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Angry reactions to “UDRP for copyright”

Kevin Murphy, February 10, 2017, Domain Policy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Internet Commerce Association are among those expressing initial concern about the introduction of a new “UDRP for copyright” mechanism by the Domain Name Association.

The EFF said the DNA’s new proposals want registries to become “private arbiters of online speech”, while the ICA expressed concern that the proposals could circumvent the usual ICANN policy-making process.

As we reported earlier in the week, the DNA has set out a set of four “healthy practices” (the term “best practices” was deliberately avoided, I’m told) for registries and registrars, under the banner of its Healthy Domains Initiative.

The first three sets of recommendations cover malware, child abuse material and fake pharmacies and are relatively non-controversial.

However, the surprising fourth proposal seeks to give copyright holders a means to suspend or seize control of domain names where they have “clear and convincing evidence” of “pervasive and systemic copyright infringement”.

While the details have yet to be finalized, it appears to be targeted at sites such as The Pirate Bay, which are used for pretty much nothing but copyright infringement.

“This is a terrible proposal,” the EFF’s Jeremy Malcolm and Mitch Stoltz wrote yesterday:

The content that happens to be posted within [a] website or service has nothing to do with the domain name registrar, and frankly, is none of its business. If a website is hosting unlawful content, then it is the website host, not the domain registrar, who needs to take responsibility for that

They added:

it seems too likely that any voluntary, private dispute resolution system paid for by the complaining parties will be captured by copyright holders and become a privatized version of the failed Internet censorship bills SOPA and PIPA

Those are references to two proposed US laws, the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, that attracted lots of criticism and never saw the light of day.

The ICA, in a separate post on its own site, expressed concerns that private initiatives such as the HDI could give trademark holders another way to route around ICANN policies they do not like.

Noting that trademark protection mechanisms are already under review in a ICANN working group, ICA counsel Phil Corwin wrote:

What if the final consensus decision of that WG is that the URS remedy should remain domain suspension and not transfer, or that the UDRP standard of “bad faith registration and use” should remain as is? Are TM owners then free to develop their own “best practices” that include domain transfer via URS, or a bad faith registration or use standard? What’s the point of going through a multi-year exercise if those dissatisfied with the result can seek stiffer private policies? Just how many bites at the apple should trademark holders get

Both ICA and EFF expressed concern that the new DNA proposals seemed to have been developed without the broad input of members.

Stoltz and Malcolm wrote:

In any purported effort to develop a set of community-based principles, a failure to proactively reach out to affected stakeholders, especially if they have already expressed interest, exposes the effort as a sham.

Corwin wrote:

ICA had no advance knowledge of the details of HDI and no opportunity to provide substantive input. So our fingerprints are nowhere on it.

The Copyright ADRP proposal appears to be the brainchild of Public Interest Registry, the .org registry.

PIR general counsel Liz Finberg told DI earlier this week that PIR is working with arbitration provider Forum to finalize the rules of the process and hopes to implement it in .org before the end of the first quarter.

No other registry has publicly stated similar plans to my knowledge.

The HDI recommendations are completely voluntary and registries/ars are free to adopt them wholly, partially or not at all. They are not ICANN policies.

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.africa to finally go live after judge denies injunction

Kevin Murphy, February 10, 2017, Domain Policy

A Los Angeles court has rejected a demand for a preliminary injunction preventing ICANN delegating .africa, meaning the new gTLD can go live soon.

Judge Howard Halm ruled February 3, in documents published last night, that the “covenant not to sue” signed by every new gTLD applicant is enforceable and that Africans are being harmed as long as .africa is stuck in legal limbo.

The ruling comes two and a half years after ZA Central Registry, the successful of the two .africa applicants, signed its Registry Agreement with ICANN.

Rival applicant DotConnectAfrica, rejected because it has no African government support, is suing ICANN for fraud, alleging that it failed to follow its own rules and unfairly favored ZACR from the outset.

Unfortunately, the ruling does not address the merits of these claims. It merely says that DCA is unlikely to win its suit due to the covenant it signed.

Halm based his decision on the precedent in Ruby Glen v ICANN, the Donuts lawsuit that seeks to stop ICANN awarding .web to Verisign. The judge in that case ruled last November that Donuts signed away its right to sue.

An earlier judge in the DCA v ICANN case had ruled — based at least in part on a misunderstanding of the facts — that the covenant was unenforceable, but that decision now seems to have been brushed aside.

Halm was not convinced that DCA would suffer irreparable harm if ZACR got given .africa, writing:

The .Africa gTLD can be re-delegated to DCA in the event DCA prevails in this litigation… Further, it appears that any interim harm to DCA can be remedied by monetary damages

He balanced this against the harm of NOT delegating .africa:

The public interest also weighs in favor of denying the injunction because the delay in the delegation of the .Africa gTLD is depriving the people of Africa of having their own unique gTLD.

So what now?

ICANN said in a statement: “In accordance with the terms of its Registry Agreement with ZACR for .AFRICA, ICANN will now follow its normal processes towards delegation.”

As of this morning, ZACR’s .africa bid is officially still marked as “On Hold” by ICANN, though this is likely to change shortly.

Assuming ZACR has already completed pre-delegation testing, delegation itself could be less than a week away.

If DCA’s record is anything to go by, it seems unlikely that this latest setback will be enough to get it to abandon its cause.

Its usual MO whenever it receives an adverse decision or criticism is to double down and start screaming about conspiracies.

While the injunction was denied, the lawsuit itself has not been thrown out, so there’s still plenty of time for more of that.

You can read Halm’s ruling here (pdf).

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Antitrust feds probing Verisign’s .web deal

Kevin Murphy, February 10, 2017, Domain Policy

US antitrust authorities are investigating Verisign over its anticipated operation of the .web gTLD.

The probe was disclosed by company CEO Jim Bidzos in yesterday’s fourth-quarter earnings call. He said:

On January 18, 2017, the company received a Civil Investigative Demand from the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice, requesting certain information related to Verisign’s potential operations of the .web TLD. The CID is not directed at Verisign’s existing registry agreements.

He did not comment further, beyond describing it as “kind of like a subpoena”.

Verisign acquired the rights to run .web at an ICANN last-resort auction last July, agreeing to pay $135 million.

Rather than applying for the gTLD itself, it secretly bankrolled shell company Nu Dot Co, which intends to transfer its .web contract to Verisign after it is signed.

ICANN is being sued by rival applicant Donuts, which claims NDC should have been banned from the auction. Afilias, the auction runner up, is also challenging the outcome.

But this new DoJ investigation, if we take Bidzos’ words at face value, appears to focus on what Verisign plans to do with .web once it is live.

It’s the view of many that .web would be the new gTLD best positioned as an alternative to .com, which makes Verisign hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

It’s my view that it would make perfect sense for Verisign to flush the $135 million and bury .web, rather than have a viable competitor on the market.

Verisign has repeatedly said that intends to “grow and widely distribute .web”, words Bidzos repeated last night.

The investigation is likely into whether Verisign wants to actually raise .web, or strangle it in its crib.

It seems the investigation was launched in the dying days of the Obama administration, so the recent changing of the guard at Justice — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was confirmed by Congress just two days ago — may have an impact on how it plays out.

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The Pirate Bay likely to be sunk as .org adopts “UDRP for copyright”

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2017, Domain Registries

Controversial piracy site The Pirate Bay is likely to be the first victim of a new industry initiative being described as “UDRP for copyright”.

The Domain Name Association today published a set of voluntary “healthy practices” that domain registries can adopt to help keep their TLDs clean of malware, child abuse material, fake pharmacies and mass piracy.

And Public Interest Registry, the company behind .org, tells DI that it hopes to adopt the UDRP-style anti-piracy measure by the end of the first quarter.

This is likely to lead to thepiratebay.org, the domain where The Pirate Bay has resided for some time, getting seized or deleted not longer after.

Under its Healthy Domains Initiative, the DNA is proposing a Copyright Alternative Dispute Resolution Policy that would enable copyright holders to get piracy web sites shut down.

The version of the policy published (pdf) by the DNA today is worryingly light on details. It does not explain exactly what criteria would have to be met before a registrant could lose their domain name.

But PIR general counsel Liz Finberg, the main architect of the policy, said that these details are currently being finalized in coordination with UDRP arbitration firm Forum (formerly the National Arbitration Forum).

The standard, she said, will be “clear and convincing evidence” of “pervasive and systemic copyright infringement”.

It’s designed to capture sites like The Pirate Bay and major torrent sites than do little but link to pirate content, and is not supposed to extend to sites that may inadvertently infringe or can claim “fair use”.

That said, it’s bound to be controversial. If 17 years of UDRP has taught us anything it’s that panelists, often at Forum, can take a liberal interpretation of policies, usually in favor of rights holders.

But Finberg said that because the system is voluntary for registries — it’s NOT an ICANN policy — registries could simply stop using it if it stops working as intended.

Filing a Copyright ADRP complaint will cost roughly about the same as filing a UDRP, typically under $1,500 in fees, she said.

Penalties could include the suspension or transfer of the domain name, but monetary damages would not be available.

Finberg said PIR chose to create the policy because she wasn’t comfortable with the lack of due process for registrants in alternative methods such as Trusted Notifier.

Trusted Notifier, in place at Donuts and Radix, gives the Motion Picture Association of America a special pass to notify registries about blatant piracy and, if the registry agrees, to have the domains suspended.

While stating that .org is a fairly clean namespace, Finberg acknowledged that there is one big exception.

“The Pirate Bay is on a .org, we’re not happy about that,” she said. “If I were to say what’s the one .org that is the prime candidate for being the very first one out of the gate, I would say it’s The Pirate Bay.”

Other registries have yet to publicly state whether they plan to adopt this leg of the DNA HDI recommendations.

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ISOC New York challenges Neustar’s .nyc contract

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2017, Domain Registries

The New York chapter of the Internet Society has called upon the city to delay the renewal of Neustar’s contract to run the .nyc gTLD, citing numerous concerns about how it is being managed.

In a letter (pdf) to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the group calls for a “town hall” and community consultation and for the city to “make appropriate adjustments” before the contract is renewed.

Its beef appears to be what it sees as .nyc’s lackluster performance in the market and the lack of promised community engagement.

The ISOC-NY letter contains a list of over a dozen “observations and nitpicks”.

These include a decline in .nyc registration volume, that fact that most .nyc names are parked, and the fact that Whois privacy is banned from the gTLD.

Neustar’s current contract is due to be renewed March, according to the letter.

(This post was updated February 8 to correct the expiry date of Neustar’s contract.)

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