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Who’s objecting to .sport, .health, .kids and more

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2012, Domain Registries

Today, the number of comments filed with ICANN on new gTLD applications surpassed the number of applications themselves, and we’re now starting to see more significant objections.

At the time of writing, 1,939 comments have been filed on 584 applications by 834 unique individuals and organizations.

Here are some recent comments from notable organizations.

Save the Children

The international charitable non-governmental organization Save the Children has expressed concerns about all four .health applications.

Here’s a snippet:

The health Internet is a vital means of health information access worldwide. Thus, “.health” and health related top level domains should be trusted and reliable resources which take the public interest into account and are based on broad-based, multi-stakeholder consensus. In this regard, it is particularly worrying that the current applicants intend to sell the “.health” gTLD on a ‘first-come, first-served’, wholesale and auction basis, placing private interests ahead of the public interest.

We urge ICANN to postpone the assignment of “.health” until such time as following broad-based consultation of the health community, including the public and private sectors, adequate baseline conditions for their operation are elaborated and their implementation and observance is ensured.

The same comment was filed by International Medical Informatics Association, indicating an orchestrated campaign is underway.

All were filed as Community Objection Grounds, suggesting that .health could run into objection delays down the road.

But Save the Children, which has better things to do with its money, may not necessarily object itself. I’d say .health is a prime candidate for a community-based intervention by the Independent Objector.

I’m also expecting the Governmental Advisory Committee to take a healthy interest in these applications.

International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee has, as expected, thrown its support behind the .sport application filed by SportAccord, which already has strong ties with the Olympic movement.

There are only two applications for .sport (though Donuts is going for .sports) and while SportAccord’s is a community-based bid, a successful Community Priority Evaluation is by no means assured.

However, if the IOC is half as belligerent about .sport as it has been about the new gTLD program in general then I expect Famous Four Media, the other .sport applicant, has a fight on its hands.

Notably, the IOC invokes ICANN’s new IANA contract to back up its claim that SportAccord should be the rightful owner of .sport:

new IANA contractual requirements require ICANN in connection with new gTLDs to document “how the process provided the opportunity for input from relevant stakeholders and was supportive of the global public interest. “ Therefore, SportAccord is the only applicant for the .SPORT gTLD which can serve the global public interest in connection with the operation of the gTLD on behalf of the global sports community.

Lego Juris

Lego Juris, the extremely brand-conscious producer of overpriced kids’ building blocks, has filed complaints about 80 applications, all of which appear to be the same form letter.

As you might imagine from the most prolific filer of UDRP complaints in history, Lego’s primary concern is cybersquatting and preventing the need for defensive registrations.

Here’s Lego’s comment:

While we of course support enhanced fair competition, we call on the evaluators to ensure the maintenance of a clean Internet space by impressing on the new registries the importance of not accepting second level names within their gTLDs that may be confusingly similar to our trade marks, especially from applicants believed to be registering in bad faith.

To avoid consumer confusion and the wasted resources of needless dispute resolution procedures, legal actions and defensive registrations (none of which benefit consumers), as well as proving to the entire community that the registries do wish to act in good faith in a clean space, we request that new registries develop “blocked” lists of brand names that should not be registered absent evidence of good faith. Such lists could take the form of “white lists” at the second level that could only be lifted if requested by and for the brand owner.

This comment was filed against .kids, .group, .inc, .gmbh, .discount, .deals, .direct and many, many more.

All of these comments, incidentally, are logged in the DI PRO new gTLD application database.

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Donuts dismisses “meritless” cybersquatting claims

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2012, Domain Registries

Donuts, the company applying to ICANN for more new gTLDs than any other, has responded to claims that it should be banned from the new gTLD program on cybersquatting grounds.

As reported earlier today, a mysterious demand has emerged for Donuts and its registry back-end, Demand Media, to be banned from running new gTLDs due to Demand’s history of losing cybersquatting cases.

A letter sent to ICANN’s top brass by a Boston law firm claims that Donuts is little more than a front organization for Demand, and should fail ICANN’s background checks accordingly.

But in a statement provided to DI this evening, Donuts said:

The letter — generated by a law firm representing an anonymous client — is rife with factual inaccuracies and meritless allegations. Demand Media is a commercial partner and is neither an investor in nor part of a joint venture with Donuts. We look forward to engaging in the ICANN review process and its thorough background checks, and are confident that we meet all requirements to operate a Top Level Domain registry.

We’re yet to hear from Demand or to receive clarification from McCarter & English, the law firm responsible for the original letter.

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Lawyer tries to nuke Donuts and Demand Media’s gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2012, Domain Registries

A lawyer has called for new gTLD uber-applicants Demand Media and Donuts to be banned from running gTLD registries due to Demand’s history of cybersquatting.

Jeffrey Stoler of Boston law firm McCarter & English has written to ICANN’s leadership, along with the chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee, to allege that Demand Media, Donuts and their key executives:

are, by ICANN’s established eligibility guidelines, unsuited and ineligible to participate in the new gTLD program.

It goes on to state that:

ICANN can and should reject the applications from Donuts and its subsidiaries, Demand Media and its subsidiaries, and their respective affiliated companies.

The two companies have, combined, applied for 333 new gTLDs. Donuts, which was founded by former Demand executives, also plans to use Demand as its back-end registry provider.

Demand Media subsidiaries, however, have a rotten record of losing cybersquatting cases filed under the UDRP, as Stoler’s generally well-researched 24-page letter spells out in some detail.

This, Stoler argues, should cause both companies to fail ICANN’s background checks, which are specified in the Applicant Guidebook.

Companies that have “been involved in a pattern of adverse, final decisions” under the UDRP, defined as more than three losses in the last four years, are supposed to fail the background check.

Demand Media seems to fit that definition, and then some, assuming you include UDRP losses incurred by its subsidiaries.

Donuts, as a brand new company, does not have the same track record, but Stoler reckons there is “strong evidence that Donuts is merely an alter ego of, and working in concert with, Demand Media”.

The letter states:

In June 2009, when ICANN’s rules went into effect and it was widely thought that implementation of the new gTLD program was imminent, the executives of Demand Media Group realized that Demand Media’s sordid history would clearly block its ability to successfully apply for the new gTLDs.

As an initial gambit, Demand Media petitioned ICANN to revise the rules.

When ICANN rejected those revisions, the undersigned believes Demand Media decided it would be necessary to create a new entity to participate in the new gTLD program. As a result, Donuts was formed by Messrs. Stahura and Tindal.

It would make a mockery of ICANN rules, however, if Demand Media Group and its executives could absolve themselves of their record of adverse UDRP decisions merely by forming a new entity.

Donuts founders Paul Stahura and Richard Tindal were both with Demand when it lost a bunch of UDRP cases.

Stoler alleges that they left to form Donuts mainly because they didn’t think Demand would pass ICANN’s background checks.

While Donuts has made no secret of the fact that it’s behind 307 applications — and ICANN’s leadership is certainly already aware of this — each application has been filed by a different shell company.

The trail to Donuts is at least two companies deep in many cases, and it’s not entirely clear how its applications with Demand Media are structured, from a corporate point of view.

Ironically, Stoler’s letter does not disclose his affiliations — which clients he’s working for — either.

The smart money is probably on big trademark interests, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, I suppose, that he could be on the payroll of rival new gTLD applicants.

I’ve reached out to Stoler, Donuts and Demand Media for comment and will provide updates later as appropriate.

Here’s the Stoler letter (pdf)

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The ANA is right: there needs to be more time for new gTLD public comments

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2012, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers has told ICANN that more time is needed for the public to file comments on new gTLD applications. I think it has a point.

As it stands, ICANN plans to forward any comments submitted before August 12 to the program’s evaluators, but the ANA thinks several more months are needed.

In a letter (pdf) to ICANN interim CEO Akram Atallah, ANA president Bob Liodice wrote:

When ICANN initially approved the gTLD Program in June 2011, ICANN’s own planning and financial estimates only envisioned 500 applications; it is possible that a sixty-day comment window might have been sufficient to evaluate that number of applications. However, almost four times that number of applications has been received, and so a mere sixty days is not enough time for the public to evaluate the details of the many string applications that may impact their interests.

Liodice asks for at least 180 more days for public comments.

The letter has been circulated to various members of the US government, but for once there’s no threat of a lawsuit.

I have to say I agree with the ANA on this occasion: more time is needed for commenting, although I’m not sure a full extra six months is necessary.

Making sense of the sheer volume of data available since the Big Reveal can be overwhelming, even for somebody who covers this topic every day.

Comments filed to date — about 1,400 of them — are narrowly focused on a small subset of wedge-issue applications. About half were organized by Morality in Media and probably could be described as anti-porn astroturf.

It’s very likely that many regular ICANN community members who intend to file substantive comments intend to do so at the last minute, per standard ICANN practice, but I think in this case there needs to be more input from outside of the usual circle of suspects.

More time to comment, and more media outreach by ICANN, might be able to create a stronger mandate — or highlight more potential problems — for some of these 1,930 applications.

With a single year-long Initial Evaluation batch now essentially confirmed could the public comment window not also be extended?

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First anti-gay gTLD opponent emerges

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2012, Domain Policy

The first public objections have been filed against applications for the .gay generic top-level domain.

Abdulaziz Al-Zoman reckons .gay shouldn’t be allowed because being gay is “against the law and public morality” in many countries, according to a comment that he filed against all four .gay applications.

Here’s the whole comment:

ICANN is dealing and playing a very strong role in worldwide public policies. It sets global public Internet-related policies that effect many worldwide societies and communities with verity of values and cultures. Therefore, ICANN MUST adhere and respect these cultures and values and not to impose its own “western” culture and values to other communities.

If “gay” is an accepted activity in USA it does not mean it is also accepted or welcomed elsewhere. ICANN should not enforce western culture and values into other societies. It should not ignore other society’s values. If the new gTLD programs had been limited to the United States, the homeland of ICANN, then it might be accepted to have the applied-for gTLDs strings (.gay). In spite of this, even if these strings (.gay) represent a permitted western standard of expressions, ICANN should not impose it globally upon the rest of the world. ICANN should not ignore the fact that activities related to this string are considered criminal act or unlawful in some parts of the world. Furthermore, ICANN should stick to GAC principles that call for respecting the sensitivity regarding terms with national, cultural, geographic and religious significance.

The applied-for gTLD string (gay) is not welcomed in many societies and communities and is against the law and public morality. ICANN should work for the benefit of all societies. It should not indulge itself in prompting and expanding western culture on the Internet. If it is really desired and needed in the ICANN home community (USA), then it can be provided under the .us TLD (e.g., gay.us) but not in the worldwide root space.

Al-Zoman appears to be referring to Saudi society, which has about as slim a grasp on morality as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

Sadly, his comments are likely a precursor to a battle within ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee over whether a formal GAC objection to .gay should be filed.

This is Big Question stuff.

Should ICANN operate according to the internet’s principles of openness, fairness and inclusion, or should it make its decisions based on demands emerging from medieval, theocratic backwaters?

You can probably guess what my opinion is.

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