the Council intends to inform the ICANN board of directors and its New gTLD Program Committee that it is looking into the issue.

The NGPC, has “Update on String Similarity” on its agenda for a meeting on Tuesday, which will no doubt try to figure out what, if anything, needs to be done.