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IFFOR targets new gTLDs with policy service

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which sets policy for .xxx, wants to broaden its scope and is to launch a “Policy Engine” service for new gTLD registries.

Kieren McCarthy, who has been working for IFFOR as its public participation manager for the last year, has been tapped to lead the organization too, taking over from Joan Irvine as executive director in April.

IFFOR is the sponsoring organization for .xxx, independent but created by registry manager ICM Registry as a way to demonstrate to ICANN that it planned to operate the porn gTLD responsibly.

It’s kept a bit of a low profile since .xxx launched, only emerging to distribute some small grants to worthy causes, but McCarthy says that it’s built up substantial policy-making and compliance expertise.

Now, it wants to let new gTLD registries outsource these functions to it.

“Broadly, the Policy Engine service lets gTLD applicants outsource their policy issues to an independent body,” McCarthy said.

IFFOR reckons plenty of new gTLDs will want such services, especially given the increased interest from governments in how new gTLDs are operated.

As the organization is currently set up to deal only with .xxx — it’s funded $10 a year from every .xxx sold — only three of its nine-member Policy Council are not members of the adult entertainment industry or connected to ICM.

Additionally, ICM’s general counsel is on its three-member board of directors.

But McCarthy said that the Policy Council, which also has substantial expertise in privacy, child protection and free speech issues, usually uses sub-groups to come up with its policies.

“The majority of what we do is applicable across any top-level domain,” he said.

McCarthy is the former journalist and ICANN staffer, current CEO of .nxt. When he takes over from Irvine in April, she is expected to stay around as a consultant.

ICANN has found a sub-$500 URS provider

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has picked a provider for its Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting service, one that’s willing to manage cases at under $500 per filing.

The news came from new gTLD program manager Christine Willett during webcast meetings this week.

“We have identified a provider for the URS who’s going to be able to provide that service within the target $300 to $500 filing fee price range. We’re in the process of formalizing that relationship,” she said last night.

The name of the lucky provider has not yet been revealed — Willett expects that news to come in February — but it’s known that several vendors were interested in the gig.

URS is a complement to the existing UDRP system, designed to enable trademark owners to execute quick(ish) takedowns, rather than transfers, of infringing domain names.

ICANN found itself in a bit of a quandary last year when UDRP providers WIPO and the National Arbitration Forum said they doubted it could be done for the target fee without compromising registrant rights.

But a subsequent RFP — demanded by members of the community — revealed several providers willing to hit the sub-$500 target.

ICANN expects to approve multiple URS vendors over time.

Chehade: “Honestly, if it was up to me, I would delay the whole release of new gTLDs by at least a year…”

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2013, Domain Policy

“…but I’m not going to.”

CEO Fadi Chehade this afternoon delivered a blisteringly frank assessment of ICANN’s new gTLD program, admitting that if it were up to him he would delay the whole thing by a year.

Speaking bluntly, mainly to registries and registrars, at a regional ICANN meeting in Amsterdam this afternoon, Chehade painted a stark picture of the challenge ICANN faces in meeting its deadlines.

It’s worth quoting at length:

Honestly, if it was up to me, I would delay the whole release of new gTLDs by at least a year.

I’m being very candid with you. I know none of you want to hear this, and I’m not going to do this — let me repeat, I’m not going to do this — but you should know that a lot of the foundations that I would be comfortable with, as someone who has built businesses before, are just not yet there.

I’m being super-candid with you because many of you wrote me in the last three weeks to say: ‘Be up-front with us, we’re business-people, tell us the truth.’ Well, the truth is that the people, processes and tools to enable a sector such as this are being built as the car is already running very fast.

We’re putting enormous pressure on our team to not to slip by a day. I’m now managing them with Akram [Atallah, COO] down to days. Before I came it was by quarters, by months, and I say no — every day we slip we’re delaying this industry from serving the market it’s supposed to serve.

It’s just a different mindset. And it’s a difference set of, frankly, talents that we’re bringing to the table. We have people who took six years to write the [new gTLD Applicant] Guidebook and we’re asking engineers and software people and third-party vendors and hundreds of people to get that whole program running in six months.

When the number two at IBM called me, Erich Clementi, after we signed the deal with them to do the [Trademark Clearinghouse] he said “Are you nuts?”. Literally, quote. He said: “Fadi you’ve built these systems for us before. You know it takes three times the amount of time it takes to write the specs to build reliable systems.”

But that’s the position we’re in, guys. I’m being candid with you. I know all of I know all of you want me to have this thing up and running yesterday. I want it running the day before yesterday. But this is what we’re facing. We’re facing a difficult situation, we’re working hard as we can, our people are at the edge. We have people who are working seven days a week now — it’s never happened before — on the new gTLD program.

We’re hiring as fast as we can. We’re now taking away from Christine [Willett, new gTLD program manager] some of the work she had to do so she can communicate better with you.

We’re doing a whole bunch of things so we can deliver this for you.

I don’t mean to scare you, because I know many of your businesses rely on this, but the right people are now in place, we’re building it as fast as we can but I want you to understand that this is tough, and I wish it were different. I wish you would all raise your hands and say: “You know what? Let’s take a break and meet in a year”.

I know you can’t do that, I know I can’t do that, and I know that the market can’t wait for that.

We’re going to do our best, and if in the process if we miss telling you something, if we move too fast on something before we share it with everybody as we normally should… give us a little bit of a break.

I don’t want to delay this program, but under all circumstances my mind would tell me: stop.

Chehade’s remarks come two weeks after new gTLD applicants gave new program manager Willett a good kicking during a webinar updating them on the program’s progress, during which it was revealed that a key deadline had been missed for at least the fourth or fifth time.

What else can we learn from his comments?

Well… here’s my interpretation:

  • Put down the mic and back off, Kinderis. Yeah, that means you too, Fausett, and you, Neuman.
  • It will be an absolute miracle if the Trademark Clearinghouse doesn’t suffer from teething troubles.
  • Applicants are almost certainly going to see more delays of some form or another (always a safe prediction), and probably from the place they least expect it.
  • The program wasn’t ready when it was approved in May 2011 (as many people, including yours truly, said at the time and have continued to say since).
  • It’s probably not much fun working at ICANN right now, but at least the new boss knows what the hell he’s doing.

Industry man Chehade admits strawman “mistake”

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today admitted that he badly handled recent discussions about improving trademark protections in the new gTLD program, saying he made a “mistake”.

The remarks came during his speech at a meeting of registries and registrars in Amsterdam this afternoon.

The address, which along with a Q&A lasted an hour, was remarkable for Chehade’s passion and candor, and his apparently conscious decision to portray himself as an industry man.

But he arguably risked alienating the parts of the ICANN community that would certainly not define themselves as part of the “industry”, such as the intellectual property community.

This was no more evident as when he discussed the controversial trademark protection “strawman” proposals.

“We’re moving very fast at ICANN now,” he said. “You almost have no idea how fast we’re moving. We are opening so many new things and fixing so many things, that frankly should have been done for a long time at ICANN, that the speed at which we’re moving is making me, and sometimes my team, make mistakes.”

“I made one big mistake in the last few months,” he said. “I didn’t quite fully understand… this concept of ‘trying to take a second bite at the apple’, when I engaged with the Trademark Clearinghouse discussions.”

That’s a reference to meetings in Brussels and Los Angeles late last year, convened by Chehade at the request of the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency.

These meetings came up with the strawman proposals, which would create (arguably) new rights protection mechanisms and bolster others in favor of trademark owners.

Registries, registrars and new gTLD applicants complained that the IPC/BC proposals had already been considered multiple times by ICANN and the community and discarded.

Apparently Chehade has now come around to their way of thinking, helped in part by Non-Commercial User Constituency member Maria Farrell’s complaint about the strawman process.

“I frankly didn’t fully understand until I went through the process, and appreciated what people were actually trying to do,” Chehade said. “So, okay, big learning experience for me… I take it, I move on and hopefully I won’t make that mistake again.”

What does this mean for the strawman? Well, it’s not looking great.

While the proposals are still open for public comment, at some point ICANN is going to have to decide which bits it wants to adopt as “implementation” and which are more suited to policy development.

After today’s comments, I’d expect Chehade to be less inclined to push for the former.

GAC Early Warnings just got a whole lot more important

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN will let new gTLD applicants change their applications in order to respond to the concerns of governments, it has emerged.

Changes to applications made as a result of Early Warnings made by the Governmental Advisory Committee “would in all likelihood be permitted”, ICANN chair Steve Crocker informed the GAC this week.

ICANN is also looking at ways to make these changes enforceable in the respective applicants’ registry contracts.

Combined, the two bits of news confirm that the GAC will have greater power over new gTLD business models than previously anticipated.

The revelations came in the ICANN board of directors’ official response to GAC advice emerging from last October’s Toronto meeting.

After Toronto, the GAC had asked ICANN whether applicants would be able to change their applications in response to Early Warnings, and whether the changes made would be binding.

In response, Crocker told his GAC counterpart, Heather Dryden, that ICANN already has a procedure for approving or denying application change requests.

The process “balances” a number of criteria, including whether the changes would impact competing applicants or change the applicant’s evaluation score, but it’s not at all clear how ICANN internally decides whether to approve a request or not. So far, none have been denied.

Crocker told Dryden:

It is not possible to generalize as to whether change requests resulting from early warnings would be permitted in all instances. But if such requests are intended solely to address the “range of specific issues” listed on page 3 of the Toronto Communique, and do not otherwise conflict with the change request criteria noted above, then such request would in all likelihood be permitted.

The “range of specific issues” raised in the Toronto advice (pdf) are broad enough to cover pretty much every Early Warning:

  • Consumer protection
  • Strings that are linked to regulated market sectors, such as the financial, health and charity sectors
  • Competition issues
  • Strings that have broad or multiple uses or meanings, and where one entity is seeking exclusive use
  • Religious terms where the applicant has no, or limited, support from the relevant religious organisations or the religious community
  • Minimising the need for defensive registrations
  • Protection of geographic names
  • Intellectual property rights particularly in relation to strings aimed at the distribution of music, video and other digital material
  • The relationship between new gTLD applications and all applicable legislation

Some Early Warnings, such as many filed against gTLD bids that would represent regulated industries such as finance and law, ask applicants to improve their abuse mitigation measures.

To avoid receiving potential lethal GAC Advice this April, such applicants were asked to improve their rights protection mechanisms and anti-abuse procedures.

In some cases, changes to these parts of the applications could — feasibly — impact the evaluation score.

The GAC also made it clear in Toronto that it expects that commitments made in applications — including commitments in changes made as a result of Early Warnings — should be enforceable by ICANN.

This is a bit of a big deal. It refers to Question 18 in the new gTLD application, which was introduced late at the request of the GAC and covers the “mission/purpose” of the applied-for gTLD.

Answers to Question 18 are not scored as part of the new gTLD evaluation, and many applicants took it as an invitation to waffle about how awesome they plan to be.

Now it seems possible they they could be held to that waffle.

Crocker told Dryden (with my emphasis):

The New gTLD Program does not currently provide a mechanism to adopt binding contractual terms incorporating applicant statements and commitment and plans set forth within new gTLD applications or arising from early warning discussions between applicants and governments. To address concerns raised by the GAC as well as other stakeholders, staff are developing possible mechanisms for consideration by the Board New gTLD Committee. That Committee will discuss the staff proposals during the upcoming Board Workshop, 31 Janaury – 2 February.

In other words, early next month we could see some new mechanisms for converting Question 18 blah into enforceable contractual commitments that new gTLD registries will have to abide be.