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Now celebrities and politicians can block their porn names

Celebrities and holders of unregistered trademarks are now able to buy porn domain blocks from MMX.

The company’s subsidiary, ICM Registry, has broadened its eligibility criteria in order to shift more units of the product, upon which it is banking much of its growth hopes.

Previously, to get an AdultBlock subscription you either had to have previously blocked your brand using ICM’s Sunrise B scheme, which ran in 2011, or to have a trademark registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse.

Now, you don’t need to be in the TMCH, and your trademark does not even need to be legally registered.

Celebrities and politicians are explicitly covered. They have to provide evidence to prove their fame, such as IMDB profiles or movie posters. Politicians need to provide links or documentation proving their political activities or government roles.

AdultBlock prevents brands being registered in MMX’s .porn, .adult, .xxx and .sex gTLDs, as an alternative to defensive registrations. The AdultBlock+ service also blocks homographs.

When .xxx launched a decade ago, thousands of celebrity names, largely harvested from Wikipedia, were blocked by default and free of charge.

ICM even blocked the names of 2011-era ICANN executives and directors. Then-CEO Rod Beckstrom benefited from a block on rodbeckstrom.xxx that survives to this day. Current CEO Göran Marby does not appear to have afforded the same privilege.

My name is also blocked, because it’s a match with goodness knows how many famous people called Kevin Murphy.

Despite the obviously sensitive nature of the TLDs for many brands, there’s been very little cybersquatting in .xxx in the near-decade since its launch. There have been a few dozen UDRP complaints, and most of those were filed in 2012.

MMX, amid poor renewals for its less porny gTLDs, has placed a lot of focus on AdultBlock renewals for its short-term growth.

The company is in the process of having its assets acquired by GoDaddy for $120 million, with the deal expected to close in August, subject to various approvals.

Could .trust be the next big crypto TLD?

UNR has some big plans for .trust, a gTLD that mysteriously was omitted from its big fire-sale auction last month.

When UNR auctioned 23 of its gTLD portfolio, raising over $40 million over a three-day event, it escaped pretty much everyone’s notice — including mine — that .trust was not among those up for sale.

UNR, the former Uniregistry, acquired the TLD from NCC Group last November. It had been owned before NCC by Deutsche Post.

While it’s technically live, it’s never sold a domain.

It had been expected to launch as a vanilla gTLD around about now, but it seem plans have changed.

Registrars have been told to expect something “innovative” instead, and UNR tells me it has big plans it’s not ready to talk about yet.

My hunch? Crypto.

This is pure speculation based on nothing more than the string being closely associated with the kind of cryptocurrency slash blockchain slash non-fungible token malarkey the interwebs is going barmy for at the moment.

While UNR has not disclosed the identities of its auction winners, it has said at least one buyer is from the blockchain world.

Given UNR’s evident boredom with basic, workaday gTLDs, we’d have to expect its single retained top-level domain to do something a bit special, right?

.fr up for grabs again

The French government has opened up a call for expressions of interest from registries who fancy a bash at running .fr, the local ccTLD.

A brief procurement document was published last month. The deadline for responses is June 30.

.fr, along with several other ccTLDs representing French overseas territories, has been managed by AFNIC since 1997.

It came under government oversight a decade later, with the contract now coming up for renewal every five years. The current contract began in April 2017 and will end next year.

The new procurement document is light on detail, but it seems to me that to dislodge the incumbent would be an uphill battle.

.fr has over 3.7 million domains under management, making it one of the largest TLDs in the world.

The government estimates the value of the deal at €76 million.

Locked-down .music could launch this year

One of the most heavily contested new gTLDs, .music, could launch this year after new registry DotMusic finally signed its Registry Agreement with ICANN.

The contract was signed over two years after DotMusic prevailed in an auction against Google, Amazon, Donuts, Radix, Far Further, Domain Venture Partners and MMX.

It seems the coronavirus pandemic, along with ICANN bureaucracy, was at least partly to blame for the long delay.

I speculated in April 2019 that .music could launch before year’s end, but this time DotMusic CEO Constantinos Roussos tells me a launch in 2021 is indeed a possibility.

The contract the company has signed with ICANN contains some of the most stringent restrictions, designed to protect intellectual property rights, of any I’ve seen.

First off, there’s going to be a Globally Protected Marks List, which reserves from registration the names of well-known music industry companies and organizations, and platinum-selling recording artists.

Second, registrants are going to have to apply for their domains, proving they are a member of one of the registry’s pre-approved “Music Community Member Organizations”, rather than simply enter their credit card and buy them.

DotMusic will verify both the email address and phone number of the registrant before approving applications.

There’s also going to be a unique dispute resolution process, a UDRP for copyright, administered by the National Arbitration Forum, called the .MUSIC Policy & Copyright Infringement Dispute Resolution Process (MPCIDRP).

Basically, any registrant found to be infringing .music’s content policies could be slung out.

The content policies cover intellectual property infringement as you’d expect, but they also appear to cover activities such as content scraping, a rule perhaps designed to capture those sites that aggregate links to infringing content without actually infringing themselves.

The registry is also going to ban second-level domains that have been used to infringe copyright in other TLDs, to prevent the kind of “TLD-hopping” outfits like The Pirate Bay have engaged in in the past.

In short, it’s going to be one of the least rock-n-roll TLDs out there.

Tightly controlled TLDs like this tend to be unpopular with registrars. Despite the incredibly strong string, my gut feeling is that .music is going to be quite a low-volume gTLD. There’s no word yet on pricing, but I’d err towards the higher end of the spectrum.

MMX’s year marked by terrible renewals

MMX saw its revenue dip in 2020, and it reported shocking renewal rates at two of its highest-volume gTLDs, according to the company’s annual financial results, published this morning.

The portfolio registry, which is in the process of selling off essentially its entire operating business to GoDaddy, reported revenue of $16.8 million for the year, down from $17.2 million in 2019.

Profit was up very slighty, to $2.9 million from $2.8 million.

The 2019 results included a few one-off gains, including $588,000 from losing a new gTLD auction, which accounted for most of the 2020 revenue decline.

But the company also reported a 19% decline in domains under management, from 2.46 million to 1.99 million, based on some terrible renewal rates in its .vip and .work gTLDs.

The DUM decline can be attributed mostly to .vip, a popular TLD among Chinese speculators, which started 2020 with around 1.4 million domains but finished the year with just over a million.

.work actually ended the year up on where it started, with around 709,000 names under management.

But MMX today disclosed that the renewal rates for .vip and .work were 36% and 18% respectively. In a business where 70%+ is considered healthy, these are some poor numbers indeed.

However, the company discontinued first-year promotions on these TLDs in 2020, focusing instead on selling domains likely to lead to recurring renewal revenue, which lead to 14% (.vip) and 19% (.work) increases in revenue.

Fewer domains. More money.

MMX said that it is seeing these trends continuing into 2021. Public transaction reports show both these TLDs losing 40-50,0000 names in January. The company expects revenue to fall 4% in the first quarter compared to Q1 2020.

One bright spot appears to be “The Great Relese”, the company’s move last month to mark down hundreds of thousands of premium-priced domains. That’s brought in $170,000 since its April 23 launch.

One basket where the company is placing a lot of its eggs is AdultBlock, the trademark protection service it inherited when it acquired ICM Registry a few years back. It enables customers to block their brands in .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex without actually having to register the names.

The 10-year period ICM allowed brands to block when it launched in 2011 is coming to an end, so MMX is banking on renewals (which retail at $349 to $799 per year before multi-year discounts) to boost revenue.

“While it is early in the AdultBlock Sunrise B renewal period, we are encouraged by Registrar interest and some early sales of this product,” CEO Tony Farrow said in a statement.

This reliance on AdultBlock for short-term organic growth was one of the reasons MMX is selling up to GoDaddy.

The market-leading registrar and fast-emerging registry consolidator agreed to pay $120 million for MMX’s portfolio, which will leave MMX as a shell company only long enough to distribute the cash to investors before fading away quietly.

That deal has an August deadline to close and is dependent on approvals from business partners, ICANN and the Chinese government.

CentralNic wins .london back-end deal from Nominet

CentralNic today announced that it’s taking over back-end registry operations for .london.

It’s taking over from Nominet, which has run the technical aspects of the registry since 2016 when MMX dumped its registry business.

The contracted registry is London & Partners, the marketing arm of the London mayor’s office.

CentralNic is based in London, whereas Nominet, which runs .uk and .wales, is based in nearby Oxford. Original registry MMX was based in the British Virgin Islands.

.london currently has about 51,000 domains under management, down from a 2018 peak of about 86,000.

Two world wars and one dot-brand? Americans beat Germans in long-running gTLD fight, kinda

A chemicals company called Merck has beaten another chemicals company called Merck for the right to run .merck as a dot-brand gTLD.

But it looks like we may be looking at an unprecedented case of a shared dot-brand.

US-based Merck Registry Holdings and Germany-based Merck KGaA appear to have resolved their long-running battle over the string, with the German company recently withdrawing its application, enabling its rival to sign a contract with ICANN and go live on the internet.

But it’s not as straightforward as one applicant emerging victorious over the other. Recent changes to the American company’s winning gTLD application strongly suggest that the two companies intend to share the space.

The application was substantially rewritten in March to make it clear that American Merck plans to allow unaffiliated third parties to register .merck names, and that it may substantially change its eligibility policies not long after launch.

Whereas its original 2012 application was pretty much boilerplate dot-brand territory, the March 2021 version is more nuanced. It now talks about extending eligibility to “other registrants” rather than merely “licensees”, for example.

The application now says it “reserves the right to consider allowing third party registrants outside of current affiliate or subsidiary relationships to own .MERCK domains at a future date.”

But, more importantly, it now also says that it intends to transfer its .merck Registry Agreement to a new shell company, London-based MM Domain Holdco Ltd, shortly after ICANN signs it off.

Company records show that MM Domain Holdco has directors — trademark lawyers — from both the American and German companies.

So we’re looking at some kind of shared dot-brand, it seems. If you don’t count Amazon’s uneasy deal with South American governments, that’s pretty much unprecedented for new gTLDs.

The US applicant is a subsidiary of Merck & Co Inc, a New York-listed company with a market cap of $197 billion. The German company is listed in Frankfurt with a market cap of €17 billion.

The German firm is 350 years old and was the parent of the American company until it was seized, and eventually re-privatized as a separate entity, by the US government during World War I.

Both have trademark rights to the term “Merck” and a decades-old cooperation agreement, but have nevertheless been in legal disputes over the mark in recent years.

It will be interesting to see whether the two Mercks ultimately share and actively use .merck, or like so many other dot-brands merely own a defensive, inactive gTLD.

The resolution of the contention set comes after the better part of a decade and many years of negotiations and legal tussles with ICANN.

ICANN had been bent on forcing the companies to a last-resort auction of which it would be the financial beneficiary. Whether this was because it wanted to force the Mercks to the negotiating table to resolve their differences amicably, or because it saw dollar signs… you decide. Maybe both.

The Mercks have in recent years repeatedly delayed the auction, using different ICANN appeals mechanisms. The contention set had been in a Cooperative Engagement Process since late last year, but had been slated to go to auction yesterday, May 12.

The settlement occurred before that date, however, so ICANN won’t be getting any auction money this time.

Brexit specter creeping up on .eu

The .eu ccTLD shrank a bit in the first quarter as a result of Brexit finally kicking in fully.

Registry EURid reported that there were 3,681,337 registered .eu, .ею and .ευ domains at the end of March, down from 3,684,984 at the end of 2020, a dip of just a few thousand names.

Domains registered by UK registrants, who are still grandfathered in for another couple of months, stood at 59,779 at the end of the quarter, down from 77,000 at the end of 2020.

The top-line numbers were also affected negatively by Portugal, which has seen its numbers up and down over the last couple of years due to a cycle of registrar promotions and deletions.

Under EURid rules, Brits and UK residents have until the end of June to make arrangements for their domains before they are deleted.

Because EU citizens living in the UK and elsewhere outside the EU are now eligible for .eu domains, EURid has started breaking out that number too. It was 15,308, more than names registered in Croatia and Latvia, among other nations.

The Brexit impact was tempered by strong sequential growth of 9.4% in Ireland, from 78,030 to 85,381 domains.

Given the shared border, language, and confusing/controversial current trading relationship between the UK and Ireland, I wonder whether any of this Irish growth can be attributed to some kind of Plastic Paddy effect, in much the same way as applications for Irish passports increased following the 2016 Brexit referendum.

In percentage terms, the place with the strongest .eu growth in Q1 was the French territory of Saint Martin, which DOUBLED(!) its total in the quarter, growing from 1 to 2.

$40 million UNR auction brings fresh blood to domain industry

Six entities are entering the domain registry business for the first time following UNR’s auction last month, which saw over 20 new gTLDs sold off for a total of over $40 million, according to UNR.

While playing its cards close to its chest and revealing the auction results in rather general terms, UNR disclosed last week that there were 17 bidders at the three-day event, which ran in late April.

It said “between 10 and 20 bidders came away as winners”, which I assume we have to interpret as “between 10 and 17”.

Anyone predicting a bulk purchase by a rival portfolio registry was dead wrong, it appears.

UNR said that, while it will not disclose their identities, “established registries, investment firms, blockchain companies, and high net-worth individuals” were among the winners.

None of the ICANN Registry Agreements have yet changed hands, according to ICANN records.

While existing registries and investment firms (presumably the kind of private equity interests that have shown high levels of interest in the domain industry in recent years) will come as no surprise as buyers, blockchain companies and high net-worth individuals will perhaps raise more eyebrows.

ICANN won’t, to the best of my knowledge, sign an RA with an individual, so we’ll no doubt be seeing a corporate vehicle or two established to take over contracts on behalf of those buyers.

The idea of a blockchain company taking over a TLD in the internet’s official root zone is particularly interesting.

The closest we’ve had to that scenario to date is MMX’s experiments integrating .luxe into the Ethereum blockchain, which has been described as genuinely innovative.

But most forays by blockchain outfits into “domain names” have been strictly alt-root moves, such as Unstoppable Domains’ use of .crypto addresses, which do not use the ICANN root and instead require browser plug-ins to function.

These kinds of services usually have their ability to avoid centralized oversight and control as a USP, which makes an attempt from this sector to suck on the ICANN teat especially intriguing.

And which of UNR’s TLDs would be most suited to blockchain applications? .link? .click? .lol?

UNR has not broken down how much was paid for each TLD, and we’ll likely never know, but the $40 million top-line is far above the $11.65 million minimum opening bids it had established for the no-reserve auction.

But it still works out as under $2 million on average across each of the 23 gTLDs on offer, many of which had been on the market for six or seven years, begging the question of whether UNR CEO Frank Schilling’s big bet on new gTLDs back in 2012 was ultimately a success.

Schilling said in a press release: “All UNR shareholders should be exceptionally pleased with the final outcome of this first-of-its-kind event. We are deeply satisfied to have seen so much new interest and blood enter the arena.”

The TLDs auctioned were: .audio, .blackfriday, .christmas, .click, .country, .diet, .flowers, .game, ,guitars, .help, .hiphop, .hiv, .hosting, .juegos, .link, .llp, .lol, .mom, .photo, .pics, .property, .sexy and .tattoo.

DI will of course reveal the winners over time as their ICANN contracts are updated to reflect the new operators.

IWF finds 3,401 “commercial” child porn domains

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2021, Domain Registries

The Internet Watch Foundation last year found child sexual abuse material on 3,401 domains that it says appeared to be commercial sites dedicated to distributing the illegal content.

The UK-based anti-CSAM group said in its annual report, published last week, that it found 5,590 domains containing such material in 2020, and 61% were “dedicated commercial sites… created solely for the purpose of profiting financially from the distribution of child sexual abuse material online.”

That’s a 13% increase in domains over 2019, the report says. It compares to 1,991 domains in 2015.

IWF took action on 153,369 URLs containing CSAM last year, the report says.

For example, the TLD with the most CSAM abuse is of course .com, with 90,879 offending URLs in 2020, 59% of the total. That compares to 69,353 or 52% in 2019.

But because those 90,000 URLs may include, for example, pages on image-hosting sites that use .com domains, the number of unique .com domains being abused will be substantially lower.

Same goes for the other TLDs on the top 10 list — .net, .ru, .nz, .fr, .org, .al, .to, .xyz and .pw.

.co, .cc and .me were on the 2019 list but not the 2019 list, being replaced by .al, .org and .pw.

The most disturbing part of the report, which is stated twice, is the alarming claim that some TLDs exist purely to commercially distribute CSAM:

We’ve also seen a number of new TLDs being created solely for the purpose of profiting financially from the distribution of child sexual abuse material online.

We first saw these new gTLDs being used by websites displaying child sexual abuse imagery in 2015. Many of these websites were dedicated to illegal imagery and the new gTLD had apparently been registered specifically for this purpose.

I can only assume that IWF is getting confused between a top-level domain and a second-level domain.

The alternative would be that the organization believes one or more TLD registries are purposefully catering primarily to commercial child pornographers, and for some reason it’s declining to do anything about it.

I’ve put in a request for clarification but not yet received a response.

IWF is funded by corporate donations from primarily technology companies. Pretty much every big domain registry is a donor. Verisign is a top-tier, £80,000+ donor. The others are all around the £5,000 to £10,000 mark.

UPDATE May 26: IWF has been in touch to clarify that it was in fact referring to SLDs, rather than TLDs, in its claims about dedicated commercial CSAM sites quoted above. It has corrected its report accordingly.