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(Former) Donuts director hit with cybersquatting claim over Disney and Olympic domains

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2012, Domain Policy

Donuts, the massive new gTLD applicant, has been hit by another set of cybersquatting claims, this time aimed at one of the company’s original directors.

Graham Stirling, who is listed as a Donuts Inc director in the company’s only Securities and Exchange Commission filing, seems to own several domain names containing Disney and Olympics trademarks.

(UPDATE: Donuts has confirmed that Stirling is no longer with the company, and hasn’t been since November 2011. Read the company’s full statement at the bottom of this post.)

The information emerged in a comment filed with ICANN on several Donuts applications by somebody called James Oliver Warner.

These are some of the domains Gibraltar-based Stirling allegedly owns:

2016juegosolimpicos.com
2016olimpicos.com
2020juegosolimpicos.com
2020olimpicos.com
2024olimpicos.com
andaluciadisney.com
costadelsoldisney.com
disneyandalucia.com
disneylandmalaga.com
disneymalaga.com
disneyworldmalaga.com
juegosolimpicos2008.com
juegosolimpicos2016.com
juegosolimpicos2020.com
juegosolimpicos2024.com
juegosolimpicoslondres.com
londresjuegosolimpicos.com
malagadisney.com
malagadisneyland.com
malagadisneyworld.com
olimpicos2016.com
olimpicos2020.com
olimpicos2024.com
soldisney.com
spaindisneyland.com
spaindisneyworld.com
teleubbies.com

You don’t need to be a trademark lawyer to know that these domains would not pass a UDRP challenge.

The domains all seem to have been registered to a Graham Stirling of Gibraltar for some years. Gibraltar’s a pretty small place, suggesting that it’s very probably the same guy.

It’s the second serious cybersquatting claim to hit Donuts in the last couple of weeks.

As we reported last week, a lawyer who apparently doesn’t want his client’s identity to be known has written to ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee to warn that Demand Media, Donuts’ back-end partner and its founders’ former employer, has a history of adverse UDRP findings.

That letter fingered Stirling as an employee of Gibraltar-based investment company Veddis Ventures, whose other executives allegedly have ties to online gambling scandals in the US.

Veddis Ventures recently removed Stirling’s full name from its web site. He’s now just listed as “Graham S”, adding to the intrigue.

The latest set of cybersquatting allegations are directed to ICANN’s background screening panel, which is tasked with weeding likely ne’er-do-wells out of the new gTLD program.

The panel looks at not only the corporate history of the applicant, but also at its directors and officers.

Stirling is not named on any of Donuts applications. For that matter, Donuts itself is not named as an official applicant on any of its 307 applications either.

Each of its applications has been filed by a different shell company, most of which are owned by another company, Dozen Donuts LLC, which we assume (but do not know) is in turn owned by Donuts.

The only individual named in the background check part of the applications (at least the portions published by ICANN) is Donuts CEO Paul Stahura.

Stirling is not currently listed as a director on Donuts’ web site.

If Stirling is still involved with Donuts, it might not impact the results of Donuts background screening, if the panel only looks at UDRP or court cases for evidence of cybersquatting.

Stirling does not appear to have ever been named in, never mind lost, a UDRP complaint.

That said, I don’t think ICANN’s background screening process will be over for a while yet…

August 7 Update:

Donuts has provided the following statement:

Graham Stirling is not a member of the Donuts Board of Directors and has not been since November 2011. Our list of board members as documented on our web site at www.donuts.co is current.

It’s disappointing to see Donuts’ contributions to new gTLD expansion attacked by those (including some unwilling to disclose their identities) who attempt to portray the company or those associated with it as bad actors. The company is and will continue to be committed to the legitimate interests of rights holders. As described in our applications, Donuts will implement rights protection mechanisms in its new gTLDs that substantially exceed those mandated by ICANN.

We have engaged the intellectual property community, law enforcement and others in the community about IP protection and believe our intentions and actions are clear and well understood. Infringement of legitimate rights is not tolerated by Donuts, in any capacity. Our collaboration with the community on IP protections will be an ongoing priority as the new gTLD program continues.

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ICANN director withdrew gTLD application

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN director Judith Vasquez applied for a new gTLD but then withdrew the bid at the last minute.

That’s among a tapestry of factoids relating to conflicts of interest to emerge from the minutes of recent meetings of ICANN’s board of directors that were published this week.

It’s also emerged that the New gTLD Program Committee — established as a subset of the board “without conflicted members” — actually now has four “directors with conflicts that have been mitigated”.

Vasquez, a businessperson heavily involved in media and telecoms in the Philippines, according to the minutes of the May 6 meeting:

disclosed that she withdrew her new gTLD application through the customer service center, though the withdrawal cannot be completed through the TAS due to the system being offline.

As you may recall, the TLD Application System (TAS) went down April 12, suggesting that Vasquez’s bid was withdrawn close to or after that date — the original deadline for filing new gTLD applications.

It’s not know what gTLD she (or a company she works for) was applying for, or why the application was withdrawn.

The potential for a conflict in her case was first noted in her published statement of interest when she joined the board in October last year.

But as I’ve noted before, Vasquez continued to vote on matters relating to the new gTLD program up until February 7.

She’s since joined the New gTLD Program Committee.

From the same May 6 minutes, it has emerged that directors Bill Graham and Kuo-Wei Wu were both probed for conflicts by a board subcommittee — set up a year ago in the wake of Peter Dengate Thrush’s move from the ICANN chair to Top Level Domain Holdings — which:

found that both of them had conflicts, but they had been already mitigated to the satisfaction of the subcommittee. And, therefore, the subcommittee determined that those two individuals, though conflicts were identified, had mitigated those conflicts with regard to the New gTLD Program.

Details of these conflicts have not been published. Both men have sat on the committee since its inception April 10.

A non-voting board liaison, Thomas Narten, was also considered conflicted but sufficiently “mitigated” to join the committee. He works as a software engineer for IBM, which has applied for a dot-brand.

Two other directors — Sebastien Bachollet and Bertrand de La Chapelle — were identified as having conflicts which they tried and apparently failed to mitigate to the satisfaction of the board.

Bachollet was unhappy with that classification, according to a statement he entered into the minutes several weeks later, which partly reads:

I still disagree with the conclusion of the Subcommittee and on the proposed mitigating measures. I will not enter into detail here, but now I have to accept this decision and I do.

I take this opportunity to underline that there is no appeal procedure in place allowing a second view on the matter.

Bachollet is a director of the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, .xxx’s nominal sponsoring organization, which is funded by ICM Registry, an applicant for three porn-related gTLDs.

The policy think-tank founded by De La Chapelle is or was funded by companies that applied for new gTLDs or offered services to applicants, according to his latest statement of interest.

The New gTLD Program Committee has 12 voting directors at present, three of which have been previously identified as conflicted but with their conflicts mitigated.

According to the May 6 minutes, ICANN’s chief lawyer John Jeffrey explained, in response to a query from de La Chapelle, why this is not a problem:

The General Counsel and Secretary explained that there are situations where a conflict may still exist, but mitigation can be completed that will remove that conflict from having an impact on the fiduciary responsibilities to ICANN or the other entity with whom the conflict may have arisen. Those directors or liaisons may then participate as if they were nonconflicted, acting without conflict in the decisions they make for the Board. He also noted that there could be situations where, upon mitigation, there may not be a conflict at all.

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Verisign demands 24/7 domain hijacking support

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2012, Domain Registrars

Verisign is causing a bit of a commotion among its registrar channel by demanding 24/7 support for customers whose .com domains have been hijacked.

The changes, we understand, are among a few being introduced into Verisign’s new registry-registrar agreement for .com, which coincides with the renewal of its registry agreement with ICANN.

New text in the RRA states that: “Registrar shall, consistent with ICANN policy, provide to Registered Name Holders emergency contact or 24/7 support information for critical situations such as domain name hijacking.”

From the perspective of registrants, this sounds like a pretty welcome move: who wouldn’t want 24/7 support?

While providing around the clock support might not be a problem for the Go Daddies of the world, some smaller registrars are annoyed.

For a registrar with a small headcount, perhaps servicing a single time zone, 24/7 support would probably mean needing to hire more staff.

Their annoyance has been magnified by the fact that Verisign seems to be asking for these new support commitments without a firm basis in ICANN policy, we hear.

The recently updated transfers policy calls for a 24/7 Transfer Emergency Action Contact — in many cases just a staff member who doesn’t mind being hassled about work at 2am — but that’s meant to be reserved for use by registrars, registries and ICANN.

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New gTLD timetable expected this week

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN plans to publish a new timetable for its new gTLD program later this week, according to its latest update.

Its board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee said in a report (pdf) published this morning:

The roadmap will show how the separate schedules for evaluation applications, possible dates for GAC [Governmental Advisory Committee] input, comment & objection periods, and other program elements fit together. The plan will demonstrate interdependencies, indicate risk areas, describe schedule uncertainty, and indicate how applicants might be affected by changes to the plan.

The roadmap will be released by the week of August 6, 2012.

New gTLD applicants have been waiting for this report since the Prague meeting in late June, when it became clear that the original timetable, based on application batching and “digital archery”, was dead.

Potential objectors will also be sharply impacted by the timetable; decisions could hit their wallets.

If the window for filing private sector objections closes before the GAC deadline to object, for example, the cheaper wait-for-the-GAC strategy for objecting becomes a non-starter.

Today’s report from ICANN also discloses a little more about how the 1,930 new gTLD applications are being processed: they’re being grouped by applicant and/or by back-end registry provider, in an attempt to create efficiencies.

According to ICANN, this will enable the evaluators to ramp up to a maximum capacity of 300 applications per month, but that it will take a few months to fully ramp up to that speed.

The Initial Evaluation phase of the process began about a month ago, in line with its July 12 target date, ICANN said.

Adding some time for ICANN to organize and publish results, this means that initial evaluation results will be published in 11-12 months after the July 12 start date, i.e., May or June 2013.

With the timetable set to be published this week, the ongoing public comment process about application metering will presumably not have an impact on what is published.

With that in mind, any timetable released this week is unlikely to answer every outstanding question about the timing of go-live dates for successful new gTLD applicants.

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DotGreen lobbies the GAC for support in .green fight

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2012, Domain Registries

The DotGreen Community has asked ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee for backing in the four-way fight for the .green generic top-level domain.

In a letter to the GAC, copied to ICANN’s board and published today, DotGreen does everything but ask outright for the GAC to object to its three competitors’ .green applications.

In it, Annalisa Roger, CEO of the not-for-profit company, makes a passionate case that .green should be operated by a company that has a genuine connection to and affinity with the environmental movement.

She heavily implies that the GAC should object to the other applicants.

Without deliberate decision or intervention, the .green TLD may be won at ICANN Auction to join enmass with a slew of portfolio TLDs, blending into one of the many industry portfolios, a common business model ICANN’s new gTLD program has spawned.

Those like you who are in a position to object, evaluate, or delegate should consider the obvious relationship of .GREEN with the Green Community, and the global Green Movement which represents net social benefits to include all people, their natural and synthetic environments, the economic systems they construct (such as Green Business Models), and conditions for future generations of life who stand to be affected by the choices we make, the policies we implement, and the projects we fund and allow to be born today.

The other .green applicants are Top Level Domain Holdings, Afilias, and a Demand Media subsidiary. Unlike DotGreen, they’re all portfolio gTLD applicants.

Roger says these companies are basically out to sell as many domains as possible and don’t have the same commitment to the environmental movement as DotGreen.

Despite the name and a great deal of support from green organizations, DotGreen did not file a “community” application, so the only way it can avoid auction is by persuading the other applicants to drop their bids, or by having them all eliminated by objections.

Asking the GAC to object is probably the cheapest way to do this.

While the GAC has made its interest in gTLDs with obvious regulatory implications — such as .bank — abundantly clear, I understand conversations have also started about strings with more tangential relationships to public policy, such as .food.

It’s not inconceivable that .green could fall into that category, though I don’t think it’s an easy sell.

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