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YouPorn owner acquires fellow .xxx plaintiff

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2012, Domain Registries

Manwin, the porn company currently suing ICANN and ICM Registry over the .xxx launch, has acquired co-plaintiff Digital Playground.

“To me this deal is no different than the acquisition of Pixar by Disney,” Digital Playground CEO Ali Joone said, according to Xbiz.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

While Digital Playground was named as a plaintiff on the .xxx lawsuit, Manwin was clearly the lead. Manwin has also launched a solo Independent Review Process arbitration case against ICANN.

The company is one of the biggest porn producers on the internet, owning YouPorn as well as managing Playboy’s web presence under license.

Manwin claims that ICM’s launch amounted to “extortion”, and that it gave away its lack of respect for the porn industry by selling premium names to domainers including Frank Schilling and Mike Berkens.

ICM’s response to the lawsuit is due later this week.

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Little interest in Russian gTLDs?

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2012, Domain Registries

Despite being given the opportunity to launch top-level domains in Cyrillic script, only a handful of companies from Russia are expected to apply to ICANN for new gTLDs.

That’s according to Andrey Kolesnikov, CEO of Coordination Center for TLD RU, which runs the country’s .ru and .РФ registries.

“There won’t be many applications from Russia, only from about 10 companies,” he said at a recent press conference, while estimating at least 1,000 applications overall.

Just 10 applicants is a surprisingly low estimate, given the resurgence of interest in Russian domain names in 2011.

The year-old .РФ (.rf, for Russian Federation) domain has been a roaring success in volume terms. Launched in late 2010, it now has about a million registered domains.

CC itself is planning to apply for .ДЕТИ, which means “.children” in Russian.

RU-Center, the largest Russian registrar, intends to apply for the city-gTLDs .МОСКВА and .moscow.

Other IDN-friendly nations may be more enthusiastic about new gTLDs. ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said last week that he heard that Indian companies could apply for as many as 100.

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Afilias acquires .pro operator RegistryPro

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2012, Domain Registries

Afilias has acquired .pro registry manager Registry Services Corporation, which does business as RegistryPro, for an undisclosed sum.

The deal will see .pro domain names migrate to Afilias’s back-end, bringing the number of TLDs the company supplies registry services for to 17, the largest of which is .info .org.

It’s not yet clear whether the deal includes Zip.pro, a “local search” service operated by RegistryPro’s former parent Hostway using tens of thousands of self-owned zip code .pro domains.

(UPDATE: Afilias has confirmed that Zip.pro is staying with Hostway. The former owner of .pro is essentially now its biggest customer.)

Hostway bought RegistryPro in early 2004 shortly before .pro went live. The deal was somewhat controversial at the time.

Since May last year the company has been headed by CEO Karim Jiwani, a former Afilias executive. Jiwani will stay in place as president of RegistryPro, Afilias said.

While RegistryPro has been offering new gTLD back-end registry services since last June, the acquisition “is specifically in support of the .pro domain,” the Afilias spokesperson said.

The gTLD will be migrated to Afilias’ back-end infrastructure, he confirmed.

“A migration plan is being put into place,” the spokesperson said. “Current .pro customers will see no issues; the platform change will be invisible to them (and as easy as possible for registrars.)”

ICANN was told about the deal, but did not need to approve it because the corporate structure of RegistryPro has not changed, he said.

The .pro gTLD has about 45 registrars, though only four of them have taken more than 10,000 registrations. EnCirca, which signed up on day one, leads the pack with 13,000 domains.

However, Network Solutions and RU-Center came on board in 2008 and have been responsible for contributing most of the gTLD’s organic growth in the last few years.

Despite these modest improvements, .pro is still broadly considered very much an also-ran gTLD.

It had roughly 117,000 registered .pro domains at the last official count, but 43,000 of those are US zip codes registered by a shell company belonging to Hostway back in 2008.

It appears that this Zip.pro service is a similar concept to the Employ Media-backed Universe.jobs services – an exercise in mass domain development backed by the (former) registry itself.

At some point quite recently, some of these zip code domains have started going live with what could be loosely be described as “content”.

If you visit 94110.pro, for example, you’ll see a bunch of stuff about the Mission district in San Francisco, an old haunt of mine.

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Fox files cybersquatting complaint on .xxx domain

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2012, Domain Policy

Twentieth Century Fox appears to have filed a UDRP complaint over the domain name foxstudios.xxx.

The domain, which does not currently resolve, was registered to a Connecticut man in December, shortly after ICM Registry took .xxx into general availability.

It’s the fifth UDRP case in the .xxx space since late December. The others are richardbranson.xxx, valero.xxx, heb.xxx and markafoni.xxx.

While it’s a National Arbitration Forum complaint – so the identity of the complainant has not yet been disclosed – Fox Studios is a Fox subsidiary that does business at foxstudios.com.

A bit of Googling reveals that Fox Studios was also the name of a gay porn production company that won some awards in the late 1990s. Its DVDs are still for sale from several sites.

So it may not be a slam-dunk UDRP win for Fox in this case. If the registrant bothers to respond to the complaint he could probably make a decent case that it was not a bad-faith registration.

(UPDATE: Thanks to @mneylon for pointing out that foxstudios.xxx is for sale on eBay with a buy-now price of $1.9 million. Ergo: the squatter’s gonna lose.)

Incidentally, foxstudios.net appears to be owned by a small but legitimate photography business in Michigan, which I think is a perfect example of how two companies can happily share a brand using different TLDs.

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Tiny start-up secures .bank gTLD trademark

Kevin Murphy, January 12, 2012, Domain Registries

A likely new gTLD applicant has secured a US trademark on the term “.bank”.

Asif LLC, a Wisconsin start-up with an undisclosed number of employees, won approval for the trademark 4,085,335 on Tuesday, for use in “domain name registration services”.

(UPDATE: Asif actually does business now as Domain Security Company LLC, but the trademark application was filed under its former name.)

As Domain Name Wire reported last year, Asif became a Go Daddy reseller in order to provide the US Patent & Trademark Office with proof it was using the brand.

It appears the gambit was successful, and the company now has a card to play in its inevitable battle with other .bank applicants, such as the BITS/American Bankers Association project.

Mary Iqbal, Asif’s CEO, told DomainIncite today that the company also has a trademark pending in Pakistan, where it has existing business connections.

Iqbal says she’s serious about her .bank application. It’s an idea she’s been working on for a few years.

Asif has been talking to security companies about providing the security infrastructure for the gTLD and has already signed up with a registry back-end provider, she said.

All she was prepared to disclose at the moment is that one of these partners has “ground-breaking encryption technology” and that the company has solid plans for its security profile.

The .bank gTLD would of course be limited to manually verified financial institutions, Iqbal confirmed.

Explaining the reseller site used to get the trademark, Iqbal said: “We intend to use that in future to sell .bank domain names but for now we’re selling names in other TLDs.”

Asif also has a pending US trademark on “.secure”, which it also plans to apply for as a gTLD.

Iqbal said that the company plans to offer small and medium sized e-commerce businesses extra security services if they redirect their customers to their .secure domain at the checkout.

While I am unaware of any other public .secure applicants, the .bank gTLD is expected to be contested.

A joint project of the American Bankers Association and BITS, part of the Financial Services Roundtable, has already essentially confirmed that it plans to apply for .bank and possibly two other financial gTLDs, using Verisign as its back-end.

“We don’t know for sure if they’re going to apply for .bank,” Iqbal said, however. “If somebody else does apply, all I can say that we are the legal rights holder for .bank.”

Holding a trademark on a term gives companies the right to file a Legal Rights Objection against new gTLD applicants.

However, as much as I love an entrepreneur, I estimate the chances of Asif getting its .bank application approved at roughly zero, trademark or not.

There are about half a dozen different reasons Asif would probably not pass the Legal Rights Objection test, which would leave it in a contention set with other .bank applicants.

The final mechanism offered by ICANN to resolve contested gTLDs is an auction, and nobody goes into an auction against the American Bankers Association expecting to win.

ICANN also encourages applicants in contention sets to talk it out amongst themselves before resorting to auction. If Asif is lucky, a rival .bank applicant will pay it to go away before the string goes to auction.

If it’s very lucky, somebody will acquire the trademark before the company – which Iqbal said is already funded but would welcome additional investment – splashes out $185,000 on its application fee.

The Asif .bank application also stands a substantial chance of being objected to by governments.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, and in particular the influential US representative, has very strong views on gTLDs purporting to represent regulated industries.

If the GAC is faced with a choice between a .bank backed by the ABA and BITS with a Verisign back-end, and one backed by a tiny Wisconsin start-up, I believe there’s a pretty good chance the Wisconsin start-up is going to find itself on the receiving end of a GAC Advice objection.

Just a hunch.

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