It’s scarcely believable given the delays and threats, but ICANN opened its new generic top-level domains program to applications this morning at a minute after midnight UTC.
The TLD Application System, ICANN’s custom web tool for submitting applications, is now live.
If you have $5,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you can sign up for TAS to check it out at any time between now and March 29 at 2359 UTC.
A new English version of the Applicant Guidebook – the ninth – has also been published, mostly merely correcting and clarifying parts of the text.
Applications, with the remaining $180,000 part of the fee, are due by April 12 at 2359 UTC.
No more Donald Duck in the Whois?
Registrars could be obliged to verify their customers’ identities when they sell domain names under new rules proposed for later this year, according to ICANN president Rod Beckstrom.
He told National Telecommunications and Information Administration boss Larry Strickling today that the new provisions could make it into the new Registrar Accreditation Agreement by March.
ICANN expects that the RAA will incorporate – for the first time – Registrar commitments to verify WHOIS data. ICANN is actively considering incentives for Registrars to adopt the anticipated amendments to the RAA prior to the rollout of the first TLD in 2013.
The RAA is currently being renegotiated by ICANN and the registrar community, following governmental outrage about the RAA at its meeting in Dakar last October.
If new Whois rules are added to the RAA, it will be up to registrars to decide whether to implement them immediately or wait until their existing ICANN contracts expire — hence the need for “incentives”.
Documents ICANN has been posting following its RAA meetings have been less than illuminating, so the letter to Strickling today is the first public insight into what the new contract may contain.
Whois verification, which is often found at the top of the wish-lists of intellectual property and law enforcement communities, is of course hugely controversial.
Civil rights advocates believe that checking registrant identities will infringe on rights to privacy and free speech, while not helping to prevent crime. Actual criminals will of course not hand over their true identities when registering domain names.
The process of verifying Whois data may also wind up making domain names more expensive, due to the costs registrars will incur implementing or subscribing to automated verification systems.
Nevertheless, the anti-new-gTLDs campaign in Washington DC led by the Association of National Advertisers recently led to Whois – a separate issue – being placed firmly on the new gTLDs agenda.
The chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, as well as Strickling, both wrote to ICANN to express concern about the lack of progress on strengthening Whois over the last few years.
The Association of National Advertisers has offered ICANN a risible last-minute “solution” to the outrage it has created over the new generic top-level domains program.
The ANA wants ICANN to create a temporary “Do Not Sell” list to protect trademark owners and intergovernmental organizations during the first application round, which begins Thursday.
While the first round is open, the ANA itself wants to takes over policy development for the program.
This is its “Proposed Way Forward” in full:
1. ICANN will proceed with its plan to begin accepting applications for new TLDs on January 12, as scheduled;
2. Concurrently, all NGOs, IGOs and commercial stakeholders concerned about protecting their brands will be given the opportunity to have those brands registered, without cost, on a temporary “Do Not Sell” list to be maintained by ICANN during the first application round (any interested party which does not want to have its brands on the Do Not Sell list and would rather apply for a TLD would be free to do so).
We will assemble a team from the interested constituencies to work with ICANN leadership during the first application round. If this group achieves consensus with respect to any proposals, those proposals will be voted on by the Board.
At the end of the first application round, should the parties continue to disagree, all parties will be free to pursue their legal and equitable rights without prejudice.
The alternative to adopting this proposal, ANA president Bob Liodice said in a letter to ICANN today, is “destructive and costly litigation”.
ICANN’s response should be provided “IMMEDIATELY”, Liodice wrote.
I can’t see him getting the answer he wants.
First, the ANA still seems to be worried about top-level cybersquatting, which any sane person can see is extremely unlikely to happen under the new gTLD program’s existing policies.
Second, it’s asking for ICANN to give anyone with a trademark the right to block a string matching that trademark at the top-level.
This may appear reasonable if you think a trademark is something like “Coca-Cola” or “Gucci” or “Google”.
But as soon as you realize that pretty much every word – “music”, “blog”, “web”, “London”, “Paris” – is trademarked, the idea of a Do Not Sell list becomes clearly ludicrous.
It would be a recipe for banning all gTLDs from the first application round.
Third, ICANN already has a mechanism for letting interested stakeholders achieve consensus on new trademark protection policies.
It’s called ICANN, and you don’t need to threaten litigation to participate. You just show up.
You can read the entire laughable ANA proposal here.
ICANN plans to have the Trademark Clearinghouse for new gTLDs up and running by October, according to documents released after this Thursday’s meeting of its board of directors.
The Trademark Clearinghouse is a central repository of trademark information that new gTLD registries will plug their systems into.
When a customer attempts to register a domain name in a new gTLD that matches a trademark in the Clearinghouse, they will receive a warning that they may be cybersquatting.
Nine companies applied for the position of Clearinghouse operator – as a paid service, it’s potentially a money-spinner – and ICANN expects to select one or more from a short-list of five in February.
According to the new ICANN document (pdf), twice-weekly talks between IP lawyers, registries and registrars are expected to finalize the Clearinghouse’s processes by March.
The system could go live by October, giving companies three months to submit their trademarks to the Clearinghouse before the first new gTLDs go live in early 2013, according to ICANN.
ICANN’s board of directors met on Thursday to discuss the imminent launch of the new generic top-level domains program.
No decisions were made, which means the organization is still set to start accepting applications on January 12, as ICANN’s top officials have stated several times this week.
I hear that the TLD Application System is due to go live one minute after midnight (UTC) on Thursday, in fact, which means too-eager Californian applicants may be able to sign up as early as Wednesday afternoon.
Six briefing documents used at the meeting have been published, one of which deals with the all-important issue of the timing of the second (or “next” as ICANN prefers) application round.
It’s become increasingly apparent recently that lots of big brands think they’re being forced to defensively apply for their own trademarks as gTLDs in the first round.
Some registries, lawyers and new gTLD consultants are probably just as much to blame for this fearmongering as opponents of the program such as the Association of National Advertisers.
The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse has recently championed the cause of a firm date for a second-round application window, to make a “wait and see” strategy more realistic.
I’ve previously said that a first round stuffed with useless defensive dot-brands would make a mockery of the whole new gTLD program.
ICANN evidently agrees. The board briefing materials (pdf) state:
A timely second round will relieve pressure on the first round, reducing demand and:
o Reducing delegation rates, thereby relieving stability concern perceptions,
o Addressing concerns of some trademark owners that are critical of the process, relieving the perception of need for “defensive registration” at the top-level,
o Decreasing the number of applications relieves some pressure on specific operational issues such as the number of batches, instances of string contention, and the amount of time it will take to process all the applications. Fewer applications will increase the ability to process applications in an efficient manner.
The Applicant Guidebook is currently vague and even a little confusing on the timing of the second round.
Unfortunately, the new briefing materials, which attempt to give some clarity into ICANN’s thinking, appear to contain errors and potentially just confuse matters further.
The documents state “ICANN should publicly announce its intention to launch a subsequent round as soon as practicable after the one opening on 12 January 2012″.
So far so good.
However, ICANN has promised its Governmental Advisory Committee that it will complete two reviews before opening a second round: one into the effect of the first round on root zone stability, the other into the effectiveness of the new trademark protection mechanisms.
ICANN now states that the trademark study would start “one year after 75 gTLDs are in the root” and gives a clearly impossible date of February 2013 for this happening.
I’m guessing this is one of those silly typos we all sometimes make during the first week of a new year.
Given that the first new gTLDs will not be delegated until 2013, ICANN almost certainly meant to say that it expects to start the trademark review a year later in February 2014.
ICANN also sensibly notes that it “cannot commit to when we get consensus on the conclusions of a Trademark study”, which doesn’t really add clarity to the timeline either.
The document also states:
The other critical path is completion of the round 1 applications – this is uncertain because (a) we don’t know the number of batches that are required and (b) if we could start the second round while we finish up the objections and stuff from the first round. However, if there are four batches, initial evaluations for them would finish in March 2013, and nearly all applications should clear in the second quarter of 2014.
I assume, but the document does not state, that this is a reference to the root zone stability study, which under a strict reading of the Guidebook is supposed to happen after the first round has ended.
Unfortunately, the dates appear to be wrong again.
According to the Applicant Guidebook, the Initial Evaluation phase takes five months. Four batches would therefore take 20 months, which would give a March 2014 date for the end of initial evaluations and a second-quarter 2015 date for the final delegations.
Again, this is probably just one of those first-week-of-the-year brainfarts. I assume (hope) the ICANN board noticed the discrepancy too and based its discussions on the actual timeline.
There’s also the matter of ICANN’s review of the program’s effects on competition and consumer choice, which is mandated by its Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce.
Unfortunately, it’s not yet clear even to ICANN whether this is a prerequisite for a second round, according to the briefing documents.
Commerce has a bit of a predicament here. On the one hand, it wants to ensure new gTLDs are good for internet users. On the other, it’s under a massive amount of pressure from the trademark lobby, which would benefit from clarity into the timeline for future application rounds.
Either way, the US government’s interpretation of the Affirmation is going to be a key factor in determining the second-round launch date.
In short, given what is known and expected, 2015 seems to be the earliest possible date for the second round, but a hell of a lot rides on how many applications are received.
In a blog post today, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said: “The issues should be settled before the application window closes on 12 April but their resolution is not essential before the window opens on 12 January.”
I disagree. If ICANN is serious about reducing defensive applications, it needs to provide an unambiguous public statement about the second round before it starts accepting checks from brand owners.
Naming a date may not be possible, but it needs to say something.