Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

EU buys more time for .wine talks after surprise GAC objection

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2014, Domain Policy

The ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee deposited a shock fly into the wine-related gTLD ointment tonight, asking ICANN to delay approval of .wine and .vin on a technicality.

ICANN’s board of directors had at the weekend basically approved the two new gTLDs, over the objections of the European Union, but the GAC today said the board’s decision hadn’t followed the rules.

In its communique (pdf) issued at the end of the just-concluded ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore, the GAC said: “In the final deliberation of the Board there appears to be at least one process violation and procedural error”.

The procedure in question is the part of the ICANN bylaws that says the GAC “shall have an opportunity to comment upon any external advice received prior to any decision by the Board.”

The GAC therefore advises:

That the Board reconsider the matter before delegating these strings.

The GAC needs to consider the above elements more fully. In the meantime concerned GAC members believe the applicants and interested parties should be encouraged to continue their negotiations with a view to reach an agreement on the matter.

The only “external advice” referenced in the ICANN decision on .wine was the legal opinion (pdf) of French law professor Jerome Passa.

Reading between the lines (I have not yet listened to all of the GAC’s public deliberations this week, so I’m speculating) it seems Passa’s opinion was not provided to the GAC before the ICANN board made its call.

I’m further assuming that the EU or one of its member states spotted the bylaws provision about external advice notice and cunningly used it to revive the .wine debate.

The GAC has declined to object to .wine and .vin because countries such as the US and Australia disagree with the EU’s position on the international law governing geographic indicators such as “Champagne”.

But no matter what other GAC members think about the European demands GI protections, it would have been very hard for them to argue in favor of an ICANN board decision that violated process.

Even if there’s very little chance of rustling up a consensus objection against these two gTLDs, the EU seems to have successfully added delay to the approval process, giving it leverage over the applicants.

I’m impressed.

While this may not change the eventual outcome, it at least buys the EU more time to negotiate with the .wine and .vin applicants about protection for geographic indicators.

This apparent oversight, coupled with the controversy this week about rights protection mechanisms for intergovernmental organizations, makes me wonder whether ICANN’s legal department might need a refresher course on the ICANN bylaws.

Or maybe, more likely, the bylaws are just such a bloody mess that even the smartest guys in the room can’t keep track of them any more.

Under global spotlight, ICANN forced to choose between GAC and the GNSO

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has angered the Generic Names Supporting Organization and risks angering the Governmental Advisory Committee as it prevaricates over a controversial rights protection mechanism.

It looks like the ICANN board of directors is going to have decide whether to reject either a hard-won unanimous consensus GNSO policy recommendation or a piece of conflicting GAC advice.

ICANN is “stuck in a bind”, according to chairman Steve Crocker, and it’s a bind that comes at a time when the bottom-up multi-stakeholder process is under the global microscope.

The issue putting pressure on the board this week at the ICANN 49 public meeting here in Singapore is the protection of the names and acronyms of intergovernmental organizations.

IGOs pressured the GAC a few years ago into demanding protection in new gTLDs. They want every IGO name and acronym — hundreds of strings — blocked from registration by default.

For example, the Economic Cooperation Organization would have “economiccooperationorganization” and “eco” blocked at the second level in all new gTLDs, in much the same way as country names are reserved.

Other IGO acronyms include potentially useful dictionary-word strings like “who” and “idea”. As I’ve said before, protecting the useful acronyms of obscure IGOs that never get cybersquatted anyway is just silly.

But when ICANN approved the new gTLD program in 2011, for expediency it placed a temporary block on some of these strings and asked the GNSO to run a formal Policy Development Process to figure out a permanent fix.

In November 2012 it added hundreds more IGO names and acronyms to the list, while the GNSO continued its work.

The GNSO concluded its PDP last year with a set of strong consensus recommendations. The GNSO Council then approved them in a unanimous vote at the Buenos Aires meeting last November.

Those recommendations would remove the IGO acronyms from the temporary reserved names list, but would enable IGOs to enter those strings into the Trademark Clearinghouse instead.

Once in the TMCH, the acronyms would be eligible for the standard 90-day Trademark Claims mechanism, which alerts brand owners when somebody registers a name matching their mark.

The IGOs would not, however, be eligible for sunrise periods, so they wouldn’t have the special right to register their names before new gTLDs go into general availability.

The PDP did not make a recommendation that would allow IGOs to use the Uniform Rapid Suspension service or UDRP.

Unfortunately for ICANN, the GNSO recommendations conflict with the GAC’s current advice.

The GAC wants (pdf) the IGOs to be eligible for Trademark Claims on a “permanent” basis, as opposed to the 90-day minimum that trademark owners get. It also wants IGOs — which don’t generally enjoy trademark protection — to be made eligible for the URS, UDRP or some similar dispute resolution process.

Since Buenos Aires, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has been talking to the GAC and IGOs about a compromise. That compromise has not yet been formally approved, but some initial thinking has been circulated by Crocker to the GAC and GNSO Council.

ICANN proposes to give IGOs the permanent Trademark Claims service that the GAC has asked for, as well as access to the URS. Both policies would have to be modified to allow this.

It would also create an entirely new arbitration process to act as a substitute for UDRP for IGOs, which are apparently legally unable to submit to the jurisdiction of national courts.

The compromise, while certainly overkill for a bunch of organizations that could hardly be seen as ripe cybersquatting targets, may seem like a pragmatic way for the board to reconcile the GNSO recommendations with the GAC advice without pissing anyone off too much.

But members of the GNSO are angry that the board appears to be on the verge of fabricating new policy out of whole cloth, ignoring its hard-won PDP consensus recommendations.

That’s top-down policy-making, something which is frowned upon within ICANN circles.

Under the ICANN bylaws, the board is allowed to reject a GNSO consensus recommendation, if it is found to be “not in the best interests of the ICANN community or ICANN”. A two-thirds majority is needed.

“That’s not what happened here,” Neustar’s vice president of registry services Jeff Neuman told the board during a meeting here in Singapore on Tuesday.

“Instead, the board on its own developed policy,” he said. “It did not accept, it did not reject, it developed policy. But there is no room in the ICANN bylaws for the board to do this with respect to a PDP.”

He said that the GNSO working group had already considered elements of ICANN’s compromise proposal and specifically rejected them during the PDP. Apparently speaking for the Registries Stakeholder Group, Neuman said the compromise should be taken out of consideration.

Bret Fausett of Uniregistry added: “The process here is as important to us as the substance. We think procedure wasn’t followed here and we detect a lack of understanding at the board level that process wasn’t followed.”

The GNSO Council seems to agree that the ICANN board can either accept or reject its recommendations, but what it can’t do is just write its own policies for the sake of a quiet life with the GAC.

To fully accept the GNSO’s recommendations would, however, necessitate rejecting the GAC’s advice. That’s also possible under the bylaws, but it’s a lengthy process.

Director Chris Disspain told the GNSO Council on Sunday that the board estimates it would take at least six months to reject the GAC’s advice, during which time the temporary reservations of IGO acronyms would remain active.

He further denied that the board is trying to develop policy from the top.

“It is not top-down, it’s not intended to be top-down, I can’t really emphasis that enough,” he told the Council.

He described the bylaws ability to reject the GNSO recommendations as a “sledgehammer”.

“It would be nice to be able to not have to use the sledgehammer,” he said. “But if we did have to use the sledgehammer we should only be using it because we’ve all agreed that’s what we have to do.”

Chair Steve Crocker summed up the board’s predicament during the Sunday meeting.

“We always do not want to be in the position of trying to craft our own policy decision,” he said. “So we’re stuck in this bind where we’re getting contrary advice from sources that feel very strongly that they’ve gone through their processes and have spoken and so that’s the end of it from that perspective.”

The bind is especially tricky because it’s coming at a time when ICANN is suddenly becoming the focus of a renewed global interest in internet governance issues.

The US government has said that it’s willing to walk away from its direct oversight of ICANN, but only if what replaces it is a “multi-stakeholder” rather than “intergovernmental” mechanism

If ICANN were to reject the proceeds of a two-year, multi-stakeholder, bottom-up, consensus policy, what message would that send to the world about multistakeholderism?

On the other hand, if ICANN rejects the advice of the GAC, what message would it send about governments’ ability to effectively participate as a stakeholder in the process?

Clearly, something is broken when the procedures outlined in ICANN’s bylaws make compromise impossible.

Until that is fixed — perhaps by getting the GAC involved in GNSO policy-making, something that has been talked about to no end for years — ICANN will have to continue to make these kinds of hard choices.

Fielding a softball question during a meeting with the GNSO Council on Saturday, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said that “to value the process as much as I value the result” is the best piece of advice he’s received.

“Policies get made here,” Chehade told the Council, “they should not be made at the board level, especially when a consensus policy was made by the GNSO. Akram [Atallah, Generic Domains Division president] today was arguing very hard at the board meeting that even if we don’t think it’s the right thing, but it is the consensus policy of the GNSO, we should stick with it.”

Will the board stick with it? Director Bruce Tonkin told the registries on Monday that the board would try to address their concerns by today, so we may not have to wait long for an answer.

.wine is a go

Kevin Murphy, March 26, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has approved the new gTLDs .wine and .vin, despite objections from the European Union.

In a resolution this weekend, published today, its board’s New gTLD Program Committee said “that the applications for .WINE and .VIN should proceed through the normal evaluation process.”

The resolution acknowledges the Governmental Advisory Committee’s lack of consensus against the two wine-related gTLDs, but not the EU’s view that geographic indicators such as “Champagne” should be protected.

European nations thought both gTLDs should be put on hold until the applicants agreed to these special protections, but the US, Australia and other nations disagreed.

ICANN sought the legal opinion (pdf) of a French law professor in its decision-making.

The EU is going to be pretty angry about this, but in the absence of a consensus objection from the GAC against the strings, it appears that the NGPC has made the right call in this case.

.hotels applicant files IRP on ICANN

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2014, Domain Policy

New gTLD applicant Booking.com has filed an Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN.

ICANN and Booking.com attorney Flip Petillion of Crowell & Moring confirmed the filing with DI this evening. Earlier Belgian newspaper reports of a full-on lawsuit appear to be inaccurate.

The IRP — ICANN’s final appeals process, designed to avoid lawsuits — is related to the .hotels contention set.

Booking.com’s uncontested application for .hotels was placed into a contention set with Despegar Online’s bid for .hoteis (the Portuguese translation) by ICANN’s independent String Similarity Panel in February 2013.

The panel ruled that the two strings are too confusingly similar to coexist on the internet, due to the similarity between the letters I and L.

That means the two applicants either had to resolve their differences privately, which apparently hasn’t happened, or enter into a potentially expensive ICANN auction of last resort.

Booking.com seemingly wants to avoid that auction, hence the IRP.

It’s the second IRP to be filed by a new gTLD applicant in this round, after DotConnectAfrica’s January filing.

ICANN tells me the IRP documents will be posted on its web site later today.

OMG! gTLD applicant actually wins objection appeal

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2014, Domain Policy

Medistry has become the first new gTLD applicant to win an appeal to ICANN over an objection decision that went against it.

The .med hopeful has also become the first entity in years to successfully use the much-derided Reconsideration Request process to get ICANN’s board of directors to revisit a decision.

The company’s application received a Community Objection filed by the new gTLD program’s Independent Objector, Alain Pellet, along with a bunch of other healthcare-related gTLD bids.

Medistry lost, meaning its application should be dead in the water.

But it appealed using the Reconsideration process, arguing that Pellet failed to follow the rules laid out for the IO in the program’s Applicant Guidebook.

These rules state that the IO can only object on Community grounds if there is at least one informal objection from a community member on the public record, for example filed as ICANN comments.

Medistry claims that the IO did not pass that test in its case and the ICANN board’s Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, reckons that claim merits further review.

Judging by the International Chamber of Commerce decision (pdf), comments filed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and the American Hospital Association were critical in showing “substantial opposition” from the healthcare community.

Without such opposition, the IO would have had no right to object.

Medistry argued during the objection case that the NABP comment, which talks about the need for patient safety, was purely “advisory” in nature and did not represent an objection to its .med application.

The ICC panelist, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, disagreed, writing:

The Expert Panel accepts that the comments made by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), on which the Independent Objector relies for the purpose of demonstrating substantial opposition, represent an expression of opposition, i.e. resistance or dissent, to the Application, going beyond merely having an advisory character as the Applicant suggests.

The problem with that interpretation is that it turns out to be dead wrong. Von Schlabrendorff read too much into the original NABP comment.

Medistry submitted as part of its Reconsideration Request a letter from NABP saying:

We wish to clarify that NABP’s comment was intended to be advisory in nature, stressing that health-related gTLDs should account for patient safety and implement protections against fraud and abuse. In submitting this comment, NABP did not oppose Medistry’s application to be the Registry Operator for the .MED gTLD, nor take any position as to whether Medistry’s .MED application contained appropriate safeguards.

The second public “objection” used by the IO to allege substantial opposition, an argument that von Schlabrendorff accepted, came from the America Hospital Association.

Except the AHA did not file a comment on the Medistry application (well, it did, but it was withdrawn two days later in September 2012, long before the objection process began).

The AHA did object to the other three applications for .med, filed by Google, Hexap and DocCheck, but not to Medistry’s application.

Remarkably, von Schlabrendorff chose to interpret the absence of an AHA objection as the existence of an AHA objection, speculating that it did not object to Medistry’s application due to nothing more than an oversight, and applied its objections against Medistry regardless.

even if the Applicant had established in understandable and verifiable detail that the AHA on purpose decided not to oppose the Application, such decision of the AHA would and could not change the fact that the NABP expressed opposition to the Application on grounds of public health concerns, and that the AHA raised essentially identical concerns with regard to all other .med applications.

To me, this looks like Medistry was given the Kafkaesque challenge of proving that the AHA had not objected to its application, even though there was no such objection on record.

Using a von Schlabrendorff level of speculation, I’m guessing that the AHA did file an objecting comment originally, but withdrew it a couple of days later when informed that Medistry’s parent company is an AHA member.

Given that the NABP and AHA “objections” both turned out to be non-existent, the ICANN BGC has naturally enough decided that the Medistry Reconsideration Request merits further consideration.

The BCG wrote (pdf):

the BGC finds that Request 14-1 should be granted to provide sufficient time to further evaluate whether any actions were taken in contravention of established policy or procedure, such as whether the threshold requirement set forth in Section 3.2.5 of the Guidebook was satisfied. The BGC will ensure that ICANN further evaluates this issue and provides a report to the BGC for consideration

It is important to note that the BGC’s acceptance of this Reconsideration Request should in no way reflect poorly on the IO or be seen as a finding that the IO failed to properly discharge his duties. Rather, this determination is a recognition that the Requester has submitted substantial information indicating that the IO’s assessment of what could be described as vague comments (particularly those of NABP), may not have been consistent with what the commenters intended.

What this seems to mean is that the Medistry application for .med is undeaded and that von Schlabrendorff’s increasingly dodgy-looking decision is going to be looked at.

It also means that Reconsideration Requests are not entirely useless.

No Reconsideration Request of any consequence has been accepted by the BCG in the 15 years the procedure has been active.

Generally, they’re thrown out because the requester fails to provide any new information that wasn’t available at the time the offending decision is made, which is a prerequisite for success.

In this case, Medistry’s production of the NABP letter of clarification seems to have been critical.