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.travel domains to be opened to all

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2010, Domain Registries

Attention domainers. The .travel registry wants your business.

Tralliance has become the latest of the sponsored top-level domain registries to decide it needs to loosen the shackles of sponsorship and target a more general user base.

Its sponsor, The Travel Partnership Corporation, has quietly changed the policies governing .travel in order to substantially liberalize the namespace.

I say quietly, because the policy changes were published August 20 and there does not appear to have been any coverage yet beyond TTPC’s own site and this press release from a registrar today.

The new policy document contains only two small changes, but they have big implications.

The first is to add a new category of approved registrant to the existing list, which includes hotels, airlines and so on. The new category is:

Creators and providers of travel and tourism products, services and content.

This seems to be general enough to exclude nobody, especially when one puts it in the context of the second big change that TTPC is proposing, which seems to allow domain parking.

Currently, the registry policies state that all .travel domains need to resolve to active travel-related web sites or email addresses. That restriction is to be dumped entirely.

In fact, the word “restriction” has been replaced with “incentive”. This is from the redlined policy doc:

The Registry has the discretion to develop restrictions incentives for on use of any domain name, such restrictions incentives to apply to any name registration that occurs after such restrictions come into effect. Restrictions may include, but are not limited to, a requirement to develop a website that uses the registered name, to ensure that each registered name resolves to a working website

No such incentives are included, but I’d guess that they may end up looking a little like the recent moves by .jobs and .co to engage in joint marketing deals with companies willing to promote the TLD.

The upshot of all this is that it appears that .travel domains will soon be close to unrestricted. Registrants will still have to undergo a one-time authentication process, but that’s looking increasingly like a formality.

The policy changes take effect September 20. It doesn’t look like they would disenfranchise anybody, except perhaps those who considered .travel an exclusive club, so I doubt there’ll be the same kind of outcry that .jobs recently saw.

The .travel domain launched in October 2005. As of April 2010, it had 47,338 active registrations.

VeriSign antitrust case heading to District Court

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2010, Domain Registries

The Coalition For ICANN Transparency will have its day in court, after VeriSign this week asked for a “speedy resolution” to the five-year-old antitrust case.

In a filing (pdf) with the Northern California District Court on Wednesday and in an accompanying SEC document, the company said it want it wants the case heard on its merits.

According to CFIT lawyer Bret Fausett, VeriSign had the option to refer the case to the Supreme Court after losing a motion to dismiss on appeal last month.

VeriSign had until October 9 to make its mind up, but evidently did not need that long.

This is the meat of the motion:

On July 9, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an amended opinion in this case and remanded the case to this Court “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.” The Ninth Circuit spread the mandate on July 19. VeriSign, Inc. respectfully requests that the Court schedule a case management conference at its earliest convenience to discuss plans for a speedy resolution to the case.

The case is important because if VeriSign loses it could lead to the company losing its lucrative monopoly on the .com and .net registries.

While it wants a speedy resolution, analysts are not so hopeful. JP Morgan believes: “All together, the motions in the trial, discovery, trial, and potential appeal could take years to complete.”

The analyst also notes that pretrial discovery will likely lead to a definitive answer to the question: who the hell is CFIT anyway?

.jobs landrush beauty contest opens

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2010, Domain Registries

Employ Media has made a request for proposals from companies that want to apply for generic .jobs domain names, to predictable criticism.

ICANN recently permitted the company to start selling non-“company name” .jobs domains, and the RFP is the first phase of its plan.

It basically constitutes a landrush process, albeit one that makes .cn registrations seem laissez faire, and in which you don’t actually get to “own” any domain names at the end.

To apply, companies have to present Employ Media with a business plan and a list of their desired domains, among other information.

The registry appears to be reluctant to talk about the money side of things, other than the non-refundable $250 application fee.

The closest thing in the RFP to an outstretched palm appears to be this paragraph:

Employ Media’s role is to make .JOBS domain names available to those interested in serving the needs of the International HR management community as set forth in the .JOBS Charter. Describe how your proposal will contribute to Employ Media’s role in a manner that reflects the value (financial, services or otherwise) of the proposed .JOBS domains.

The CollegeRecruiter.com blog, and some reader comments, suggest that the registry has been asking potential applicants for “creative” ideas, including revenue sharing deals, and then threatening legal action when such overtures are recounted in public fora.

CollegeRecruiter’s CEO Steven Rothberg was one of the leading opponents of the .jobs liberalization plan.

The only organization I’m aware of that is on record intending to respond to the RFP is the DirectEmployers Association, which intends to apply for thousands of generic domains under its controversial universe.jobs plan.

What .xxx means for trademark holders

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2010, Domain Registries

Trademark holders have been screwed over by ISP domain name wildcarding more than they realise, I’ve discovered from the .xxx contract documents.

ICM Registry is planning a novel approach to trademark protection if its application to launch the .xxx top-level domain is successful, but it’s been watered down compared to its original plan.

Hypothetically, let’s say you’re Lego. You really, really don’t want some cybersquatter snapping up lego.xxx and filling it with… well, you can imagine what Lego porn might look like.

At the same time, for the sake of your family-friendly brand, you don’t want to actually own a resolvable lego.xxx either.

And you certainly don’t want to be forced to to hand some pornographer over $60 a year for each of your brands. Some companies could see this as supporting pornography.

ICM had originally planned to allow companies in this position to pay a one-time fee to have their brand.xxx turned off permanently.

Personally, I like this idea. It would give the IP lobby a lot less to complain about in discussions surrounding the new TLD program.

But the company may now water down this plan, called IP Protect, due to the way that non-existent domains are increasingly handled by some ISPs.

As you probably know, ISPs worldwide are increasingly capturing NXDOMAIN traffic in order to show search results and advertising links to their customers.

It’s generally frowned upon in DNS circles, and it’s now likely to have the effect of making IP Protect costlier and more of an administrative hassle for brand owners.

You’re Lego again. You pay ICM the one-time shut-down fee, only to find that Comcast is now showing its users links to Lego porn whenever they type in lego.xxx.

ICM president Stuart Lawley tells me that one option currently being looked at is to have IP Protect domains resolve to a standard page at an ICM-controlled server.

The problem here is that ICM has to pay ICANN and its registry back-end provider annual fees for every resolving domain name, and that cost will have to be passed on to the registrant, in our case Lego.

Lawley says that ICM is “engaging” with the ICANN intellectual property community to figure out the best solution. It appears that both options are still open.

Why .xxx will be domainer-friendly (and why it won’t)

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2010, Domain Registries

The proposed .xxx top-level domain may be “sponsored”, but the restrictions on who will be able to register names are so loose that pretty much anybody, including domainers, will be able to register one.

I’ve now had time to dig through the mountain of documents that ICANN published earlier this week. I’m submitting something to The Register later today, but I thought I’d first look here at the domaining angle.

First, the bad news: .xxx domains won’t be cheap.

ICM Registry, which wants to run the TLD, plans to charge $60 per year, and that’s just the registry fee.

That’s a lot of money to recoup if you’re planning to park a domain, so it’s likely that much of the value of .xxx for domainers will be in development and resale.

The proposed contract does suggest, and ICM president Stuart Lawley is on record as saying, that the price of registrations could eventually come down. Whether that would include renewals remains to be seen.

Now for the good news: you won’t actually have to be a pornographer to register a .xxx domain.

It’s true that .xxx is ostensibly restricted to members of the adult entertainment community, but the definition also includes companies that supply products and services to the industry.

According to Lawley, flipping domain names falls into that category.

So, if you register a nice .xxx in order to sell it later to an actual pornographer, you’re technically part of the .xxx Sponsored Community. Congratulations, you’re in the adult business.

Parking .xxx domains will also be possible, and it doesn’t look like parking companies will need to make any changes in order to support the TLD.

It’s true that all .xxx sites will have to be “labelled” as porn, but that doesn’t mean, as I initially thought, that all .xxx web sites, including the parked ones, will have to slap a logo on their pages.

Lawley says that ICM will handle all the labelling transparently at the registry end, using a W3C standard called POWDER. Apparently this is doable without touching anybody’s HTML.

Of course, getting hold of a prime piece of .xxx real estate at launch will not be easy.

Anybody with designs on a geo .xxx domain is out of luck. ICANN will reserve all place names, and two-letter domains are banned, due to potential confusion with country codes.

But single-letter domains will be possible. The provision that banned it has been deleted from the new contract.

ICM plans to auction some premium names. It may even reserve some names, such as movie.xxx, in order to offer registrations at the third level.

An additional barrier is that roughly 9,400 people have already “pre-reserved” about 176,000 names (an average of 18 each). That’s about as many words as there are in the English language by some counts.

Quite how these reservations will be handled isn’t spelled out in detail in the contract, as far as I can tell.

The .xxx TLD is still in the application phase, of course, and there are ways it could still fail. If the contract is ultimately signed, general availability is expected seven months later.