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Dead dot-brands #92 and #93

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registries

Two more companies have withdrawn from the new gTLD space, asking ICANN to rip up their dot-brand contracts.

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, an Australian university, has terminated its contract for .rmit, and SwiftCover, an American insurance company, has withdrawn .swiftcover.

SwiftCover next used its gTLD, according to zone file records. Not once.

RMIT had registered a small handful of domains under .rmit, and had been using at least one of them — which wasn’t even a redirect to the uni’s main .au site — as recently as February this year.

But by May the experiment was over, with RMIT filing its ICANN papers.

These are the 92nd and 93rd dot-brand termination notices to be published by ICANN.

GoDaddy and MMX delay closure of $120 million gTLD deal

GoDaddy and MMX have extended the deadline for final closure of their $120 million gTLD acquisition deal by a couple weeks.

MMX said this week the delay is to give them more time to seek approvals from business partners in the four gTLDs that have not already made the move, believed to be .bayern, .boston, .miami and .nrw.

These are all geographic strings that require local government sign-off to complete the transfers.

The deadline had been August 7. It’s now August 23.

GoDaddy Registry has already taken control of 23 of MMX’s gTLDS.

This company had every reason to want a dot-brand, but just killed it off

The latest dot-brand to terminate its new gTLD registry contract with ICANN could have been a case study in why dot-brands are a good idea.

Dabur India is 137 years old and makes over a billion dollars a year selling consumer goods — mainly cosmetics and personal care products, but also shady-looking Ayurvedic alternative medicines and supplements — in its home country and beyond, and it had experimented with using its .dabur gTLD over the last six years.

But it’s no longer interested, telling ICANN recently that it wants its Registry Agreement torn up, which ICANN has agreed to.

That’s despite the fact that Dabur appears to be suffering from exactly the kind of problem that dot-brands were supposed to help mitigate.

If you visit its web site at dabur.com today, you’ll be immediately presented with a very prominent pop-up warning you about scammers exploiting the Dabur trademark to grift money out of people who think they’re signing up to be official distributors.

The notice is lengthy but in part reads:

DABUR is only dealing with trade through www.dabur.com and any person claiming themselves to be taking order for the supply of DABUR products via phone/online may be cheating with you. DABUR shall not be responsible for any order placed other than on our official website www.dabur.com

One of the biggest selling points for the dot-brand concept is that customers can be taught to distrust any solicitation purporting to be legit if it does not originate from a domain in the relevant dot-brand.

If the notice on dabur.com is any guide, turns out you can do the same thing with a .com domain.

Dabur had briefly experimented with its gTLD not long after it was delegated. Current zone files show half a dozen .dabur names, but only two seem to resolve or show up in search engines. One redirects to the .com site.

Ironically, the other is doctor.dabur, in which Dabur solicits doctors to sign up to push its Ayurvedic products. Ayurveda is a form of medical quackery popular in South Asia.

Added to the recent self-termination of QVC’s .qvc, the total number of dot-brands to lose their registry contracts is now 91.

Olympics: Australia preemptively blocking Brisbane 2032 regs

With the venue for the 2032 Olympic Games revealed as Brisbane, Australia last week, the .au registry this week asked people to stop trying to register Olympics-related domains, because they won’t work.

Local ccTLD registry overseer auDA said in a blog post that it’s seen a spike in attempts to register domains containing the string “olympics” and variants since the announcement was made a week ago.

But these strings are on auDA’s reserved list, which cannot be registered even as substrings without government permission. Only the Australian Olympic Committee is allowed to register such domains.

According to auDA, the protected strings are: olympic, olympics, olympicgames, olympiad and olympiads.

It’s a more comprehensive approach to protecting Olympic “trademarks” (for want of a better word) than that employed by ICANN in its gTLD registry contracts, where the various Olympic and Red Cross/Crescent organizations are among a privileged few to enjoy unique protections.

ICANN only requires registries to block the exact-match string from registration, while auDA will block substrings also.

auDA says the domain “BrissiOlympics.com.au” would be blocked. It would not in any ICANN gTLD.

Big names shunned as Nominet names first registrar council members

Nominet has named the first six members of UK Registrar Advisory Council, and I think it’s fair to say there’s a definite tilt towards the grassroots/activist end of the ballot.

Major registrars Tucows, Markmonitor and Web.com (Newfold Digital) were shunned, as members elected Rex Wickham of TwentyTwentyMedia and Arnaud Franquinet of Gandi, both smaller, lesser-known registrars, for two years and one year respectively.

From the mid-to-small registrar segment, two members who had vocally supported the PublicBenefit.uk campaign earlier this year were voted in — Andrew Bennett of Netistrar for two years and Dan Rodgers of Domain Registrar Services for one year.

The independent segment directors will be Susannah Clark, who trades as “Girl Next Door” for two years and Ciprian Cucuruz, Webber Multimedia for one year. Both had run unopposed.

The terms are different length for the first two years so they can be eventually staggered for continuity.

The UKRAC was introduced following the member revolt this March, which saw executives and staff removed and a promised overhaul with how Nominet conducts business and interacts with its members.

The panel will be chaired by member-elected non-executive director Anne Taylor. No date has been set for its first meeting.

Nominet names new chair, slashes exec pay, promises reforms and more boardroom exits

Nominet has named its new chair as former BT Openworld CEO Andy Green, who has already laid out a suite of measures — including more blood on the boardroom floor — to address the barrage of criticisms from members who ousted his predecessor earlier this year.

Green is a serial director, with previous board and advisory positions at over a dozen other companies and organizations, mostly in technology and telecommunications.

Nominet, in announcing his appointment, highlighted that he’s a National Infrastructure Commissioner, chair of WaterAid UK, and vice chair of the Disasters Emergency Committee.

He’s got a foot in both the worlds of internet infrastructure and public-benefit causes, in other words — a CV seemingly ideal for the role at this time in Nominet’s troubled history.

In an email to members last week, Green said:

The EGM in March showed that Nominet has failed over a number of years to sufficiently engage with members about the scope and direction of the company. I start my term as Chairman committed to controlling costs (including executive pay), delivering value to members, restoring Nominet’s reputation for great public benefit work at scale and communicating transparently with members about the future direction of Nominet.

March’s Emergency General Meeting was called by members that Nominet seemed to be acting more as a commercial player rather than a public-benefit member organization, more concerned with branching out into new markets and stuffing its directors wallets than focusing on .uk and giving profits to charitable causes.

The EGM saw members narrowly vote to kick out almost half of the board, including the chair. Then-CEO Russel Haworth had quit just a few days earlier, before he too could be ejected.

Green said he wants to “reset the relationship with members starting now”.

He announced six reviews covering controversial areas including registry fees, executive/director compensation, charitable giving, member engagement and non-core services.

He also said that he expects that, following its Annual General Meeting on September 22, more than half of the board of directors will comprise people who were not in place prior to the March EGM.

By next year’s AGM, the board would be “substantially replenished”, he said.

Executives are also getting a battering — Green announced that Nominet has closed its long-term incentives scheme, “which will mean significantly reduced remuneration overall for senior executives”.

The company has named another new director, Eva Lindqvist, who as new chair of the board’s Remuneration Committee will oversee who gets paid what.

GoDaddy welcomes four porn TLDs

GoDaddy may not have the raunchy public image it once promoted, but it’s now the official registry for tens of thousands of porn-related domain names.

The gTLDs .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex made the move from UNR’s back-end to GoDaddy Registry this week, IANA records show.

These almost certainly the TLDs that MMX was talking about last week when it said it had ICANN approval to reassign four contracts, which it did not name.

IANA records still show the sponsor as ICM Registry for all four, suggesting the deal was structured a little differently to the 20-odd other gTLDs in MMX’s portfolio, which are still with MMX.

MMX said earlier this year that it was selling its entire portfolio to GoDaddy for at least $120 million.

.xxx, which launched the earliest — pre-2012 — is the largest of the TLDs, with around 55,000 names under management. .porn has about 10,000 and the other two have about 8,000 each.

.org domains could come in seven new languages

Public Interest Registry is planning support for seven more languages in the .org gTLD.

The company has asked ICANN for permission to support seven additional internationalized domain name scripts: Croatian, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Montenegrin, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Five of these languages use the Latin script also used in English, but have special accents or diacritics that require IDN tables to support in the DNS.

PIR submitted the request via the Registry Services Evaluation Process, where it is currently being reviewed by ICANN. Such RSEPs are usually approved without controversy.

MMX gets nod to sell 22 gTLDs to GoDaddy

New gTLD registry MMX expects to shortly offload most of its portfolio of strings to GoDaddy Registry after receiving ICANN approvals.

The company said today that its transfer requests for four of its gTLD contracts have received full ICANN approval.

Another 18 have received conditional ICANN approval, and MMX believes it has met these unspecified conditions.

Another five of its stable that are not fully owned and operated still require the nod from its partners.

MMX said in April that it planned to sell its entire portfolio to GoDaddy, after which it is expected the company will be wound down.

The company did not break down which transfer have received full approval, conditional approval, or are still waiting for approval.

It gTLDs are: .cooking, .fishing, .horse, .miami, .rodeo, .vodka, .beer, .luxe, .surf, .nrw, .work, .budapest, .casa, .abogado, .wedding, .yoga, .fashion, .garden, .fit, .vip, .dds, .xxx, .porn, .adult, .sex, .boston, .london and .bayern.

Panel hands .sucks squatter a WIN, but encourages action against the registry

A UDRP panel has denied a complaint against .sucks cybersquatter Honey Salt on a technicality, but suggested that aggrieved trademark holders instead sic their lawyers at the .sucks registry itself.

The three-person World Intellectual Property Organization panel threw out a complaint about six domains — covestro.sucks, lundbeck.sucks, rockwool.sucks, rockfon.sucks, grodan.sucks, tedbaker.sucks, tedbaker-london.sucks, and tedbakerlondon.sucks — filed jointly by four separate and unrelated companies.

The domains were part of the same operation, in which Turks & Caicos-based Honey Salt registers trademarks as .sucks domains and points them at Everything.sucks, a wiki-style site filled with content scraped from third-party sites.

Honey Salt has lost over a dozen UDRP cases since Everything.sucks emerged last year.

But the WIPO panel dismissed the latest case without even considering the merits, due to the fact that the four complainants had consolidated their grievances into a single complaint in an apparent attempt at a “class action”.

The decision reads:

although the Complainants may have established that the Respondent has engaged in similar conduct as to the individual Complainants, which has broadly-speaking affected their legal rights in a similar fashion, the Complainants do not appear to have any apparent connection between the Complainants. Rather it appears that a number of what can only realistically be described as separate parties have filed a single claim (in the nature of a purported class-action) against the Respondent, arising from similar conduct. As the Panel sees it, the Policy does not support such class actions

The panel decided that to force the respondent to file a common response to these complaints would be unfair, even if it is on the face of it up to no good.

Making a slippery-slope argument, the panel suggested that to allow class actions might open up the possibility of mass UDRP complaints against, for example, domain parking companies.

So the case was tossed without the merits being formally considered (though the panel certainly seemed sympathetic to the complainants).

But the sting in the tale comes at the end: the panel allowed that the complainants may re-file separate complaints, but also suggested they invoke the Trademark Post Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure.

That’s interesting because the Trademark PDDRP, an ICANN policy administered by WIPO and others, is a way to complain about the behavior of the registry, not the registrant.

It’s basically UDRP for registries.

The registry for .sucks domains is Vox Populi, part of the Momentous group of companies. It’s denied a connection to Honey Salt, which uses Vox sister company Rebel for its registrations.

According to ICANN: “The Trademark PDDRP generally addresses a Registry Operator’s complicity in trademark infringement on the first or second level of a New gTLD.”

Complainants under the policy much show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the registry operator or its affiliates are either doing the cybersquatting themselves or encouraging others to do so.

There’s no hiding behind shell companies in tax havens — the policy accounts for that.

The trick here would be to prove that Honey Salt is connected to Vox Pop or the Momentous group.

Nothing is known about the ownership of Honey Salt, though Whois records and UDRP decisions identify a person, quite possibly a bogus name, as one “Pat Honeysalt”, who has no digital fingerprint to speak of.

The most compelling piece of evidence linking Honey Salt to Vox is gleaned by following the money.

The current business model is for Everything.sucks to offer Honey Salt’s domains for “free” by publishing transfer authorization codes right there on the squatted domain.

But anyone attempting to claim these names will still have to pay a registrar — such as Rebel — a transfer/registration fee that could be in excess of $2,000, most or all of which flows through to Vox Pop.

If we ignore the mark-up charged by non-Rebel registrars, the only party that appears to be profiting from Honey Salt’s activities appears to be the .sucks registry itself, in other words.

On its web site, Everything.sucks says it’s a non-profit and makes the implausible claim that it’s just a big fan of .sucks domains. Apparently it’s a fan to the extent that it’s prepared to spend millions registering the names and giving them away for free.

An earlier Everything.sucks model saw the domains listed at cost price on secondary market web sites.

The Trademark PDDRP, which appears to be tailor-made for this kind of scenario, has not to my knowledge been used to date. Neither WIPO nor ICANN have ever published any decisions delivered under it.

It costs complainants as much as $30,500 for a three-person panel with WIPO and has a mandatory 30-day period during which the would-be complainant has to attempt to resolve the issue privately with the registry.

The six domains in the UDRP case appear to have all gone into early “pending delete” status since the decision was delivered and do not resolve.