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URS coming to .travel under big contract changes

The .travel gTLD, which was approved 10 years ago, will have to support the Uniform Rapid Suspension service, one of several significant changes proposed for its ICANN contract.

I believe it’s the first legacy gTLD to agree to use URS, which gives trademark owners a way to remove domain names that infringe their marks that is quicker and cheaper than UDRP.

Tralliance, the registry, saw its .travel Registry Agreement expire earlier this month. It’s been extended and the proposed new version, based on the New gTLD Registry Agreement, is now open for public comment.

While the adoption of URS may not have much of a direct impact — .travel is a restricted TLD with fewer than 20,000 names under management — it sets an interesting precedent.

IP interests have a keen interest in having URS cover more than just 2012-round gTLDs. They want it to cover .com, .org, .net and the rest too.

Domain investors, meanwhile, are usually cautious about any changes that tilt the balance of power in favor of big brands.

When .biz, .org and .info came up for renewal in 2013, the Intellectual Property Constituency filed comments asking for URS to be implemented in the new contracts, but the request was not heard.

I’m aware of two ccTLDs — .pw and .us — that voluntarily adopted URS in their zones.

Other changes include a requirement for all .travel registrars, with the exception of those already selling .travel domains, to be signatories of the stricter 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

That’s something Afilias and Neustar only agreed to put in their .info and .biz contracts if Verisign agrees to the same provisions for .com and .net.

The fees Tralliance pays ICANN have also changed.

It currently pays $10,000 in fixed fees every year and $2 per billable transaction. I estimate this works out at something like $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

The proposed new contract has the same fees as 2012-round new gTLDs — a $25,000 fixed fee and $0.25 per transaction. The transaction fee only kicks in after 50,000 names, however, and that’s volume .travel hasn’t seen in over five years.

Tralliance will probably save itself thousands under the new deal.

The contract public comment forum can be found here.

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Momentous denies link to “illegal” pharmacy gang

Momentous says CEO Rob Hall is NOT the man behind a registrar devoted almost exclusively to running “illegal” online pharmacies, after the US Congress was told he was a few hours ago.

In written testimony to Congress today, LegitScript president John Horton linked Hall to an “illegal online pharmacy network” called 4rx.

Horton said that the people running 4rx, which he said sells prescription drugs without a license, are also running the ICANN-accredited registrar Crazy8Domains

He went on to produce Canadian corporation records naming Hall as the sole director of the registrar.

I had a bit of a Google and found that Crazy8Domains says it’s based in a building in Ottawa that appears to have been once owned by Momentous.

But Rob Villeneuve, CEO of Momentous registrar Rebel, told us today that Crazy8Domains has not been part of Momentous for years. He said:

the Momentous group sold that Registrar over two years ago, and ICANN approved the sale. Mr. Hall and Momentous are no longer involved in Crazy8Domains in any way. We are unsure why the Industry Canada records have not been updated, and we have today notified Industry Canada of their error.

While Momentous may not be involved with Crazy8Domains, Horton presented some compelling evidence that it’s basically just a puppet registrar for an online pharmacy outfit.

It also goes by the name Kudo.com.

The contact name for the registrar listed by ICANN is Sabita Limbu, who is also listed in Whois as the registrant of domains such as indianpharmaonline.com, offshorerx1.com, and cheapestonlinedrugstore.com.

These sites offer hundreds of generic varieties of drug that purport to treat every condition under the sun, from erectile dysfunction to cancer.

Prescriptions do not appear to be required, and there’s a US toll-free number in case there was any doubt whose citizens are being marketed to.

Whether that’s illegal or not, I couldn’t possibly comment, but Horton told Congresspeople today that there are no countries where it is legal to sell prescription drugs without a license.

According to Horton, Crazy8Domains only has 18 domains live at present, and 15 of them are pharmacies:

In short, for all practical purposes, the ICANN-accredited registrar is the illegal online pharmacy, and the illegal online pharmacy is the ICANN-accredited registrar.

This means it would be virtually impossible for an outfit like LegitScript to get them taken down — any complaints made to ICANN would simply be referred to the registrar, which is in this case also the registrant.

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.sucks explains Sunrise Premium name change

Vox Populi Registry abandonment of the .sucks “Sunrise Premium” brand in favor of a new “Market Premium” service is just a renaming, designed to reduce confusion among trademark owners, according to the company.

As we reported Sunday, all mentions of Sunrise Premium — a list of .sucks domains that will always carry a recommended $2,499 a year fee — have been expunged from the Vox Pop web site.

They were replaced with references to Market Premium, which appeared to carry all the characteristics of Sunrise Premium albeit under a new name.

Now, CEO John Berard has confirmed to DI that the program has not changed.

Rather, the new name is an effort to distance it from the regular sunrise period, which is linked to the Trademark Clearinghouse.

The decision was made following last week’s International Trademark Association conference, Berard said:

It was an insight gained from talking to people at INTA15. The intellectual property people there asked us so many times about the sunrise premium list of names that we realized we had allowed a mis-perception to take hold. This is no and never has been a relationship between that list and the TradeMark ClearingHouse. It was surprising how many people thought we had access to the TMCH (we don’t) and merely cut-and-pasted its names.

That is why we renamed it. Now called Market Premium and more clearly presented as a set of names that over time have been viewed as valuable (because they have been registered before). Names on this list will carry a suggested price of $2,499 (yes, the same as was suggested in Sunrise). Given the list is of names that the market has decided has value, it is likely it will contain trademarks.

The change may also be an attempt to head off a contractual squabble with ICANN.

Last Friday, the ICANN Business Constituency told ICANN management that if the Sunrise Premium list had been populated by names drawn from the TMCH, that would have been a breach of the .sucks Registry Agreement.

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.sucks threatens ICANN with defamation claim after “extortion” letters

Vox Populi Registry has threatened to sue ICANN for defamation and other alleged breaches of US law, over allegations of “extortion” made by two of its constituencies.

The registry’s outside law firm wrote to ICANN yesterday, saying that it has “has no interest in pursuing claims at this time” but adding:

if ICANN or any of its constituent bodies (or any directly responsible member thereof) engages in any further wrongful activity that prevents the company from fulfilling its contractual obligations and operating the .SUCKS registry as both ICANN and Vox Populi envisioned, the company will have no choice but to pursue any and all remedies available to it.

The letter follows claims by the Intellectual Property Constituency that .sucks and its $1,999 annual sunrise fees constitute a “predatory” “shakedown”, claims which ICANN has forwarded to US and Canadian trade regulators for their legal opinions.

The IPC letter was followed up by similar claims by the Business Constituency on Friday.

Vox Pop now wants these constituencies, and ICANN itself, to shut up.

“Rather than assuming cooler heads will prevail, it is time to tell ICANN to stop interfering in our ability to operate the registry,” CEO John Berard said in an email to reporters. “We are not taking legal action at this point but making it clear that we reserve the right if ICANN continues in its wrong-headed approach.”

The company denies that .sucks will encourage cybersquatting, noting that like all other gTLDs it is subject to the anti-cybersquatting UDRP and URS remedies.

it would seem that ICANN is not actually concerned about cybersquatting or any other illegal activity. Rather, ICANN appears concerned that registrations on the .SUCKS registry will be used to aggregate uncomplimentary commentary about companies and products — the very purpose for the registry that Vox Populi identified in the application it submitted to ICANN, and that ICANN approved

ICANN has disseminated defamatory statements about Vox Populi and its business practices aimed at depriving Vox Populi of the benefits of its contract with ICANN. These actions further violate the duty of good faith and fair dealing that is implied in every contract… in suggesting illegality without any basis whatsoever, your actions (and those of the ICANN IPC and ICANN BC) have given rise to defamation claims against ICANN. Vox Populi hereby demands that ICANN, including any and all of its subdivisions, cease any and all such activity immediately.

There’s bucketloads of irony here, of course.

The company says it is standing up for its future registrants’ rights to free speech, but wants its own critics gagged today.

Read the letter as a PDF here.

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Businesses call on regulators to stop .sucks “extortion”

ICANN’s Business Constituency wants US and Canadian regulators to intervene to prevent Vox Populi Registry, which runs .sucks, “extorting” businesses with its high sunrise fees.

The BC wrote to ICANN, the US Federal Trade Commission and the Canadian Office for Consumer Affairs on Friday, saying .sucks has employed “exploitive [sic] pricing and unfair marketing practices”.

The constituency adds its voice to Intellectual Property Constituency, which complained last month, causing ICANN to refer the matter to US and Canadian regulators.

Now, the BC has told the OCA and FTC:

We do not believe that exploitative and unfair business practices are conducive either to promoting end-user confidence in the Internet or to fair competition in the domain name space. On the contrary, the pricing structure adopted by Vox Populi for .sucks domain names is predicated purely on expecting the businesses and brands that drive global growth to pay extortionate fees for no consumer or market benefit.

Vox Populi’s tactics exploit businesses that neither want nor need these domain name registrations but feel unfairly pressured to register purely for defensive purposes.

The BC’s letter chooses to focus on saying sunrise names cost “$2,499 and up” (original emphasis). That’s based on the MSRP Vox Pop publishes on its web site.

In reality, Vox Pop is charging a registry fee of $1,999 per year for .sucks sunrise registrations.

Retail registrars can add hundreds of dollars in mark-up fees, but the leading corporate registrars that are selling the most .sucks sunrise names — MarkMonitor, CSC and Com Laude among them — have said that as a matter of principle they are only charging a nominal $20 to $25 processing fee.

It’s not the highest sunrise fee I’ve come across. The Chinese registry behind .top asked for $3,500 during its sunrise.

But the semantics of the .sucks TLD makes brand owners nervous and makes many of them feel that a defensive registration is a must-have.

The BC now write to regulators to “urge the FTC and OCA to expeditiously determine whether these practices constitute unfair trade practices”.

The letter points to US and Canadian regulations covering consumer protection for examples of where Vox Pop’s practices may fall short of the law.

The free speech opportunities afforded by .sucks do not outweigh the harms, the BC says.

It’s also interesting to note that while the BC appears to be running to regulators for assistance, it notes that it still fully supports the ICANN model.

There may be a degree of cognitive dissonance within the BC.

In a separate letter to ICANN, also signed by BC chair Elisa Cooper and sent yesterday, the BC seems to take issue with the fact that ICANN felt the need to report .sucks to regulators in the first place, writing:

We would like to understand the rationale for doing so. ICANN has ample authority, a clear obligation and the resources available to stop rogue practices through its contractual agreements with registries, its Compliance Department, and its broad duty to protect the public interest and the security and stability of the Internet, particularly for issues with global reach. Like all other gTLDs launched under ICANN’s program, .sucks has a global reach. It is not clear why ICANN feels it should seek clarification from these two North American agencies.

It’s worth noting that Vox Pop CEO Berard is a member of the BC via his PR agency, Credible Context. He was Cooper’s immediate predecessor as BC chair, leaving the post last year.

Correction: Thanks to the many readers who pointed out that Berard was actually the BC’s representative to the GNSO, not its chair. Apologies for the error.

The letter tells Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah that “viewed in its entirety, Vox Populi’s pricing scheme is a violation of the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs)” developed for the new gTLD program, alleging it discourages use of the RPMs and encourages cybersquatting.

It claims that if Vox Pop populated its Sunrise Premium list (now known as Market Premium, it seems) with data from the Trademark Clearinghouse it could be in violation of its Registry Agreement with ICANN.

My sense has been that the names on that list were actually culled from zone files. Vox Pop has said it was compiled from lists of names that have previously been defensively registered. Most of the names in the TMCH have not been defensively registered.

The BC asks for ICANN “to take strong action”, but does not specify what, exactly, it wants.

The letter to the OCA and FTC can be read here. The letter to ICANN is here. Both are PDF files.

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