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ICANN names $25m gTLD objector

Kevin Murphy, May 15, 2012, Domain Policy

French international law expert Alain Pellet has been appointed Independent Objector for the first round of ICANN’s new generic top-level domain program.

Pellet has worked as a law professor at University Paris Ouest, Nanterre-La Défense since 1990, according to his 26-page resume (pdf).

He’s also represented governments at the International Court of Justice and chaired the International Law Commission of the United Nations.

With an expected 2,000-plus new gTLD applications, Pellet will command a budget of around $25 million, funded by application fees, over the three years the first round is expected to take.

Even with so many applications, I’m struggling to imagine scenarios in which so much money would be required.

The IO’s job is to object to new gTLD applications “in the best interests of global internet users”.

Pellet’s team will be limited to the Community Objection and Limited Public Interest Objection mechanisms outlined in the program’s Applicant Guidebook.

The IO is there to object when opposition to a gTLD has been raised but no formal objection has been filed by, for example, an affected community.

That the IO exists is an excellent reason to file comments on applications you’re opposed to – if no complaints are received via the public comment process, Pellet will be unable to object.

Olympics wastes more money on ICANN nonsense

Kevin Murphy, May 14, 2012, Domain Policy

International Olympic Committee lawyers have lodged an official appeal of ICANN’s latest decision to not grant it extra-extra special new gTLD protection.

The [O]Lympic Cafe, close to both DI headquarters and the London 2012(TM) Olympic(TM) Park, which apparently found a novel solution when the IOC's lackeys came knocking.The IOC last week filed a Reconsideration Request asking the ICANN board to rethink an April 10 decision that essentially ignored the latest batch of “.olympic” special pleading.

As previously reported, ICANN’s GNSO Council recently spent a harrowing couple of meetings trying to grant the Olympic and Red Cross trademarks even more protection than they already get.

Among other things, the recommendations would have protected strings confusingly similar to “.olympic” at the top level in the new gTLD program.

But a month ago the ICANN board of directors’ newly created, non-conflicted new gTLD program committee declined to approve the GNSO Council’s recommendations.

The committee pointed out in its rationale that the application window is pretty much closed, making changes to the Applicant Guidebook potentially problematic:

a change of this nature to the Applicant Guidebook nearly three months into the application window – and after the date allowed for registration in the system – could change the basis of the application decisions made by entities interested in the New gTLD Program

It also observed that there was still at that time an open public comment period into the proposed changes, which tended to persuade them to maintain the status quo.

The decision was merely the latest stage of an ongoing farce that I went into much more detail about here.

But apparently not the final stage.

With its Reconsideration Request (pdf), the IOC points out that changes to the Applicant Guidebook have always been predicted, even at this late stage. The Guidebook even has a disclaimer to that effect.

The standard for a Reconsideration Request, which is handled by a board committee, is that the adverse decision was made without full possession of the facts. I can’t see anything in this request that meets this standard.

The IOC reckons the lack of special protections “diverts resources away from the fulfillment of this unique, international humanitarian mission”, stating in its request:

The ICANN Board Committee’s failure to adopt the recommended protection at this time would subject the International Olympic Committee and its National Olympic Committees to costly and burdensome legal proceedings that, as a matter of law, they should not have to rely upon.

Forgive me if I call bullshit.

The Applicant Guidebook already protects the string “.olympic” in over a dozen languages – making it ineligible for delegation – which is more protection than any other organization gets.

But let’s assume for a second that a cybersquatter applies for .olympics (plural) which isn’t specially protected. I’m willing to bet that this isn’t going to happen, but let’s pretend it will.

Let’s also assume that the Governmental Advisory Committee didn’t object to the .olympics application, on the IOC’s behalf, for free. The GAC definitely would object, but let’s pretend it didn’t.

A “costly and burdensome” Legal Rights Objection – which the IOC would easily win – would cost the organization just $2,000, plus the cost of paying a lawyer to write a 20-page complaint.

It has already spent more than this lobbying for special protections that it does not need.

The law firm that has been representing the IOC at ICANN, Silverberg, Goldman & Bikoff, sent at least two lawyers to ICANN’s week-long meeting in Costa Rica this March.

Which client(s) paid for this trip? How much did it cost? Did the IOC bear any of the burden?

How much is the IOC paying Bikoff to pursue this Reconsideration Request? How much has it spent lobbying ICANN and national governments these last few years?

What’s the hourly rate for sitting on the GNSO team that spent weeks coming up with the extra special protections that the board rejected?

How much “humanitarian” cash has the IOC already pissed away lining the pockets of lawyers in its relentless pursuit of, at best, a Pyrrhic victory?

TAS to reopen May 22. Big Reveal on for Prague?

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s bug-plagued TLD Application System will reopen on May 22 and close on May 30, according to a statement just issued by chief operating officer Akram Atallah.

The dates, which are only “targets”, strongly suggest that that the Big Reveal of all new gTLD applications is going to happen during the public meeting in Prague in late June.

If ICANN still needs two weeks to collate its application data before the reveal, we’re looking at June 14, or thereabouts, as the earliest possible reveal date.

But that’s just ten days before ICANN 44 officially kicks off, and I think it’s pretty unlikely ICANN will want to be distracted by a special one-off event while it’s busy preparing for Prague.

For the Big Reveal, my money is on June 25.

Atallah also said this morning that all new gTLD applicants have now been notified whether they were affected by the TAS bug, meaning ICANN has “met our commitment to provide notice to all users on or before 8 May”.

That said, some applicants I spoke to this morning, hours after it was already May 9 in California, said they had not received the promised notifications. But who’s counting?

The results of ICANN’s analysis of the bug appear to show that no nefarious activity was going on.

“We have seen no evidence that any TAS user intentionally did anything wrong in order to be able to see other users’ information,” Atallah said.

ICANN has also discovered another affected TAS user, in addition to the 50 already disclosed, according to Atallah’s statement.

ICANN affirms full refunds for pissed-off gTLD applicants, silent on new CEO

Kevin Murphy, May 8, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has approved full refunds for any new gTLD applicant that asks for one – something that the organization has already been offering for over a month.

At its two-day retreat in Amsterdam this weekend, the board’s New gTLD Program Committee resolved:

to offer to applicants a full refund of the New gTLD Application fee actually paid to ICANN if the applicant wishes to withdraw its application prior to the date that ICANN publicly posts the identification of all TLD applications.

The date of the Big Reveal, when the names of every applicant and every applied-for gTLD will be publicly posted and the refunds will no longer be available, has not yet been set.

While the resolution refers to the TLD Application System data leakage bug, the refund does not appear to be restricted to directly affected applicants. Anyone can claim it.

However, as regular DI readers know, ICANN had been offering full refunds to applicants that withdraw before the Big Reveal for weeks before the TAS bug emerged.

ICANN customer services reps told DI and at least one gTLD applicant in March that: “Applications withdrawn prior to the posting of the applied-for strings are qualified for a $180000 refund”.

ICANN said in a statement today:

We recognize that this represents an increase of only US $5000 over the refund that withdrawing applicants would otherwise receive, but we believe it is an important part of fulfilling our commitment to treat applicants fairly.

Under the terms of the Applicant Guidebook, the maximum refund available after the Reveal is $148,000.

In other news from Amsterdam…

The ICANN board has decided to let director Thomas Narten join the New gTLD Program Committee, which comprises all of the board members without new gTLD conflicts of interest.

Narten had been barred from the recently formed committee because he worked for IBM, which planned to apply for one or more new gTLDs.

But the board said he has now “mitigated the previously-identified conflict of interest with respect to the New gTLD Program”, so he gets to join the committee as a non-voting liaison.

It’s not clear from the weekend’s resolution why Narten is no longer conflicted. Two obvious possibilities spring to mind.

There was no news from Amsterdam on ICANN’s CEO hunt.

Incumbent Rod Beckstrom intends to “hand the baton” to his successor at the Prague meeting in late June, and the board already has a favored candidate lined up to replace him.

I understand that this candidate did attend the Amsterdam board retreat, albeit under a veil of secrecy lest his or her identity leak out before official confirmation.

But I also understand that the board has decided to move super-cautiously on the CEO decision, in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

How to make $10,000 from .xxx domains

Kevin Murphy, May 7, 2012, Domain Policy

The policy body overseeing .xxx domain names plans to dish out grants of up to $10,000 to worthy causes.

The International Foundation For Online Responsibility expects to launch a new IFFOR Grants Program on June 1, according to a March announcement I only just noticed.

According to IFFOR, the grants will be capped at $10,000 per individual or organization and will be given to those who contribute to IFFOR’s four official policy goals:

Fostering communication between the Sponsored Community and other Internet stakeholders

Protecting free expression rights as defined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

Promoting the development and adoption of responsible business practices designed to combat online child abuse images and to support user choice and parental control regarding access to online adult entertainment, and

Protecting the privacy, security, and consumer rights of consenting adult consumers of online adult entertainment goods and services

It seems like a pretty good opportunity for free speech advocacy groups to top up their funding.

ICM Registry, the .xxx manager, gives IFFOR $10 per year for every resolving .xxx domain name registered.

Its funding is therefore very likely approaching the $1.5 million mark in the hundreds of thousands of dollars right about now.