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Stop the nonsense about TLD-squatting

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2012, Domain Policy

Barely a day has passed recently without a news report about how companies are being forced to apply for new top-level domains to prevent cybersquatters moving in on their brands.

It’s complete nonsense, of course, brought about by a lack of basic research coupled with years of bad feeling towards the domain name industry and an ICANN new gTLDs outreach campaign that spent six months failing to effectively tackle widely held misconceptions.

Cybersquatters are not going to apply for new gTLDs. If they do, they won’t be approved.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that we’re not going to see lots of “defensive” new gTLD applications.

Due to the way the program is structured, it may actually make strategic sense for some companies to apply for a dot-brand gTLD even if they are otherwise pretty clueless about domain names.

It worries me to think that a few years from now the TLD space – which is currently running at almost 100% utilization – will start to resemble the second level in pretty much every major TLD, with lots of essentially unused, redundant defensive domain names.

I don’t think this will be good for the domain name industry or ICANN.

That said, what looks good for ICANN and the domain name industry is of little concern to brand owners – they just want to make sure their brands are not damaged by the program.

I’ve written a 4,500-word paper analyzing the actual need for companies to file “defensive” gTLD applications, which is now available to DomainIncite PRO subscribers.

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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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