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Cartier sues Nominet hoping to set global domain name take-down precedent

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2014, Domain Policy

Luxury watchmaker Cartier has taken .uk registry Nominet to court, hoping to set a precedent that would enable big brands to have domain names taken down at a whim.

The company sued Nominet in a London court in October, seeking an injunction to force the registry to take down 12 domain names that at the time led to sites allegedly selling counterfeit watches.

We’ve only become aware of the case today after Nominet revealed it has filed its defense documents.

Judging by documents attached to Nominet’s court filings, Cartier sees the suit as a test case that could allow it to bring similar suits against other “less cooperative” registries elsewhere in the world.

In a letter submitted as evidence as part of Nominet’s defense, Richard Graham, head of digital IP at Cartier parent company Richemont International, said that he was:

seeking to develop a range of tools that can be deployed quickly and efficiently to prevent Internet users accessing websites that offer counterfeit goods… [and] looking to establish a precedent that can be used to persuade courts in other jurisdictions where the registries are less cooperative.

It’s worth noting that Richemont has applied for 13 dot-brands under ICANN’s new gTLD program and that Graham is often the face of the applications at conferences and such.

Pretty soon Richemont will also be a domain name registry. We seem to be looking at two prongs of its brand protection strategy here.

According to the company’s suit, the 12 domains in question all had bogus Whois information and were all being used to sell bogus Cartier goods.

None of them used a Cartier trademark in the domain — this is explicitly about the contents of web sites, not their domains names — and Cartier says most appeared to be registered to people in China.

Rather than submitting a Whois inaccuracy complaint with Nominet — which could have led to the domains being suspended for a breach of the terms of service — Cartier decided to sue instead.

Graham actually gave Nominet’s lawyers over a week’s notice that the lawsuit was incoming, writing his letter (pdf) on October 22 and filing the complaint (pdf) with the courts November 4.

Cartier seems to have grown frustrated playing whack-a-mole with bootleggers who cannot be traced and just pop up somewhere else whenever their latest web host is persuaded to cut them off.

Graham’s letter, which comes across almost apologetic in its cordiality when compared to the usual legal threat, reads:

Cartier therefore believes the most cost effective and efficient way to disrupt access to the Counterfeiting Websites operating in the UK is to seek relief from you, as the body operating the registry of .uk domain names.

Armed with the foreknowledge provided by the letter, Nominet reviewed the Whois records of the domains in question, found them lacking, and suspended the lot.

Ten were suspended before Cartier sued, according to Nominet. Another expired before the suit was filed and was re-registered by a third party. A fourth, allegedly registered to a German whose scanned identity card was submitted as evidence by Nominet, was suspended earlier this month.

As such, much of Nominet’s defense (pdf) relies upon what seems to be a new and obscure legal guideline, the “Practice Direction on Pre-Action Conduct”, that encourages people to settle their differences without resorting to the courts.

Nominet’s basically saying that there was no need for Cartier to sue, because it already has procedures in place to deal with counterfeiters using fake Whois data.

Also offered in the defense are the facts that suspending a domain does not remove a web site, that Nominet does not operate web sites, and the following:

Nominet is not at liberty under its Terms and Conditions of Domain Name Registration to suspend .uk domain names summarily upon mere receipt of a demand from someone unconnected with the domain name registrant.

That seems to me to be among the most important parts of the defense.

If Cartier were to win this case, it may well set a precedent giving registries (in the UK at least, at first) good reason to cower when they receive dodgy take-down orders from multibillion-dollar brands.

Indeed, that seems to be what Cartier is going for here.

Unfortunately, Nominet has a track record of at least accelerating the takedown of domains based on nothing more than third-party “suspicion”. Its defense actually admits this fact, stating:

Inaccurate identity and contact information generally leads to the suspension of a domain within three weeks. Where suspicions of criminality are formally confirmed by a recognised law enforcement agency, suspension may be very significantly expedited.

I wonder if this lawsuit would have happened had Nominet not been so accommodating to unilateral third-party take-down notices in the past.

In a statement to members today, a copy of which was sent to DI, Nominet encouraged internet users to report counterfeiting web sites to the police if and when they find them.

New gTLDs top 100 as first dot-brands hit the root

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2014, Domain Registries

There are now 107 new gTLDs live on the internet, following the latest batch of delegations.

Sixteen strings were entered into the DNS root today, including the first two dot-brands, which are Monash University’s .monash and CITIC Group’s .中信 (“.citic” in Chinese).

.CLUB Domains, Luxury Partners and Plan Bee became freshly-minted registries with the delegations of .club, .luxury and .build while legacy gTLD registry Afiias added .red, .pink and .shiksha to its roster.

Uniregistry added five new gTLDs to the two it had delegated in an earlier batch: .gift, .guitars, .link, .photo and .pics.

The delegation of .photo means the root now has its first singular/plural clash; Donuts already owns .photos.

Finally, I-REGISTRY added .rich to its .onl and China’s CNNIC had .网络 (“.network”) and .公司 (“.company”) delegated.

UPDATE (Jan 22): This post originally overlooked the delegation of .公司. It has been updated accordingly.

The plurals debate is over as ICANN delegates 17 more new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2013, Domain Policy

Another 17 new gTLDs were delegated to the DNS root last night, most of them belonging to Donuts.

Notably, Donuts now runs .photos and .careers, the first two delegated gTLDs where live applications also exist for the singular form of the string.

Uniregistry is currently contracted and awaiting the delegation of .photo, while dotCareer is already contracted for .career.

The debate about whether ICANN should permit singular and plural versions of the same string to coexist is now surely over.

Just a week ago, the Internet Association — a trade group comprising Amazon, Google, AOL, Yahoo, Salesforce, Zynga and many others — called on ICANN to rethink its policy of coexistence.

Calling the policy a “violation of user trust”, the Association said (pdf), “the existence of these domain names poses significant risks to the DNS, Internet companies, and their users”.

The Association noted that the Governmental Advisory Committee had strong concerns about singular and plural coexistence, due to the risk of consumer confusion.

String Confusion Objection panels have reached quite different conclusions about whether adding an “s” makes a string confusingly similar to another.

Personally, while I’m all for competition, I believe coexistence will lead to parasitical business models that will bring the domain name industry into further disrepute.

I know for a fact that some registries are considering the merits of tailgating their confusingly similar competitors.

But it seems ICANN’s decision was final.

There’s currently no mechanism for ICANN to un-approve a gTLD once it’s been delegated — failing serious wrongdoing by the registry — so it’s difficult to see how it could now decide that plural and singular forms of the same string should be mutually exclusive.

While I’m sure the Internet Association and others will carry on complaining, I think they’re now talking to deaf ears.

There were 17 new gTLDs delegated yesterday in total, 15 of which were in Donuts portfolio.

Donuts has also added the following to its portfolio: .cab, .camp, .academy, .center, .company, .computer, .domains, .limo, .management, .recipes, .shoes, .systems and .viajes (Spanish for “travel”).

CONAC, the China Organizational Name Administration Center had .政务 (“government”) and .公益 (“public interest”) delegated.

GAC kills off two more new gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2013, Domain Registries

A new gTLD applicant has withdrawn two of its Chinese-language applications after failing to secure the necessary government support.

Guangzhou YU Wei Information Technology Co withdrew its applications for .深圳 (.shenzhen) and .广州 (.guangzhou).

Both are the names of very large cities in southern China.

The ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee had previously issued official Advice against both bids.

The applicant had failed to get a passing score on its Initial Evaluation earlier this year, with ICANN ruling that governmental “support or non-objection was either not provided or did not meet the criteria”.

To get a geographic gTLD, you need to prove local government support, something which the applicant seems to have been unable to provide during Extended Evaluation.

Weirdly, Guangzhou YU Wei has previously passed EE for .佛山 (.foshan) and IE for .广东 (.guangdong), which are both also Chinese geographic names.

Let’s Learn IDNs — .中文网 (Chinese Website)

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2013, Domain Registries

Today, the belated first in an irregular series of articles devoted to making new IDN gTLDs more recognizable to the majority of DI readers who use the Latin alphabet in their native tongue.

Let’s Learn IDNs, as I said in my introduction to the series, won’t teach you Greek, but it will hopefully make it easier to instinctively know what a Greek IDN means when you see it.

I’m hoping this will prove very useful for everyone with an interest in the new gTLD program, bringing meaning to what otherwise would be an incomprehensible string of gibberish.

For the first lesson, we’re looking at TLD Registry‘s .中文网, which I guarantee after today you’ll never forget.

U-Label
.中文网

A-Label
.xn--fiq228c5hs

Translation
“.chinesewebsite”

Script
Chinese (Simplified)

Language(s)
Chinese. According to the registry, this includes “Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka and over 250 other Chinese dialects.”

Transliteration
Zhōng Wén Wǎng

Pronunciation
Jong (rhymes with long)
When (as in “when are you arriving”)
Wong (rhymes with long)

How to Learn this IDN

In Chinese, each character generally represents a syllable and will often also have meaning as a word in its own right, which is the case with the three characters of .中文网.

Helpfully, these characters are also pictograms that pretty much explain themselves.

(Zhōng) is a line going through the middle of a box. It means “middle”. It’s also the first character of the Chinese word for “China” — 中国, which literally means “Middle Kingdom”.

(Wén) looks like a little writing desk with a quill on top. It means “language”. Combine it with 中 to get 中文, which means “Chinese Language”.

(Wǎng) looks like a net (or maybe a cobweb). It’s the Simplified Chinese word for “net”, which the Chinese also use to refer to the internet or web.

“Altogether, 中文网 as a gTLD string, is two words that make one common Chinese language expression: Chinese-language (中文) website (网),” said TLD Registry’s head of comms Simon Cousins.

Dead easy, right?

Certainly, since Cousins first explained this to me a few months ago, I’ve never failed to recognize .中文网 whenever I’ve seen it.