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Did XYZ.com pay NetSol $3m to bloat .xyz?

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

Evidence of a possibly dodgy deal between XYZ.com and Network Solutions has emerged.

Court documents filed last week by Verisign suggest that the .xyz registry may have purchased $3 million in advertising in exchange for $3 million of .xyz domain names.

Verisign, which is suing .xyz and CEO Daniel Negari over its allegedly “false” advertising, submitted to the court a list of hundreds of exhibits (pdf) that it proposes to use at trial.

Among them are these two:

  • Email from Negari to Andrew Gorrin re EPP Feed and billing directly for $3,000,000 in domains
  • Credit Memo to Andrew from Negari “We have elected to pay for our $3MM Q2 advertising insertion order, which was dated May 20th with a credit…….” (5/31/14)

Gorrin is Web.com’s senior VP of marketing and Negari is Daniel Negari, XYZ.com’s CEO.

The documents these headings refer to are not public information, and are not likely to be any time soon, but they appear to refer to on the one hand XYZ billing NetSol for $3 million in domain names and on the other NetSol billing XYZ for $3 million in advertising.

Only one of the two document headings is dated, so we don’t know how closely they coincided.

Other headings, among the 446 documents Verisign wants to use at trial, suggest that they happened at pretty much the same time:

  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Ashley Henning (web.com) re Bulk Purchase of .xyz domains (5/29/14)
  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Negari re XYZ.Com Advertising IO and Marketing Agreement attaching signed agreements (5/20/14)
  • Email string Ashley Henning to Christine Nagey, Andrew Gorrin, Edward Angstadt re Bulk Purchase of .XYZ Domains (5/30/14)

The emails Verisign cites were dated May 2014, shortly before .xyz went into general availability June 2.

What we seem to be looking at here — and I’m getting into speculative territory here — are references to two more or less simultaneous transactions, both valued at exactly $3 million, between the two parties.

Both companies have consistently refused to address the nature of their deal, citing NDAs.

As you recall, the vast majority of .xyz’s early registrations were provided by NetSol, which pushed hundreds of thousands of free .xyz domains into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.

The number of freebies is believed to be about 350,000, based on comments Negari recently made to The Telegraph, in which he stated that .xyz, which had about 850,000 domains in its zone at the time, would have 500,000 registrations if the freebies were excluded.

With a registry fee roughly equivalent to .com’s (.xyz’s is believed to be a little lower), 350,000 names would work out to roughly $3 million.

Negari has stated previously that every .xyz registration was revenue-generating, even the freebies.

Is it possible that NetSol paid XYZ’s registry fees using money XYZ paid it for advertising? Is it possible no money changed hands at all?

I’m not saying either company has done anything illegal, and it’s completely possible I’m completely misunderstanding the situation, but it does rather put me in mind of the old “round-trip” deals that tech firms used to dishonestly prop up their tumbling revenue at the turn of the century.

Back in 2000, the dot-com bubble was on the verge of popping, taking the US economy with it, and companies facing the decline of their businesses came up with “creative” ways to show investors that they were still growing.

AOL Time Warner, for example, “effectively funded its own online advertising revenue by giving the counterparties the means to pay for advertising that they would not otherwise have purchased”.

Regulators exercised their legal options in these cases only where there appeared to be dishonest accounting, and I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that XYZ or Web.com unit NetSol have failed to adhere to anything but the highest accounting standards.

Again, I’m not saying we’re looking at a “round-trip” deal here, and there’s not a great deal of evidence to go on, but it sure smells familiar.

Certainly, questions have been raised that Verisign did not raise in its initial complaint.

Anyway.

On a personal note, I’d like to disclose that among the documents Verisign demanded from XYZ are dozens of pages of previously confidential emails exchanged between myself and Negari.

I’ve read them, and they’re mostly heated arguments about a) his refusal to give details about the NetSol deal and b) my purported lack of journalistic integrity whenever I published a post about .xyz with an even slightly negative angle.

XYZ had no choice but to supply these emails. I can’t blame it for complying with its legal requirements.

I wasn’t the only affected blogger. Mike Berkens, Konstantinos Zournas, Rick Schwartz and Morgan Linton also had their private correspondence compromised by Verisign.

I don’t know how they feel about this violation, but in my view this shows Verisign’s contempt for the media and its disregard for the sanctity of off-the-record conversations between reporters and their sources.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

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Ashley Madison .sucks domain mysteriously vanishes

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

The domain ashleymadison.sucks, which hosted a tool to search a database of millions of stolen Ashley Madison users’ data, has been deleted.

According to Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling, the domain was deleted by its registrant within the five-day grace period permitted under ICANN rules.

The site looked like this shortly after it launched at the weekend.

Ashley Madison Sucks

Ashley Madison, which uses .com, is the “dating” site specifically designed for people who want to have extra-marital affairs.

Hackers recently released a 9GB file containing, reportedly, as many as 32 million users’ email addresses. The breach has led to much online shaming of public figures and has reportedly led to suicides.

The ashleymadison.sucks site hosted a forum and a search engine that allowed partial email address searches. Even in the short time it was up, it attracted a fair amount of forum posts, as well as the attention of Vox Populi itself, which tweeted:

Interestingly, I’m not sure if the site would have fallen foul of any Vox Pop policies.

There’s a provision against hacking, but the site was merely showing the proceeds of hacking rather than doing any hacking. In addition, the registry’s prohibition on cyberbullying only extends to children.

The domain, at time of writing, is back in the available pool. Uniregistry wants $2,078.96 for it, which may explain why it was deleted while a refund was still available.

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Yes, you are dangerous, arbitrator tells “cybersquatter” OpenTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registrars

Free domains provider OpenTLD has been dealt a crushing blow in its fight against the suspension of its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

ICANN is now free to suspend OpenTLD’s RAA, due to the company’s “pattern of cybersquatting”, following a decision by an independent arbitrator.

The arbitrator ruled yesterday that OpenTLD’s suspension should go ahead, because “OpenTLD’s continued operation could potentially harm consumers and the public interest.”

The 90-day suspension was imposed by ICANN Compliance in June, after it became aware that OpenTLD had lost two UDRP cases filed by competing registrars.

WIPO panelists found in both cases that the company had infringed its competitors’ trademarks in order to entice resellers over to its platform.

The suspension was put on hold voluntarily by ICANN, pending the arbitrator’s ruling on OpenTLD’s request for emergency stay. That request was conclusively rejected yesterday.

The arbitrator wrote:

the Arbitrator has little doubt that the multiple abusive name registrations made by OpenTLD, each of which included the registered mark of a competing domain name registrar and OpenTLD’s subsequent use of those domains… formed part of a broad concerted effort by OpenTLD calculated to deliberately divert name registration business, otherwise destined for competing domain name registrars… away from those registrars to OpenTLD instead.

He wrote that OpenTLD needs to put a process in place to prevent similarly cybersquatty behavior in future, rather than just making a commitment to changing its ways.

It’s pretty harsh stuff.

OpenTLD said recently that a suspension would “devastate” and “decimate” its business, due to the intertwining of its massive ccTLD business and rather smaller gTLD platform, but the arbitrator thought a technology workaround would be rather simple to implement.

No RAA means no gTLD sales and no inbound transfers.

OpenTLD is part of Freenom, which runs .tk and other free-to-register ccTLDs.

The company’s only ray of sunlight in the ruling is that the arbitrator said the costs of the proceeding should be split equally, not all falling on OpenTLD’s shoulders.

ICANN has not yet re-instituted the suspension, but it could come soon.

The full ruling can be read here.

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Afilias wins $10m judgment in Architelos “trade secrets” case

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Services

Afilias has won a $10 million verdict against domain security startup Architelos, over claims its flagship NameSentry abuse monitoring service was created using stolen trade secrets.

A jury in Virginia today handed Afilias $5 million for “misappropriation of trade secrets”, $2.5 million for “conversion” and another $2.5 million for “civil conspiracy”.

The jury found (pdf) in favor of Architelos on claims of business conspiracy and tortious interference with contractual relations, however.

Ten million dollars is a hell of a lot of cash for Architelos, which reportedly said in court that it has only made $300,000 from NameSentry.

If that’s true, I seriously doubt the four-year-old, three-person company has even made $10 million in revenue to date, never mind having enough cash in the bank to cover the judgment.

“We’re disappointed in the jury’s verdict and we plan to address it in some post-trial motions,” CEO Alexa Raad told DI.

The lawsuit was filed in January, but it has not been widely reported on and I only found out about its existence today.

The original complaint (pdf) alleged that three Architelos employees/contractors, including CTO Michael Young, were previously employees or contractors of Afilias and worked on the company’s own abuse tools.

It claimed that these employees took trade secrets with them when they joined Architelos, and used them to build NameSentry, which enables TLD registries to monitor and remediate abuse in their zones.

Architelos denied the claims, saying in its March answer (pdf) that Afilias was simply trying to disrupt its business by casting doubt over the ownership of its IP.

That doubt has certainly been cast, though the jury verdict says nothing about transferring Architelos’ patents to Afilias.

The $5 million portion of the verdict deals with Afilias’ claim that Architelos misappropriated trade secrets — ie that Young and others took work they did for Afilias and used it to build a product that could compete with something Afilias had been building.

The other two counts that went against Architelos basically cover the same actions by Architelos employees.

The company may be able to get the amount of the judgment lowered in post-trial, or even get the jury verdict overturned, so it’s not necessarily curtains yet. But Architelos certainly has a mountain to climb.

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Panel throws out ludicrous .shop confusion ruling

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLD strings .shop and .通販 are not too confusingly similar-looking to coexist on the internet.

While that may be blindingly obvious to anyone who is not already blind, it’s taken the ICANN process three years to arrive at this conclusion.

An August 18 ruling by a three-person International Centre for Dispute Resolution appeals panel has “reversed, replaced and superseded” a two-year-old decision by a lone String Confusion Objection panelist. The appeals panel found:

the [original] expert panel could not have reasonably come to the decision reached by it in connection with the underlying String Confusion Objection

The two strings indisputably have no visual or aural similarity, are in different languages, written in different scripts that look very different, and have different phonetic spellings and pronunciations.

.通販 is the Japanese for “.onlineshopping”, applied for by Amazon in the 2012 new gTLD round.

.shop is a contested string applied for by Commercial Connect and others.

The two strings were ruled dissimilar by the String Similarity Panel in February 2013, but Commercial Connect filed the SCO a few weeks later.

In an SCO, the complainant must show that it is “probable, not merely possible” that the two strings will get mixed up by internet users.

In August 2013, ICDR panelist Robert Nau ignored that burden of proof and inexplicably ruled that the two strings were too similar to coexist and should therefore be placed in a contention set.

Nau would later rule that .shop and .shopping are also confusingly similar.

The .通販 decision was widely criticized for being completely mad.

Amazon appealed the decision via the ICANN Request for Reconsideration, but predictably lost.

After much lobbying, last October ICANN’s board of directors created an appeals process for SCO decisions, but limited the appellant pool to Amazon with .通販 and applicants for .cam (which had been ruled similar to .com).

Now, 10 months later, we finally have a sane decision in the Amazon case. Its application will presumably now be removed from the .shop contention set.

Read the final ruling here.

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