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ICANN win leaves door open for plural gTLD rethink

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has fought off an appeal by .webs gTLD applicant Vistaprint, in a case that considered the coexistence of singular and plural gTLDs.

While ICANN definitively won the Independent Review Process case, the IRP panel nevertheless invited its board of directors to consider whether Vistaprint should be given a chance to appeal a decision that ruled .webs too similar to .web.

Vistaprint runs a web site building service called Webs.com. It filed two applications for .webs — one “community” flavored, one vanilla — but then found itself on the losing end of a String Confusion Objection filed by rival Web.com, one of the many .web applicants.

It was one of the few instances where a SCO panel decided that a plural string was too confusingly similar to its singular for the two to coexist.

In many other cases, such as .auto(s), .fan(s) and .gift(s), the two strings have been allowed to be delegated.

Not wanting to have to fight for .webs at auction against eight .web applicants — which would likely cost eight figures to win — Vistaprint filed a Request for Reconsideration (which failed), followed by an last-ditch IRP complaint.

But its three-person IRP panel ruled on Friday (pdf) that ICANN did not violate its bylaws by accepting the SCO decision and subsequently rejecting the RfR.

However, the panel handed Vistaprint a silver lining that may eventually give the company what it wants. Even though ICANN won, Vistaprint may not necessarily have lost.

The panel wrote:

the Panel recommends that ICANN’s Board exercise its judgment on the question of whether an additional review mechanism is appropriate to re-evaluate the Third Expert’s determination in the Vistaprint SCO, in view of ICANN’s Bylaws concerning core values and non-discriminatory treatment, and based on the particular circumstances and developments noted in this Declaration, including (i) the Vistaprint SCO determination involving Vistaprint’s .WEBS applications, (ii) the Board’s (and NGPC’s) resolutions on singular and plural gTLDs, and (iii) the Board’s decisions to delegate numerous other singular/plural versions of the same gTLD strings.

In other words, ICANN has been invited to consider whether Vistaprint should be able to appeal, using a similar mechanism perhaps to that which was offered to other applicants that suffered from inconsistent, adverse SCO decisions.

At time when ICANN’s accountability is under international scrutiny, it’s highly likely that the board will give this recommendation some thought.

The IRP declaration does not reflect well on ICANN’s current level of accountability.

As usual, ICANN tried to wriggle out of accountability by attempting to castrate the panel from the outset, arguing again that IRP panels must be “deferential” to the board — that is, assume that its actions were correct by default — and that its declarations are “advisory” rather than “binding”.

And, as usual, the panel disagreed, saying previous IRP cases show this is now “settled” law. It said that it would evaluate the case “objectively and independently”, not deferentially.

But while it said its declaration was binding “in the sense that ICANN’s Board cannot overrule the Panel’s declaration” it agreed with ICANN that it only had the power to “recommend”, rather than order, remedies.

Acknowledging Vistaprint raised important public interest questions, the panel ordered ICANN to pay 40% of IRP costs.

The Vistaprint IRP was one of the things holding up the .web contention set, so Friday’s declaration moves the fabled gTLD one step closer to reality.

If the company gets the ability to appeal its SCO loss, it would add months to the .web runway. If it does not, it will have to remain in the .web contention set, which would head to auction.

.gay flunks community review for second time

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2015, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC has failed in its bid to eliminate its competitors for the new gTLD .gay for the second time.

After an unprecedented re-run of its Community Priority Evaluation, the applicant scored just 10 out of the 16 available points.

That’s exactly the same as it scored the first time around, exactly one year ago, still four points short of success.

For the second time, dotgay scored zero from a possible four points on the “Nexus” criteria — the link between the string “gay” and the community dotgay wants to serve.

The CPE panel decision reads:

The Panel has determined that more than a small part of the applicant’s defined community is not identified by the applied-for string, as described below, and that it therefore does not meet the requirements for Nexus.

The Panel has determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals

As I explained a year ago, when the first CPE panel flunked the applicant for exactly the same reason, dotgay’s proposed community included lots of people who would not necessarily describe themselves as “gay”.

You, possibly, for example.

If you’re an “ally” of gay people, by for example supporting equal rights, then you would qualify as “gay” under dotgay’s definition.

If you’re transgender or intersex, you would similarly captured by this definition. The panel said:

Despite the applicant’s assertions to the contrary, its own evidence here shows that “gay” is most commonly used to refer to both men and women who identify as homosexual, and not necessarily to others. The applicant’s “umbrella term” argument does not accurately describe, for example, the many similar transgender stories in the mass media where “gay” is not used to identify the subject. In these cases, “transgender” is used because “gay” does not identify those individuals.

The panel concluded that .gay “does not identify or match” the target community, and scored it zero.

dotgay had a second roll of the dice because the first CPE panel was found to have committed a process error by not sufficiently verifying the company’s many dozens of letters of support from gay advocacy organizations.

However, this error did not relate to the Nexus criteria, so a victory was always going to be a long shot.

The .gay gTLD is now heading to auction, where Minds + Machines, Rightside and Top Level Design are the other bidders.

You can read the new decision in PDF format here.

Chehade outlines five ways ICANN could die

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2015, Domain Policy

Aarrgh! We’re all going to die!!!!1

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has outlined five ways in which the internet could fall to pieces if the IANA transition fails, and they all seem really horrible.

Chehade presented the list at a telephone meeting of leaders of ICANN supporting organizations and advisory committees yesterday.

I don’t know what was said yet, but I can guess the tone from one of Chehade’s accompanying slides:

5 Risks we face if the IANA Stewardship Transition is Delayed/Fails:

I. ICANN’s community may fracture or fray slowly, becoming divided, acrimonious, bitter — potentially risking ICANN’s stability, effectiveness — and impacting the participation of global stakeholders

II. The technical operating communities using IANA may go separate ways, with the IETF and the Numbering communities choosing to take their business elsewhere — ending the integrity of the Internet’s logical infrastructure

III. Governments (encouraged by G77) may lead an effort starting at this year during the WSIS review to shift Internet Governance responsibilities to a more stable and predictable inter-governmental platform

IV. Key economies that shifted positions since NTIA’s announcement in March 2014 may reverse their support for ‘one Internet’ logical infrastructure coordinated by ICANN

V. The resilience and effectiveness of the multistakholder model will be questioned by those seeking solutions to the emerging Internet Governance issues in the economic and societal layer (e.g. cyber security, trade, privacy, copyright protections, etc.)

Judging by the slides, ICANN reckons that the community needs to have its transition proposal delivered by December, if ICANN is to meet the current September 30, 2016 transition deadline.

There are a whole host of sessions devoted to the transition at the forthcoming public meeting in Dublin.

The transition process is currently in a very tricky spot because the ICANN board of directors does not agree with the community proposals to restructure ICANN.

.food applies for dot-brand status, but you can help stop it

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2015, Domain Policy

Scripps Networks, the company that runs the Food Network television network, wants to make .food a dot-brand gTLD that only it can use.

The company has applied to ICANN to have Specification 13 exemptions incorporated into its Registry Agreement.

Spec 13 is an add-on to the RA that dot-brands use to exempt themselves from having to sell to the public via the registrar channel, offer sunrise periods, and so on.

Scripps subsidiary Lifestyle Domains won the .food contention set after an auction with Donuts and Dot Food LLC a couple months ago.

It’s one of the applications that was identified by the Governmental Advisory Committee as a “closed generic”. Such applications were subsequently banned by ICANN.

Scripps and dozens of other applicants were given the option to change their applications to remove the single-registrant policy, to withdraw, or to carry their applications over to the next round.

But Scripps is pressing ahead regardless, claiming that if anyone else is allowed to own .food domains, all kinds of horrible things will happen. It recently told ICANN:

Internet users will benefit more from Scripps operating .FOOD because it will provide more trusted experiences. Left open to the wild west of typosquatters and cybersquatters or fraudulent users, internet users will be harmed rather than helped. With a plethora of unregulated websites in a fully open registry, the public could be misled or confused as to the origin of the content and information and rely, to their detriment, on such content.

It more recently told ICANN that it has no intention of modifying its application to comply with the GAC advice. ICANN now considers the matter “resolved”.

What’s not resolved is whether .food qualifies for Spec 13 status.

To use Spec 13, the gTLD needs to match a trademark you own, but it cannot be also be a generic string, defined as:

a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.

ICANN lawyers will make the ultimate decision about whether .food qualifies for Spec 13, but the request is open for public comment until October 29.

ICANN told DI: “ICANN has not yet made a determination as to if the application qualifies for Specification 13 and welcomes any comments from the community.”

What do you think? Should something as clearly generic as “food” be a space where only one company can register names?

URS arrives in three legacy gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2015, Domain Policy

The legacy gTLDs .cat, .pro and .travel will all be subject to the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy from now on.

Earlier this week, ICANN approved the new Registry Agreements, which are based on the new gTLD RA and include URS, for all three.

URS is an anti-cybersquatting policy similar to UDRP. It’s faster and cheaper than UDRP but has a higher burden of proof and only allows domains to be suspended rather than transferred.

The inclusion of the policy in pre-2012 gTLDs caused a small scandal when it was revealed a few months ago.

Critics, particularly the Internet Commerce Association, said that URS (unlike UDRP) is not a Consensus Policy and therefore should not be forced on registries.

ICANN responded that adding URS to the new contracts came about in bilateral negotiations with the registries.

The board said in its new resolutions this week:

the Board’s approval of the Renewal Registry Agreement is not a move to make the URS mandatory for any legacy TLDs, and it would be inappropriate to do so. In the case of .CAT, inclusion of the URS was developed as part of the proposal in bilateral negotiations between the Registry Operator and ICANN.

The concern for ICA and others is that URS may one day be forced into the .com RA, putting domainer portfolios at increased risk.