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.gay is gay enough after all? ICANN overturns community panel decision

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2015, Domain Registries

One of the applicants for .gay has won a significant battle in the fight for the controversial new gTLD.

In a shock move, a committee of ICANN’s board of directors has overturned the rejection of dotgay LLC’s Community Priority Evaluation, ordering that the case should be re-examined by a new panel of experts.

As you may recall, dotgay’s CPE was kicked out in October after the Economist Intelligence Unit panel decided that the company’s defined community was too broad to be described by “gay” as it included a lot of people who aren’t gay, such as straight people.

The decision — which I thought was probably correct — caused an uproar from dotgay’s myriad supporters, which include dozens of international equal rights and gay community organizations.

dotgay filed a Request for Reconsideration, ICANN’s cheapest but least reliable form of appeal, and today found out it actually won.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee, which handles the RfR process, this week ruled (pdf):

The BGC concludes that, upon investigation of Requester’s claims, the CPE Panel inadvertently failed to verify 54 letters of support for the Application and that this failure contradicts an established procedure. The BGC further concludes that the CPE Panel’s failure to comply with this established CPE procedure warrants reconsideration. Accordingly, the BGC determines that the CPE Panel Report shall be set aside, and that the EIU shall identify two different evaluators to perform a new CPE for the Application

The successful RfR appears to be based on a technicality, and may have no lasting impact on the .gay contention set.

Under the EIU’s process rules: “With few exceptions, verification emails are sent to every entity that has sent a letter(s) of support or opposition to validate their identity and authority”.

It seems that the EIU was sent a bundle of 54 letters of support for dotgay, but did not email the senders to verify they were legit. The BCG wrote:

Over the course of investigating the claims made in Request 14-44, ICANN learned that the CPE Panel inadvertently did not verify 54 of the letters of support it reviewed. All 54 letters were sent by the Requester in one correspondence bundle, and they are publicly posted on ICANN’s correspondence page.36 The 54 letters were deemed to be relevant by the EIU, but the EIU inadvertently failed to verify them.

If an applicant wins a CPE it means all the other applicants are automatically excluded, and the door is now open for the EIU to rethink its earlier decision.

So do competing applicants Rightside, Minds + Machines and Top Level Design now have genuine cause for concern? Not necessarily.

CPE applicants need to score at least 14 out of 16 available points in order to win, and dotgay only scored 10 points in its original evaluation.

Crucially, the EIU panel said that because the “community” as defined by dotgay included transgender, intersex, asexual and straight “allies” of equal rights, it was too broad to score any of the available four points on the “Nexus” criteria.

The BCG could find no fault with the EIU’s determination on Nexus, so even if dotgay’s letters of support are verified according to procedure, it would not necessarily lead to dotgay picking up any more Nexus points.

The BCG wrote on Nexus: “Requester’s substantive disagreement with the CPE Panel’s conclusion does not support reconsideration”.

However, given that the EIU is going to do the entire CPE all over again with new panelists, it seems entirely possible that dotgay could win this time.

NCC buys Open Registry for up to $22.6m — a gTLD registry now owns part of the TMCH

Kevin Murphy, January 20, 2015, Domain Registries

NCC Group has acquired registry back-end provider Open Registry in a deal that could be worth as much as £14.9 million ($22.6 million).

The deal means that NCC, which runs the new gTLD .trust via subsidiary Artemis Internet, now owns a back-end, a registrar and a piece of the Trademark Clearinghouse, in addition to its original core domain business of providing data escrow services to registries.

According to NCC, the acquisition is for a minimum of £7.9 million ($12 million), with the rest to be paid over three years if Open Registry meets performance targets.

Open Registry had revenue of €3.7 million ($4.3 million) in 2014, turning a profit of €15,000 ($17,300).

Its core business is as a back-end provider for new gTLD applicants. It has about 20 on its books, mostly European dot-brands and cities.

Part of the company’s business is CHIP, the Clearinghouse of Intellectual Property, which along with IBM and Deloitte runs the ICANN-sanctioned TMCH, which all new gTLD registries must use in their Sunrise and Trademark Claims launch periods.

It also owns a small registrar, Nexperteam, which has about 8,000 domains under management.

The Benelux company employs eight people.

Open Registry’s founding CEO Jean-Christophe Vignes joined Artemis as head of domain operations in 2013.

.top says Facebook shakedown was just a typo

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology, the .top registry, is blaming a typo for a Facebook executive’s claim that it wanted $30,000 or more for facebook.top.

Information provided to the ICANN GNSO Council by Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi yesterday showed that .top wanted RMB 180,000 (currently $29,000) for a trademarked name that previously had been blocked due to ICANN’s name collisions policy.

But Mason Zhang, manager of the registry’s overseas channel division, told DI today that the price is actually RMB 18,000 ($2,900):

We were shocked when seeing that our register price for TMCH protected names like Facebook during Exclusive Registration Period is changed from “eighteen thousand” into what is written, the “one hundred and eighty thousand”.

I think that might be a type mistake from our side, and we checked and we are certain that the price is CNY EIGHTEEN THOUSAND.

The 18,000-yuan sunrise fee is published on the registry’s official web site, as I noted yesterday.

The registry email sent to Facebook is reproduced in this PDF.

I wondered yesterday whether a breakdown in communication may to be blame. Perhaps I was correct.

While $3,000 is still rather high for a defensive registration, it doesn’t stink of extortion quite as badly as $30,000.

Still, it’s moderately good news for Facebook and any other company worried they were going to have to shell out record-breaking prices to defensively register their brands.

New gTLD extortion? Registry asks Facebook for $35,000 to register its brand

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2015, Domain Registries

More Chinese weirdness, or just plain old trademark owner extortion?

The registry for the new gTLD .top is asking Facebook to cough up $35,000 in order to defensively register one of its trademarks as a .top domain — probably facebook.top — according to a Facebook executive.

The registry’s demand — which some are cautiously likening to “extortion” — is linked to the release of name collision domains in .top, which is due to start happening today.

Nanjing, China-based registry Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology runs the .top gTLD.

It has been in general availability since November 18 and currently has just shy of 40,000 names in its zone file, making it the 16th-largest new gTLD.

I haven’t checked whether they’re all legitimate buyer registrations, but given the shape the new gTLD industry is in right now I have my doubts.

From today, Jiangsu Bangning is running a month-long “Exclusive Registration Period”, according to ICANN records.

But Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi today complained on an ICANN GNSO Council call that the registry had asked for $4,500 for a Sunrise period registration and now wants an extra RMB 180,000 ($30,000) because the desired domain is on its collisions block-list.

UPDATE: The registry says the price is just RMB 18,000. It blames a typo for the error.

I don’t know for sure what domain Facebook wants — I’ve reached out to Kawaguchi for clarification — but I rather suspect it’s facebook.top, which appeared on the list of 30,205 name collisions that Jiangsu Bangning was obliged by ICANN to block.

Name collisions are domains that were already receiving traffic prior to the launch of the new gTLD program. ICANN forces registries to block them for a minimum of 90 days in order to mitigate potential security risks.

According to the registry’s web site, Sunrise registrations cost RMB 18,000 per name per year. That’s about $3,000 a year for a defensive registration, a ridiculously high sum when compared to most new gTLDs.

There’s no mention on its site that I can find of the additional RMB 180,000 collision release fee, but Kawaguchi forwarded an email to the GNSO Council that strongly suggests that trademark owners with brands on the .top collisions list face the inexplicable extra $30,000.

Sunrise prices, just like regular general availability prices, are not controlled by ICANN in new gTLDs.

There are no rules I’m aware of governing pricing for collision names, nor am I aware of any registry costs that could justify a $30,000 fee to register one. A premium generic string may be worth that much, but asking that amount for a trademark smacks of extortion.

So, assuming this isn’t just a breakdown of communication, is the registry trying to screw Facebook in a targeted fashion, knowing it has deep pockets and a cybersquatting target painted on its back, or is it applying a $30,000 fee to every domain coming off its collisions list this week?

Facebook isn’t the only big tech company with its primary trademark on the list — Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Amazon also appear on it, along with many other famous brands.

Kawaguchi said she’s taken her complaint to ICANN Compliance.

New gTLD registries talk up marketing plans at NamesCon

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2015, Domain Registries

This week’s NamesCon conference here in Las Vegas, which ended yesterday, offered several new domain registries the chance to talk about their efforts past and future to market new gTLDs.

One theme to emerge was how registries need to work with each other and with their registrar channel partners to raise awareness of alternatives to .com.

Donuts VP Dan Schindler said during a Tuesday keynote that the company plans to ramp up its marketing in 2015.

“There’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done by all the beneficiaries in this process,” he said, saying that Donuts intends to carry out a “broad education and awareness program over course of 2015 and beyond”.

He said the company is pursuing co-marketing efforts with some of its registrar partners at trade shows and such and “possibly including television”.

Schindler also spoke out against paid placement — where registries pay popular registrars for prominent shelf space — “not because we’re cheap”, but because Donuts doesn’t believe it offers registrants the best choice of relevant TLDs.

Here’s a photo of Schindler talking, offered for no other reason than it just cost me £6 to upload from my phone. Note the juxtaposition of a) the extensive Verisign .com/.net sponsorship, b) the Donuts “Not Com Revolution” messaging, and c) my thumb.

Dan Schindler

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said in his keynote an hour later that he expected “more marketplace collaboration… where it is in our best interest to collaborate” on new gTLD promotion.

But he offered a somewhat dissenting tone with regards what he called the “dog and pony shows” of marketing new gTLDs.

Saying the company is “bootstrapping” some of its strings, he said big marketing spends now would lead to Uniregistry needing to raise its prices in two to three years to cover today’s costs.

Instead, he pointed to efforts such as its decision to release most of .click’s available names for a flat, cheap registration fee at launch, which he said should get names into the hands of users more quickly.

Contrarily, .CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell boasted during a brief pre-auction address on Tuesday of his company’s $2.2 million marketing spend for 2014, which he said would increase to $3.5 million in 2015.

Another recurring theme emerging from the conference (and from every other new gTLD event I’ve ever been to) was, as Schindler put it, that “use begets use”. The more high-profile sites a gTLD gets, the more likely it is to gain mindshare and sell more domains.

DotStrategy, the .buzz registry, is to be the beneficiary of such customer marketing.

Howard Lefkowitz, CEO of travel site operator One Degree World (which revealed it paid $100,000 for vegas.club earlier this week) revealed during NamesCon that some of his company’s city-related .buzz domains, such as sydney.buzz, are to feature for two weeks on the US TV game show Wheel Of Fortune as prize sponsors.

Will we see a bump in .buzz sales as a result? The gTLD currently has fewer than 8,500 names in its zone file, so if the TV time bears fruit it should be fairly easy to spot.