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ICANN to water down contract powers with “Public Interest Amendments”

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has made a few tweaks to its proposed unilateral-right-to-amend powers in order to fend off open hostility from registries, registrars and new gTLD applicants.

The organization is set to announce “Public Interest Amendments”, a rebadged version of its hugely unpopular proposals for the Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

As previously reported, ICANN wants to be able to change both contracts in future, if there’s a “substantial and compelling need”, even if it does not have the majority support of the affected companies.

CEO Fadi Chehade has reportedly indicated that he won’t be budged on the need for some method for ICANN to make emergency changes to the contracts.

And during last night’s new gTLD applicants webinar, he made it clear that the RA and RAA will delay the launch of new gTLDs if registries and registrars cannot agree to ICANN’s terms.

But according to documentation seen by DI today — actually a flowchart of how the amendment process would work — these terms are going to be watered down, giving more power to commercial stakeholders.

Apart from the new Pubic Interest Amendment name, there appear to be three big changes.

First, there would be a way for registrars and/or registries to make a late-stage counter-proposal to the ICANN board if they didn’t like the look of a proposed amendment.

Second, any issues that fell within the so-called “picket fence” — the list of pre-agreed topics for which ICANN is allowed to make binding policy — would have to go into a formal GNSO Policy Development Process first.

Only if the PDP failed to reach consensus would the ICANN board of directors be able to step in and attempt to legislate unilaterally.

A practical effect of that would be to give contracted parties ample opportunity to delay amendments — possibly by years — that they weren’t happy with.

Third, PIAs would only cover changes designed to “ensure competition & consumer choice and promote consumer access to fair business practices” and explicitly “not to change ICANN fees, Consensus Policy Spec., or mechanism to change PIA process”.

This would prevent ICANN unilaterally amending the contract to make its amendment powers even stronger in future, which had been one criticism of the proposed process.

“The board’s ability to introduce an amendment is very tightly defined and limited in scope, so it’s only used in extreme cases and under very strict conditions,” Chehade said last night.

It appears — though I can’t be certain — that ICANN has also decided that the full board of directors, including those with identified conflicts of interest, would be able to participate in votes on PIAs.

That would mean registry and registrar representatives to the board would get to vote on amendments affecting their stakeholder groups.

Chehade is currently explaining all of this to a cautiously optimistic Registry Stakeholder Group on a conference call, and I believe more information is due to be published later this week.

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ICANN: about 274 new gTLD objections filed

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Policy

There have been roughly 274 formal objections against new gTLD applications, ICANN said last night.

During a webinar with applicants, new gTLD program manager Christine Willet broke down the numbers. There have been:

  • 67 String Confusion Objections — these are of the “your TLD looks like my TLD” variety.
  • 71 Legal Rights Objections — “Your TLD looks like my trademark”
  • 23 Limited Public Interest Objections — “Your TLD infringes human rights”
  • 113 Community Objections — “Your TLD screws over my community”

Willett stressed that the numbers are based on ICANN’s non-comprehensive insight and subject to a couple of caveats.

The number could be higher if ICANN was not copied in on some objections sent to arbitration panels, or lower if the panels throw some out for not passing baseline administrative checks.

Judging by the small number of objections to be revealed by the World Intellectual Property Organization — which is handling trademark disputes for ICANN — most LROs so far are applicant versus applicant.

The International Chamber of Commerce has not yet published any information about Community Objections or Limited Public Interest Objections.

The International Center for Dispute Resolution has only revealed one String Confusion Objection so far, which we reported on a couple weeks ago.

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Tucows, Directi and Namecheap to combine .online gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Registries

Three applicants for the .online gTLD appear to have settled their differences in what I believe is the first public example of new gTLD contention set consolidation.

Tucows, Directi and Namecheap said today that that they plan to “work together to manage the .online registry.” From the press release:

applicants for the same TLDs have begun to compete, negotiate, and, in some cases, join forces to ultimately produce one winning bid.

The first such alliance was revealed today, when domain industry veterans Directi, Tucows and Namecheap announced that they would work together to manage the .online registry.

The companies are of course three of the most successful domain name registrars out there.

The press release does not specify how the combination will be carried out. Under ICANN rules, two of the applicants would have to drop their applications. It’s not possible to resubmit as a joint venture.

It also does not acknowledge that there are three other applicants for .online — Donuts and smaller portfolio applicants Dot Online LLC and I-REGISTRY Ltd — which are not party to the agreement.

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Chutzpah alert! “Tube” domainer objects to Google’s .tube gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Registries

Remember the “mystery gTLD applicant” that had promised to campaign against Google’s closed generic gTLD applications?

It turns out the company behind the campaign is actually Latin American Telecom, one of the three applicants for .tube, and that part of its strategy is a Legal Rights Objection.

According to a copy of the LRO kindly provided to DI this week, LAT claims that if Google gets to run .tube it would harm its Tube brand, for which it has a US trademark.

If you haven’t heard of Latin American Telecom, it, despite the name, appears to be primarily a domainer play. Founded in Mexico and based in Pittsburgh, its main claim to fame seems to be owning Mexico.com.

The company says it has also been building a network of roughly 1,500 video sites, all of which have a generic word or phrase followed by “tube.com” in their domains, since 2008.

It owns, for example, the domains IsraelTube.com, MozartTube.com, LabradorTube.com, AmericanWaterSpanielTube.com, DeepSeaFishingTube.com… you get the idea.

They’re all cookie-cutter microsites that pull their video content from Vimeo. Most or all of them appear to be hosted on the same server.

I’d be surprised if some of LAT’s domains, such as BlockbusterTube.com, PlaymateTube.com, FortyNinersTube.com and NascarTube.com, didn’t have trademark issues of their own.

But LAT was also granted a US trademark for the word TUBE almost a year ago, following a 2008 application, which gives it a basis to bring an LRO against Google.

According to its LRO:

The proposed purposes of and registrant limitations proposed for .TUBE by Google demonstrate that the intended purpose of Google’s .TUBE acquisition is to deprive other potential registry operators of an opportunity to build gTLD platforms for competition and innovation that challenge YouTube’s Internet video dominance. It is clear that Google’s intended use for .TUBE is identical to Objector’s TUBE Domain Channels and directly competes with Objector’s pre-existing trademark rights

There’s quite a lot of chutzpah being deployed here.

Would LAT’s ramschackle collection of –tube domains have any meaning at all were YouTube not so phenomenally successful? Who’s leveraging whose brand here, really?

For LAT to win its objection it has to show, among other things, that its TUBE trademark is famous and that Google being awarded .tube would impair its brand in some way.

But the company’s LRO is vague when it come to answering “Whether and to what extent there is recognition in the relevant sector of the public of the sign corresponding to the gTLD”.

It relies surprisingly heavily on its Twitter accounts — which have fewer followers than, for example, DI — rather than usage of its web sites, to demonstrate the success of the TUBE brand.

I don’t think its objection to Google’s .tube application is a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination.

There is a third .tube gTLD applicant, Donuts, but it has not yet received any LROs, according to WIPO’s web site.

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Neustar leading the new gTLD back-end scores so far

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2013, Domain Registries

New gTLD applications backed by registry service provider Neustar scored the highest results in the first batch of Initial Evaluation results.

All 27 of the applications that have had their IE results revealed by ICANN so far have easily passed the 22 out of 30 points threshold required for a passing score on the technical evaluation.

In most cases, each application had its technical questions answered by the applicant’s chosen back-end provider.

Eight different back-ends are involved in the first 27 bids, some with more applications than others.

Here’s the average score out of 30 for each company.

Back-EndNumber of AppsAverage Score
Neustar529.6
KSregistry129
Demand Media Europe129
Verisign729
ARI Registry Services527.6
Knet427.5
CORE227
CentralNic226

Only Neustar and Verisign scored the full 30 points in an application with their name on it, but their averages were reduced by applications in which they fared less well.

It’s very early days, of course, with the full set of IE results not due to be completely published until August.

We’ll be tracking these scores as more results are released on DI PRO.

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