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.sucks launches despite trademark lobby outrage

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi took its .sucks new gTLD into its sunrise period as planned today, despite an 11th-hour outcry from trademark lawyers.

Pricing varies wildly between registrars.

Registry CEO John Berard told DI today that the TLD became available to trademark owners at a minute after midnight UTC this morning as scheduled.

ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency had asked ICANN’s top brass late Friday (mid-way through California’s final working day before the sunrise was due to begin) to “halt” the launch.

I’ve yet to hear confirmation from ICANN that it will not take action as a result of the IPC’s letter, but it has evidently not so far chosen to intervene.

The IPC described .sucks, with its suggested $2,500 sunrise fee, as a “shakedown” and a “perversion” of the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms.

Vox Pop has also published its registry-level fees.

It turns out its sunrise fee is $1,999, with a suggested retail price of $2,499.

That’s an attractive mark-up for registrars, but it’s not clear from the registry’s web site how many of its 30-plus contracted registrars have chosen to participate in the sunrise phase.

With the current volume of sunrise registrations running at fewer than 1,000 per TLD, and most registrations coming via a small number of brand protection registrars, it’s debateable whether it’s worthwhile for most registrars to bother with the extra implementation work.

Several retail registrars I checked are not currently offering sunrise names.

One corporate registrar, IPC member MarkMonitor, has promised to only mark up registrations by $25 per name, saying it refuses to profit from .sucks. Presumably, therefore, it is selling sunrise names for $2,024.

Of the registrars I checked that publish their prices on their web sites, Marcaria and 101domain are selling for $2,199. LexSynergy is priced in GBP that works out to $2,533 a year. Rebel.com has gone for $2,600 (including a $100 non-refundable application fee).

US confirms Neustar to lose $475m-a-year contract

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Neustar still seems set to lose a critical US government contract that provides half of its annual revenue.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously last week to begin talks with rival contract bidder Telcordia, saying it will save the US consumer hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Since 1997, Neustar has administered the telephone number portability system in the US. It’s not related to domain names.

Neustar, which also runs .us, .biz and .co, made $474.8 million from the deal in 2014, 49% of its annual revenue.

Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement:

Should we now declare Telcordia the next local number portability administrator? When you compare the numbers, the answer is clear. Last year, the current contract cost about $460 million. In contrast, Telcordia bid less than $1 billion for a seven-year term — that’s less than $143 million per year. That’s substantial savings for the American public.

Neustar told Bloomberg that the ruling was “procedurally defective” and that the company is “considering all options to address the significant flaws.”

Some kind of legal action to attempt to block the negotiations seems possible.

The company has also initiated a share buy-back to prop up its stock in light of the bad news.

Will Vox Populi eat its own .sucks dog food?

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi has yet to decide whether it will put its mouth where its money is and open up its own brand for the .sucks treatment.

In a radio interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Day 6 show broadcast on Friday, registry CEO John Berard was asked whether the company would register voxpopuli.sucks and allow it to be used as a third-party criticism site.

Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a space where big brands and others register names in order to solicit useful commentary, criticism and conversation from their customers.

So the correct answer to the question would have been: “Yes, of course we will do that.”

But Berard was more ambiguous in his response:

HOST: What will you do with the voxpopuli.sucks web site? Will you put it up or will you hold it?

BERARD: My instinct would be to put it up.

HOST: But there’s a possibility that you won’t?

BERARD: It’s a business decision we’ll have to make and I think it’s probably the smarter business decision to put it up.

In my view, the company would be mad to sit on voxpopuli.sucks and related names.

By eating its own dog food, it would send the message that it actually believes its own marketing line.

I’m frankly surprised that Vox Pop has not already enthusiastically confirmed it will open itself up to the same kind of treatment as its sunrise period customers.

The full 15-minute CBC piece, which includes four minutes of yours truly busting his radio cherry and five of domain investor Rick Schwartz bitching about how “corrupt” ICANN is, can be streamed here.

The .sucks sunrise period begins today, with a controversial recommended retail price of $2,500 per year.

“Halt perverted .sucks shakedown now!” demands IPC

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2015, Domain Registries

Intellectual property interests have asked ICANN to put an immediate stop to the roll-out of the .sucks new gTLD.

A letter to Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah, sent by the Intellectual Property Constituency this evening and seen by DI, calls the registry’s plans, which include an “exorbitant” $2,500 sunrise fee, a “shakedown scheme”.

It’s also emerged that Vox Populi, the .sucks registry, has agreed to pay ICANN up to a million dollars in mysterious fees that apply to no other new gTLD registry.

The IPC letter states.

the Intellectual Property Constituency is formally asking ICANN to halt the rollout of the .SUCKS new gTLD operated by Vox Populi Registry Inc. (“Vox Populi”), so that the community can examine the validity of Vox Populi’s recently announced plans to: (1) to categorize TMCH-registered marks as “premium names,” (2) charge exorbitant sums to brand owners who seek to secure a registration in .SUCKS, and (3) conspire with an (alleged) third party to “subsidize” a complaint site should brand owners fail to cooperate in Vox Populi’s shakedown scheme.

Vox Populi intends to take .sucks to sunrise on Monday, so the IPC wants ICANN to take immediate action.

The high price of registration, the IPC believes, will discourage trademark owners from using the sunrise period to defensively register their marks.

Meanwhile, the registry’s plan to make the domains available for $10 under a “Consumer Advocate Subsidy”, will encourage cybersquatting, the IPC says.

by discouraging trademark owners from using a key RPM, we believe that the registry operator’s actions in establishing this predatory scheme are complicit in, and encourage bad faith registrations by third parties at the second level of the .SUCKS gTLD, and thus drastically increase the likelihood of trademark infringement, all for commercial gain

The letter goes on to say that Vox Populi may be in violation of its registry contract and the Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Policy, which was created to prevent registries turning a blind eye to mass cybersquatting.

There’s also a vague threat of legal action for contributory trademark infringement.

The IPC has particular beef with the registry’s Sunrise Premium program. This is a list of strings — mostly trademarks — that have been defensively registered in earlier sunrise periods.

Sunrise Premium names will always cost $2,500, even after sunrise, when registered by the trademark owner.

The IPC says:

Vox Populi is targeting and punishing brand owners who have availed themselves of the RPMs or shown that they are susceptible to purchasing defensive registrations… This will have a chilling effect on TMCH registrations and consequently discredit all of the New gTLD Program RPMs in the eyes of brand owners, whose buy-in and adoption of new gTLDs is widely acknowledged to be critical to the success of the new gTLD program.

Finally, and perhaps more disturbingly, the IPC has discovered that the .sucks registry agreement calls for Vox Populi to pay ICANN up to a million dollars in extra fees.

As well as the usual $25,000-a-year fee and $0.25 per-transaction fee, .sucks has already paid ICANN a $100,000 “registry access fee” and has promised to pay a $1 “registry administration fee” per transaction on its first 900,000 domains.

Its contract states:

Registry Operator shall also pay ICANN (i) a one-time fixed registry access fee of US$100,000 as of the Effective Date of this Agreement, and (ii) a registry administration fee of US$1.00 for each of the first 900,000 Transactions. For the avoidance of doubt, the registry administration fee shall not be subject to the limitations of the Transaction Threshold.

This makes ICANN look absolutely terrible.

What the hell is a “registry access fee”? What’s a “registry administration fee”?

One guess would be that it’s ICANN stocking up its legal defense fund, suspecting the kerfuffle .sucks is going to cause.

But by taking the Vox Pop shilling, ICANN has opened itself up to accusations that it’s complicit in the “shakedown”.

If it does not block .sucks (which was probably the most likely outcome even without mysterious fees) the IPC and other .sucks critics will be able to point to the $1 million as a “bribe”.

The behavior is not without precedent, however.

There’s a reason ICM Registry pays ICANN a $2 fee for every .xxx registration, rather than the much lower fees charged to other gTLD registries.

Read the IPC letter here.

ICANN 50% renewal predictions not based on registry data

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2015, Domain Registries

ICANN’s projection that new gTLDs will see renewals of between 25% and 50% is not based on empirical data from new gTLD registries.

The predictions, which come in under industry standard expectations, are “conservative and somewhat subjective”, ICANN said.

The organization last week revealed that its 2016 budget is partly based on a high estimate of 50% renewals, with 25% for registries that gave their domains away for free.

Because ICANN would have been in possession of actual registry transaction reports for February at the time of publication, I wondered whether the 50% number was anchored in early new gTLD registries’ actual experience.

Transaction reports give the actual number of renewals each registry gets in any given month.

But ICANN told DI today that its 2016 budget was “produced in November 2014 and reviewed in January 2015 by the GDD Domain Name Services team.”

An ICANN spokesperson said:

These projections are strictly for revenue planning, so they are rather conservative and somewhat subjective. We have limited historical data to refer to when examining new gTLD domain name renewals; these are uncharted waters.

As renewals occur, we will be in a better position to refine our assumptions when and if the actual data varies widely from what we have assumed in our model.

Donuts’ current renewal number, revealed as part of a blog series, is 71%. It has not yet stabilized.