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Pritz to defend ICANN in Congress

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has confirmed that Kurt Pritz, its point man for the new top-level domains program, will represent the organization at a Congressional hearing next week.

As I reported yesterday, The House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet will hold an “ICANN Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Oversight Hearing” on May 4.

Pritz is senior vice president of stakeholder relations. He has led the development of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook for the last few years.

Some, such as GNSO Council chair Stephane Van Gelder, have already expressed surprise that ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom will not be attending.

The last time Congress dragged ICANN to Capitol Hill, in 2009, it was former CEO Paul Twomey who took the brunt of the questioning.

As Domain Name Wire recounts, ICANN took a good kicking on that particular occasion.

The focus of next week’s hearing is expected to be the intellectual property implications of new TLDs.

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Congress to question new TLDs rollout

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2011, Domain Policy

The US Congress is to investigate ICANN’s new top-level domains program next week.

The House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet will hold an “ICANN Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) Oversight Hearing” on Wednesday May 4 at 10am local time.

The hearing has been called at the direction of the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte.

The list of witnesses has yet to be published, but I’d be surprised if we don’t see a representative of the intellectual property lobby in attendance.

It will also be interesting to see who from ICANN is put forward to defend the new gTLD program.

ICANN is accustomed to being hauled over the coals on Capitol Hill every year or so, but I believe that this is the first time it has been subject to a US “oversight” hearing since it signed the Affirmation of Commitments in September 2009.

The AoC ostensibly separated ICANN from direct US control, in favor of a multi-stakeholder approach that gave voice to all national governments.

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Was Facebok.com really stolen?

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2011, Domain Policy

The domain name’s strange history raises questions.

The typo domain facebok.com is currently at the center of an unusual legal battle that has put a respected domain name registrar’s ICANN accreditation at risk.

EuroDNS, as I reported last week, has been handed an ICANN breach notice for failing to transfer the domain to Facebook, which won it in a slam-dunk UDRP complaint last September.

If it does not hand over the domain by May 11, it stands to lose its ability to sell domain names.

But the registrar says it is a defendant in a lawsuit, filed in its native Luxembourg, which has put a jurisdictional question mark over its ability to legally transfer the domain.

According to EuroDNS, the suit was filed by a company calling itself “Facebok.com Inc”, on September 24 last year, just one week after the UDRP case was decided.

This suspiciously named company alleges that the domain is its rightful property, and that it was stolen by the respondent in the UDRP case, one Franz Bauer of Munich, Germany.

The suit names Bauer, Facebook and EuroDNS as defendants.

A review of historical Whois records shows that Bauer has been associated with the domain facebok.com since August 2009, after it emerged from a few years behind a Whois privacy shield.

The address in the Whois, then and now, seems to be a hotel in Munich.

However, on September 21, 2010, a few days after WIPO informed Bauer he had lost the UDRP, the contact information in the Whois changed to a Hushmail email address and:

Company: FACEBOK.COM, INC.
Name: Facebok Domains Facebok Admininstrator
Address: IPASA Building, 3rd Floor, 41 Street Off Balboa Avenue, Bella Vista District
City: Panama City
Country: PANAMA
Postal Code: 83256

That address is shared by Panama Offshore Legal Services, a company that offers corporate formation services to individuals outside of Panama, with the promise of “global asset protection, privacy, investment diversification, tax minimization, affordability and convenience.”

Facebok.com Inc, which is suing EuroDNS, Facebook and Bauer, therefore appears to be an offshore shell company. The question is: who’s behind it?

At the time the domain’s Whois changed from Bauer to Facebok.com Inc, it was in ClientTransferProhibited status, meaning it could not be transferred to another registrar, but that the registrant was free to change his contact information at will.

By early October, the Whois record had reverted back to Bauer.

The domain facebok.com currently directs fat-fingered web surfers to a variety of affiliate scams, depending on where they live, that rely upon users completing spurious surveys and not reading the fine print when they sign up for pricey mobile phone messaging services.

With 500 million Facebook users, many of whom will be youngsters, silver surfers, or may not use ASCII as their primary script, the site is likely to be getting a fair bit of traffic.

Compete.com estimates it received roughly 4,000 to 8,000 visits per month last year. Alexa gives the site a rank of roughly 154,000. Both sites show a huge traffic spike in March.

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.CO to accredit 20 more registrars

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2011, Domain Registries

.CO Internet is looking for more registrars to start selling .co domain names.

The company has just released a request for proposals, saying it plans to accredit up to 20 new registrars over the next 12 months.

.CO’s registrar channel was limited by its agreement with the Colombian government to 10 registrars in its first year of business – the government had originally wanted only three, to limit gaming – but that restriction no longer applies.

While there are only 10 .co registrars currently, a few of them operate reseller channels or gateways that have enabled unaccredited registrars to also sell the domains, albeit on non-optimal terms.

According to the RFP, .CO is particularly interested in registrars that are willing to promote the .co TLD by either bringing it to new markets or making it the subject of special marketing campaigns.

While .co operates outside of ICANN control, the company is sticking to its policy of only accepting ICANN-accredited registrars into its channel.

Also, only registrars that are already accredited to sell .biz domains (as well as .com and .net) will be able to offer .co, presumably due to the fact that Neustar is the registry provider for both.

This effectively excludes about 115 registrars, many of which are shell or legacy accreditations used for drop-catching.

There are certain unspecified “special considerations” that apply to corporate-focused registrars, according to the RFP, presumably because they tend to be rather low-volume and generally focused on defensive registrations.

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Aussies to back city TLD bids

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2011, Domain Registries

Australian authorities are planning to back bids for .melbourne and .sydney top-level domains, according to a report in The Australian.

The article quotes an official from the New South Wales Premier’s Office saying there’s a plan to release a tender for the right to operate .sydney, and somebody from the City of Melbourne saying they’re “actively considering” .melbourne.

The report does not spell out the expected uses of the TLDs. I expect some of the strategy will depend on what business plans the successful registry operator comes up with.

The current draft of ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook protects city names, demanding applicants show proof of support or non-objection from the relevant public authorities.

The only exception is when the applied-for string matches a non-capital city name, but is not intended to represent that city.

That’s designed to allow brand or generic TLDs that match smaller place names — think .phoenix or .buffalo.

With the latest revision of the Guidebook, it is noted that it is up for national governments to decide what the appropriate entity to support a city TLD bid is, which could complicate matters,

There’s already a Facebook group devoted to a .melbourne application.

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