Vox Populi, the .sucks gTLD registry, has terminated the accreditation of brand protection registrar Com Laude as part of an ongoing dispute between the two companies.
Com Laude won’t be able to sell defensive .sucks registrations to its clients any more, at least not on its own accreditation, in other words.
The London-based registrar is transferring all of its .sucks domains to EnCirca as a result of the termination and says it is considering its options in how to proceed.
The shock move, which I believe to be unprecedented, is being linked to Com Laude’s long-time criticisms of Vox Populi’s pricing and policies.
The registrar today had some rather stern words for Vox Pop. Managing director Nick Wood said in a statement:
We have always been critical of this registry and particularly its sunrise pricing model which we regard as predatory. We have advised clients where possible to consider not registering such names. We hope that all brand owners will think twice before buying or renewing a .sucks domain. After all, it is not possible to block out every variation of a trademark under .sucks. In our view, fair criticism is preferable to dealing with Vox Populi.
The termination is believed to be linked to controversial changes to the .sucks Registry-Registrar Agreement, which Vox Pop managed to sneak past ICANN over Christmas.
One of the changes, some registrars believed, would prevent brand protection registrars from openly criticizing .sucks pricing and policies. They called it a “gag order”.
Com Laude SVP Jeff Neuman was one of the strongest critics. I believe he was a key influence on a Registrar Stakeholder Group letter (pdf) in January which essentially said registrars would boycott the new RRA.
That letter said:
It’s ironic for a Registry whose slogan is “Foster debate, Share opinions” has now essentially proposed implementing a gag order on the registrars that sell the .sucks TLD by preventing them from doing just that
While the RRA dispute was resolved more or less amicably following ICANN mediation, with Vox Pop backpedaling somewhat on its proposed changes, Com Laude now believes the registry has held a grudge.
Its statement does not say what part of the .sucks RRA it is alleged to have breached.
Vox Pop has not yet returned a request for comment. I’ll provide an update should I receive further information.
Com Laude said in a statement today:
Jeff Neuman, our SVP of our North American business, Com Laude USA, led the effort in the Registrar Stakeholder Group to quash proposed changes to Vox Populi’s registry-registrar agreement, in order to protect the interests of brand owners and the registrars who work with them. Since then, Vox Populi has accused Com Laude of breaching the terms of the registry-registrar agreement, a claim we take seriously and refute in its entirety. We are now considering our further options.
We have informed our clients of the action being taken and all have expressed their support for the manner in which we have handled it. We are pleased to have received messages of support from across the ICANN community including other registry operators. Clearly there is strong distaste at the practices of Vox Populi.
CentralNic has been awarded the back-end contract for the forthcoming .art gTLD, usurping Verisign from the role.
UK Creative Ideas, which bought .art at a private auction for an undisclosed sum a year ago, appointed the company its “exclusive registry service provider”, CentralNic said.
UKCI’s original .art application named Verisign as its back-end, and this is not the first time CentralNic has sneaked away a Verisign client.
When XYZ.com acquired .theatre, and .security and .protection from Symantec, it moved them from Verisign to its .xyz provider CentralNic.
That earned XYZ and CentralNic a contract interference lawsuit, which XYZ settled in May.
Clearly litigation has not managed to chill competition in this instance.
.art is set to launch in stages over the next 12 months, CentralNic said.
UKCI estimated in its ICANN application that it would get between 25,000 and 80,000 registrations in its first year.
That may prove to be optimistic, at least at the high end.
UKCI’s vision for .art is for a restricted gTLD, which don’t tend to do huge volumes. I believe the largest restricted new gTLD is .nyc, with about 75,000 names in its zone.
All .art registrants will have to show some kind of connection to the art world, according to UKCI’s application.
This includes artists, owners and keepers of works of art, commercial art organisations (such as galleries and auction and trading houses), not-for-profit organisations (such as museums, foundations, and professional associations), supporting businesses (such as insurance, appraisal, transport) and customers and members of the general public interested in art.
Goodness knows how this will be implemented in practice, given that basically everyone is an artist to some extent.
UKCI is based in the Isle of Man, the UK dependency presumably selected for tax reasons rather than any connection to the art world, and is backed by Russian venture capitalists.
The break between TLD Registry and former back-end provider Afilias may be even less amicable than first thought.
I’m hearing that TLDR served Afilias with a “Notice of Material Breach” of contract earlier this year, threatening to move its two gTLDs to a rival owned by the Chinese government.
There may even be pending litigation.
Today TLDR confirmed in a statement that it’s switching the roughly 30,000 names in .在线 (.xn--3ds443g, “Chinese online”) and .中文网 (.xn--fiq228c5hs, “Chinese website”) from Afilias to Beijing Teleinfo Network Technology Co.
Tele-info is a little-known back-end provider currently servicing four pre-launch Latin-script Chinese gTLDs.
According to TLDR, the company is owned by the Chinese Academy of Telecommunication Research, which appears to be part of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
According to a source, back in February TLDR told Afilias that it would switch to Tele-info if Afilias was “unable or unwilling to remedy” unspecified contractual breaches by mid-May.
I don’t know what the alleged breaches were and neither company wants to talk about it.
“Afilias does not comment on pending litigation,” a spokesperson said.
“We are not commenting on contractual or litigation matters,” a TLDR spokesperson said.
TLDR said in a statement that the switch to Tele-info will help it get a Chinese government license, so Chinese registrants will be able to start using their domains. CEO Arto Isokoski said:
The completion of this milestone will hopefully pave the way for our accreditation with Chinese regulators, which ultimately allows our China-based customer’s names to resolve legally to a website hosted from within China.
It’s hard to argue with that logic — if it’s using a government back-end for its SRS, one can see how that would oil the gears of bureaucracy.
UPDATE 1753 UTC: Afilias has just provided DI with the following statement:
With respect to TLD Registry’s charges of breach of contract, Afilias categorically denies any breach of any kind whatsoever. Afilias has complied completely with our contractual obligations and responded to all requests for assistance with their various business priorities. Since we began supporting these 2 TLDs, Afilias has met every SLA and enabled the 2 TLDS to be 100% compliant with their technical and contractual obligations to ICANN. Afilias has provided 100% compliance on every SRS requirement, and maintained their DNS with 100% availability throughout the entire period of our stewardship. TLD Registry’s charges are completely without merit.
TLD Registry, the Finnish/Irish registry that runs two Chinese-script gTLDs, has ditched Afilias in favor of a Chinese back-end provider.
Afilias said tonight that as of Friday it will no longer be the back-end for .在线 (.xn--3ds443g, “Chinese online”) and .中文网 (.xn--fiq228c5hs, “Chinese website”).
The company said:
Afilias has been directed by TLD Registry to shut down the Afilias operated SRS’s for .xn—3ds443g and .xn—fiq228c5hs on June 17, 2016 at 00:00:00 UTC and transfer the registry files to TLD Registry and its new provider. In accordance with this directive from our client, the SRS will be shut down and the files will be transferred, and Afilias will no longer operate the SRS for these two strings.
TLD Registry VP Pinky Brand declined to name the registry’s new back-end provider, beyond that the winning provider is Chinese.
The new back-end will be named in the next day or so, he said.
Registrars have been informed about the switch, Afilias said.
It’s not yet clear whether TLD Registry has decided to switch providers for cost reasons or in order to more deeply embed itself in China.
The company was founded by and is managed by Finns and is legally based in Ireland, but it only runs Chinese-script gTLDs.
The Chinese government has regulations, and is proposing more, preventing Chinese citizens using domains that do not meet certain guidelines, which include a corporate presence in China.
Several registries are opening up offices in China in order to abide by these rules, but I’m not aware of any that have switched back-ends for that reason.
The two gTLDs have fewer than 30,000 domains in their zone files between them.
While the universe of new gTLDs is growing at a rapid clip, DI research shows that at least one in 10 individual new gTLDs are shrinking.
Using zone file data, I’ve also established that almost a third of new gTLDs were smaller June 1 than they were 90 days earlier, and that more than one in five shrunk over a 12-month period.
There’s been a lot written recently, here and elsewhere, about the volume boom at the top-end of the new gTLD league tables, driven by the inexplicable hunger in China for worthless domain names, so I thought I’d try to balance it out by looking at those not benefiting from the budget land-grab madness.
It’s been about two and a half years since the first new gTLDs of the 2012 round were delegated. A few hundred were in general availability by the end of 2014.
These are the ones I chose to look at for this article.
Taking the full list of delegated 2012-round gTLDs, I first disregarded any dot-brands. For me, that’s any gTLD that has Specifications 9 or 13 in its ICANN Registry Agreement.
Volume is not a measure of success for dot-brands in general, where only the registry can own names, so we’re not interested in their growth rates.
Then I disregarded any gTLD that had a general availability date after March 14, 2015.
That date was selected because it’s 445 days before June 1, 2016 — enough time for a gTLD to go through its first renewal/deletion cycle.
There’s no point looking at TLDs less than a year old as they can only be growing.
This whittling process left me with 334 gTLDs.
Counting the domains in those gTLDs’ zone files, I found that:
- 96 (28.7%) were smaller June 1 than they were 30 days earlier.
- 104 (31.1%) were smaller June 1 than they were 90 days earlier.
- 76 (22.7%) were smaller June 1 than they were 366 days earlier.
- 35 (10.4%) were smaller on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis.
Zone files don’t include all registered domains, of course, but the proportion of those excluded tends to be broadly similar between gTLDs. Apples-to-apples comparisons are, I believe, fair.
And I think it’s fair to say that if a gTLD has gotten smaller over the previous month, quarter and year, that gTLD is “shrinking”.
There are the TLDs.
|TLD||Registry||Domains||Annual Change||Quarterly Change||Monthly Change|
|..在线 (xn--3ds443g)||TLD Registry||34800||-1161||-1183||-1124|
|.شبكة (xn--ngbc5azd)||International Domain Registry||1103||-379||-150||-84|
|.ОНЛАЙН (xn--80asehdb)||CORE Association||2350||-128||-157||-215|
|.САЙТ (xn--80aswg)||CORE Association||1072||-8||-46||-65|
Concerning those 35 shrinking gTLDs:
- The average size of the zones, as of June 1, was 17,299 domains.
- Combined, they accounted for 605,472 domains, down 34,412 on the year. That’s a small portion of the gTLD universe, which is currently over 20 million.
- The smallest was .wed, with 144 domains and annual shrinkage of 12. The largest was .网址 (Chinese for “.website”) which had 330,554 domains and annual shrinkage of 7,487.
- The mean shrinkage over the year was 983 domains per gTLD. Over the quarter it was 1,025. Over the month it was 400.
Sixteen of the 35 domains belong to Donuts, which is perhaps to be expected given that it has the largest stable and was the most aggressive early mover.
Of its first batch of seven domains to go to GA, way back in February 2014, only three — .guru, .singles, and .plumbing — are on our list of shrinkers.
A Donuts spokesperson told DI today that its overall number of registrations is on the increase and that “too much focus on individual TLDs doesn’t accurately indicate the overall health of the TLD program in general and of our portfolio specifically.”
He pointed out that Donuts has not pursued the domainer market with aggressive promotions, targeting instead small and medium businesses that are more likely to actually use their domains.
“As initial domainer investors shake out, you’re likely to see some degradation in the size of the zone,” he said.
He added that Donuts has seen second-year renewal rates of 72%, which were higher than the first year.
“That indicates that there’s more steadiness in the registration base today than there was when first-year renewals were due,” he said.