ICANN has referred .sucks registry Vox Populi to the US Federal Trade Commission over concerns from intellectual property owners that its pricing is “predatory”.
The organization has asked the FTC and the Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs to determine whether Vox Pop is breaking any laws.
It asks both agencies to “consider assessing and determining whether Vox Populi is violating any laws or regulations enforced by your respective offices”.
If it is determined that laws are being broken, ICANN said it would be able to “enforce remedies” in the .sucks registry agreement.
ICANN goes on to say that it is “evaluating other remedies” in the registry’s contract.
The shock news comes two weeks after the Intellectual Property Constituency of ICANN complained that Vox Pop’s $2,000 sunrise fee is just a “shakedown scheme”.
The IPC said March 27 it was:
formally asking ICANN to halt the rollout of the .SUCKS new gTLD operated by Vox Populi Registry Inc. (“Vox Populi”), so that the community can examine the validity of Vox Populi’s recently announced plans to: (1) to categorize TMCH-registered marks as “premium names,” (2) charge exorbitant sums to brand owners who seek to secure a registration in .SUCKS, and (3) conspire with an (alleged) third party to “subsidize” a complaint site should brand owners fail to cooperate in Vox Populi’s shakedown scheme.
The IPC is also pissed off that there’s a Sunrise Premium fee that applies to the most famous brands, regardless of when they register.
Vox Pop CEO John Berard told DI tonight that the company’s pricing and policies are “well within the rules”, meaning both ICANN’s rules and North American laws.
He asked why ICANN has referred the matter to the FTC, given that Vox Populi is a Canadian company.
He said that a senior ICANN executive had told him it was because many IPC members are US-based. He described this as “appeasement” of the IPC interests.
Greg Shatan, president of the IPC, whose letter sparked ICANN’s outreach to the FTC and OCA, said that the word “justice” is more appropriate than “appeasement”. He told DI tonight:
We’re looking forward to the FTC and OCA taking a look at Vox Populi’s behavior. And there’s lots to look at. The punitive TMCH Sunrise, where a “rights protection mechanism” intended to protect trademark owners has been turned into a scheme to extort $2,500 and up… The eternal Sunrise Premium of the far-from-spotless .SUCKS registry. The mysterious “everybody.sucks” — purportedly a third party, purportedly providing a “subsidy” to registrant — would anyone be surprised if that was a sham?
With reference to the FTC referral, Shatan also told DI tonight:
I don’t think ICANN wants to waste the FTC’s time. It’s far more rational to think that ICANN informed the FTC because Vox Populi’s activities are within the jurisdiction of the FTC. Mr. Berard’s remarks seem to indicate that he believes that Vox Populi operates beyond the reach of US laws.
With a tech contact in Bermuda and an admin contact in the Caymans, that may have been Vox Pop’s intention. Vox Pop may be operating outside US laws, but I doubt they are operating beyond their reach.
Vox Populi is incorporated in Canada, hence ICANN’s outreach to the Canadian regulator. According to its gTLD application, its only 15%+ owner is Momentous, another Canadian company.
But its IANA record lists an address in Bermuda for its technical contact and Uniregistry’s office in Grand Cayman as its administrative address.
There’s been rumors for months that Uniregistry or CEO Frank Schilling helped bankroll Vox Populi’s participation in the .sucks auction, which saw it splash out over $3 million.
ICANN is asking the US and Canadian agencies to respond to its letter with “urgency”, as .sucks is currently in sunrise and is due to go to general availability May 29.
Trademark owners and celebrities are already registering their names in the .sucks sunrise period.
ICANN confirmed in a separate letter today to IPC chair Greg Shatan that Vox Pop has paid ICANN a unique $100,000 start-up fee, and has promised to pay an extra $1 per transaction, due to now-defunct Momentous subsidiaries defaulting on “substantial payments”.
As DI reported last week, ICANN says that the fee is “not related to the nature” of .sucks, but it could give the appearance that ICANN is a beneficiary of the .sucks business model.
This article was published quite quickly after the news broke. It was updated several times on April 9, 2015. It was updated with background material. It was then updated with comments from Vox Pop. It was then updated with comments from the IPC. Later commenters had the benefit of reading earlier versions of this post before they submitted their comments.
With all the recent headlines about celebrities who feel compelled to protect their personal brands in .porn and .sucks, it’s worth noting that celebs also find new gTLDs useful.
Lady Gaga has re-domained her Born This Way Foundation non-profit, dumping a .org for a domain in the new gTLD .foundation.
The old bornthiswayfoundation.org, which still tops Google searches for the organization, now redirects to bornthisway.foundation.
The domain was registered April 1.
Donuts tell me the foundation is not paying for the domain, but declined to comment on whether the registration was as a result of some kind of registry marketing.
Born This Way Foundation was set up by pop singer Lady Gaga at the .org address in 2012.
I’d like to tell you what the foundation does, but unfortunately its web site contains nothing but impenetrable PR waffle.
Something to do with “supporting the wellness of young people and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world” and “shining a light on real people, quality research, and authentic partnerships”.
Nevertheless, it’s associated with Lady Gaga, who is just about as high-profile a celebrity as they get.
It’s a potential awareness-raiser for a gTLD with about 5,200 registered names.
ICM Registry has sold the premium domain name tube.xxx for a second time, after repurchasing it from the original buyer.
The sale was part of a $500,000 package that also included livecam.xxx, affair.xxx and hookups.xxx.
The buyer this time is Inn Productions, a previous supporter of .xxx.
The tube.xxx domain was originally sold to a porn producer called Really Useful as part of a deal that also include the plural, tubes.xxx.
ICANN has enforced the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement against three more registrars, suspending their ability to sell gTLD domain names.
Canadian registrar Namevault, along with Signdomains and Times Internet of India, cannot sell domains or accept inbound transfers from April 21 to July 20, according to ICANN compliance notices.
Namevault’s suspension came after it got its third compliance strike in a year, this time relating to its failure to provide records about domain stronglikebull.com, which was at Namevault from 2008 but is now at Go Daddy.
Times Internet has failed to implement a Whois service, despite being first warned about its failings last September, ICANN says.
Signdomains was originally issued a breach notice due to its failure to pay over $3,000 in accreditation fees. It also does not display pricing information on its web site, according to ICANN. Neither breach has been rectified.
The three registrars have not many more than 10,000 names under management between them, according to latest registry reports.
They’re the first three registrars to have their RAAs suspended in 2015. Three other registrars have been terminated since the beginning of the year.
Kevin Spacey, Google, Apple and Microsoft are among the first to buy .sucks domains in apparent attempts to protect their reputations.
Vox Populi Registry, which took .sucks to its sunrise period on Monday, has started publishing the names of sunrise registrants on its web site.
Names scrolling past on a ticker stream this morning include kevinspacey.sucks, gmail.sucks, siri.sucks and windowsphone.sucks.
Other brands to register so far include Instagram, WordPress, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Wal-Mart.
The dominant registrars on the ticker are MarkMonitor, CSC and LexSynergy, which all specialize in brand protection.
It’s notable that some of the registered strings are secondary brands covering products and services, rather than merely the company’s name.
That could suggest that trademark owners are being somewhat aggressive in their defensive registrations in .sucks.
Actor Kevin Spacey, the only celebrity I spotted on the ticker, has a track record of protecting his personal brand online.
In 2002, he won a cybersquatting complaint over kevinspacey.com, which is now his official web site.
Spacey… well, let’s just say he has been the subject of many speculative media reports over the years. We have mutual acquaintances and from what I hear I can see why he wouldn’t want his brand in third-party hands.
UPDATE: Taylor Swift’s people, who made headelines a few weeks ago by buying taylorswift.porn, have also acquired taylorswift.sucks via MarkMonitor.