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EU cancels .eu tender after Brexit cock-up

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2021, Domain Registries

The European Commission has been forced to cancel its search for a new .eu registry operator after apparently misunderstanding how Brexit works.

When the Commission put the .eu contract up for grabs last October, it said deal was only open to organizations based in the EU or the UK.

It seemed weird at the time, given that the UK had already officially left the EU and was just a few months away from terminating its year-long transition agreement, under which it still operated as if it were still a member.

And it turns out to have been a mistake, based on a misunderstanding of the legalities of the Brexit process. UK registries should never have been allowed to bid in the first place.

The Commission said today “the inclusion of the clause for applicants established in the United Kingdom in the Call was an error”.

It’s therefore scrapped the entire process and intends to relaunch it “in the near future”.

Only not-for-profit entities may apply.

.eu is currently managed by EURid, which is of course not barred from bidding to renew its longstanding contract.

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More acquisitions? GoDaddy to raise $800 million

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2021, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy said today that it plans to raise $800 million, which may be put towards future acquisitions.

The company said it is issuing that amount in senior notes to institutional investors.

The money will be used “for general corporate purposes, which may include working capital, capital expenditures and potential acquisitions and strategic transactions”, GoDaddy said.

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Facebook lawsuit brings one country’s domain to a screeching halt

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2021, Domain Registries

Bangladesh’s ccTLD registry has reportedly frozen all registrations and transfers after a cybersquatting lawsuit filed by Facebook.

According to local reports a couple weeks back, Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd has implemented Draconian pre-registration roadblocks to registration, such that only exact-match domain names are available to individuals and organizations.

And Western corporate registrar CSC said today that BTCL has “implemented a temporary suspension to registration and transfer orders due to an ongoing legal matter” and is “diligently working to draft new regulations and procedures for registration orders.”

Registrants can still manage their Whois and DNS settings as normal, CSC said.

Facebook sued the registrant of the domain facebook.com.bd last November, asking for the domain to be cancelled and for $50,000 in damages, dragging BTCL into the case.

According to reports, the domain had been registered in 2008 when the registry used a largely paper-based system, but Facebook only resorted to the courts last year when the registrant listed it for sale for $6 million.

It’s a textbook case of cybersquatting, but .bd evidently does not have the mechanisms — such as UDRP — to handle such malfeasance outside of the courts.

While a Dhaka court reportedly issued an injunction against the domain in question, it’s still resolving and still listed for sale at $6 million.

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CentralNic buys German monetization firm for up to $13 million

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2021, Domain Services

CentralNic today continued is diversification outside of its core domain business by acquiring Berlin-based monetization firm Wando.

The company said it will pay €5.4 million ($6.5 million) up front and up to €5.4 million more depending on performance through Q3 2022.

CentralNic said Wando makes €4.9 million ($5.6 million) in revenue a year, over half of which already comes through its partnership with CentalNic.

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.hotel battle lands ICANN in court over accountability dodges

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s accountability mechanisms, or lack thereof, have landed the Org in court.

Three applicants for the .hotel new gTLD have sued in California’s Superior Court in LA, claiming ICANN has consistently failed to provide true accountability, refusing for over seven years to implement fundamental mechanisms required by its bylaws.

They want the court to force ICANN to stick to its bylaws and to also temporarily freeze an Independent Review Process case related to .hotel.

The registries in question are Fegistry, Domain Venture Partners and Radix. They filed their complaint at the end of October, but ICANN did not publish it until the end of January, after its terse reply, and an administrative ruling, had also been filed with the court.

While the endgame is presumably to get the .hotel contention set pushed to auction, the lawsuit barely mentions the gTLD at all. Rather, it’s a broad-ranging challenge to ICANN’s reluctance to submit to any kind of accountability at all.

The main beef is that ICANN has not created a so-called “Standing Panel” of judges to preside over IRP cases, something that its bylaws have required since 2013.

The Standing Panel is meant to comprise seven legal experts, trained up in all things ICANN, from which the three panelists presiding over each IRP would be selected.

It would also operate as a final appeals court for IRP rulings, with all seven panelists involved in such “en banc” challenges.

The idea is to have knowledgeable panelists on a retainer to expedite IRPs and ensure some degree of consistency in decision-making, something that has often been lacking in IRP decisions to date.

Despite this requirement being in the bylaws since 2013, ICANN has consistently dragged its feet on implementation and today there still is no Standing Panel.

The .hotel plaintiffs reckon ICANN has dodged $2.7 million in fees by refusing to pick a panel, all the while offloading certain fees onto complainants.

It didn’t get the ball rolling until January 2018, but the originally anticipated, rather streamlined, selection process quickly devolved into the usual mess of ICANN bureaucracy, red tape and circular community consultation.

The latest development was in November 2020, when ICANN announced that it was looking for volunteers for a cross-community “IRP Community Representatives Group”, a team similar to the Nominating Committee. which would be responsible for picking the Standing Panel members.

The deadline to apply was December 4, and we’ve not heard anything else about the process since.

The .hotel litigants also have beef with the “sham” Request for Reconsideration process, which is notorious for enabling the board to merely reinforce its original position, which was drafted by ICANN staff lawyers, based on advice provided by those same ICANN staff lawyers.

They also take aim at the fact that ICANN’s independent Ombudsman has recused himself from any involvement in Reconsideration related to the new gTLD program, for unclear reasons.

The lawsuit (pdf) reads:

ICANN promised to implement these Accountability Mechanisms as a condition of the United States government terminating its formal oversight of ICANN in 2016 — yet still has wholly failed to do so.

Unless this Court forces ICANN to comply with its bylaws in these critical respects, ICANN will continue to force Plaintiffs and any other complaining party into the current, sham “Reconsideration” and Independent Review processes that fall far short of the Accountability Mechanisms required in its bylaws.

The plaintiffs say that ICANN reckons it will take another six to 12 months to get the Standing Panel up and running. The plaintiffs say they’re prepared to wait, but that ICANN is refusing and forcing the IRP to continue in its absence.

They also claim that ICANN was last year preparing to delegate .hotel to HTLD, the successful applicant now owned by Donuts, which forced them to pay out for an emergency IRP panelist to get the equivalent of an injunction, which cost $18,000.

That panelist declined to force ICANN to immediately appoint a Standing Panel or independent Ombudsman, however.

The .hotel plaintiffs allege breach of contract, fraud, deceit, negligence and such among the eight counts listed in the complaint, and demand an injunction forcing ICANN to implement the accountability mechanisms enshrined in the bylaws.

They also want an unspecified amount of money in punitive damages.

ICANN’s response to the complaint (pdf) relies a lot on the fact that all new gTLD applicants, including the plaintiffs in this case, signed a covenant not to sue as part of their applications. ICANN says this means they lack standing, but courts have differed of whether the covenant is fully enforceable.

ICANN also claims that the .hotel applicants have failed to state a factual case for any of their eight counts.

It further says that the complaint is just an effort to relitigate what the plaintiffs failed to win in their emergency hearing in their IRP last year.

It wants the complaint dismissed.

The court said (pdf) at the end of January that it will hold a hearing on this motion on DECEMBER 9 this year.

Whether this ludicrous delay is related to the facts of the case or the coronavirus pandemic is unclear, but it certainly gives ICANN and the .hotel applicants plenty of time for their IRP to play out to conclusion, presumably without a Standing Panel in place.

So, a win-by-default for ICANN?

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ICANN purges another dormant dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2021, Domain Registries

The 89th unwanted dot-brand has filed with ICANN for voluntarily contract termination.

Iveco, an Italian industrial vehicle manufacturer, has told ICANN it no longer wishes to run the .iveco dot-brand.

As is the case with self-terminations more often than not, the gTLD was almost completely unused, with only the obligatory nic.example domain active.

Iveco is a big ole company, with revenue of €4.9 billion ($5.9 billion) a year, so it appears to be a case of a lack of enthusiasm rather than a lack of resources.

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Conspiracy nut ordered to pay thousands to “kingpins” as “cartel” lawsuit chucked out

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2021, Domain Policy

Domain industry conspiracy theorist Graham Schreiber has been ordered to pay CAD 6,000 ($4,750) in legal fees to many of the scores of industry figures he sued as a “cartel” of “kingpins” last August.

A Canadian Federal Court judge last month threw out his rambling, incoherent complaint in its entirety, saying among other things that it was “frivolous and vexatious”, containing no allegations the defendants were capable of responding to.

Judge Angela Furlanetto summarized the case like this:

It can best be described as a wide-spread attempt by the Plaintiff to express his displeasure and frustration with his experience in his prior lawsuit in the U.S. and with the domain name system.

And:

In this case, the Plaintiff baldly asserts conspiracy, racketeering, trafficking, extortion, passing off and perjury. The Plaintiff raises these issues broadly, does not plead material facts to support the constituent elements of these causes of action, and has not identified with any clarity which defendants are asserted to have committed each of these acts and how. The who, when, where, how and what are not pleaded

In throwing out the case, she ordered that Schreiber must pay CAD 1,500 ($1,189) to each of the four sets of defendants who had responded to his complaint, to cover their legal fees.

Schreiber actually got lucky — the defendants had asked for a total closer to CAD 25,000 ($20,000), but the judge took pity on him because he was representing himself in the case.

The beneficiaries of these four payouts, should they ever be made, are GoDaddy VP James Bladel, a group comprising Jeff Ifrah, Keith Drazek, Timothy Hyland, Phil Corwin and David Deitch, Greenberg Traurig lawyers Marc Trachtenberg, David Barger, Amanda Katzenstein, Paul McGrady and Ian Ballon, and Facebook Canada.

But the suit had named dozens of other industry figures of greater or lesser prominence, in a crazy blanket rant that appears to be rooted in an old beef Schreiber has with CentralNic and Nominet related to the domain names landcruise.uk.com and landcruise.co.uk.

One of his rather bold legal gambits was to inform the court that he’d been trolling the defendants on social media for years, and that the fact he had not yet been sued for libel was evidence of a conspiracy.

Will a six grand legal bill be sufficient to get him to sit down and shut up? I guess time will tell.

Hat tip to erstwhile defendant John Berryhill for posting the ruling (pdf).

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Three ICANN directors voted against Marby’s pay rise

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2021, Domain Policy

In what may or may not have been an accidental moment of transparency, ICANN has revealed that three of its directors recently voted against giving CEO Göran Marby a pay rise.

Notes on the February 8 board meeting, which granted Marby a 5% salary increase from July, contain this tally:

Eleven Directors voted in favor of Resolution 2021.02.08.05. Three Directors voted against the Resolution. Two Directors including Göran Marby, the subject of the Resolution, were unavailable to vote. The Resolution carried.

It appears to be the first time, at least in recent years, that an ICANN board vote breakdown has been published on a matter of executive compensation.

Assuming this was a deliberate decision to increase transparency, rather than an admin screw-up, kudos to ICANN for the baby-step.

Any resolution carried by the ICANN board related to personnel matters such as pay is usually during a confidential “executive session” which is not properly minuted and doesn’t usually have a vote breakdown published.

The report does not name the dissenting directors or their arguments against the pay raise. That kind of thing would usually come in the formally approved minutes, which might not come for months and might not elaborate further.

However, when Marby sought and was granted a contract extension last year, and the vote was not unanimous, ICANN did eventually publish some information about dissenting directors’ rationales.

One director had voted against the extension partly due to issues with “the CEO’s communication style” that he believed needed to be addressed. Another abstained because she felt there should have been a formal performance review first.

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Former ICANN vice-chair Disspain joins Donuts

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2021, Domain Registries

ICANN’s influential former vice-chair, Chris Disspain, has evidently become the latest former ICANN top dog to take a job at portfolio registry Donuts.

I’m told Disspain has joined the company as senior policy advisor to CEO Akram Atallah.

He recently informed rival registries of his new move, and updated his “statement of interest” profile earlier this month to reflect his connection to Donuts.

Disspain was on ICANN’s board of directors from 2011 until October last year, when he left due to term limits. For a big chunk of that tenure he also served as vice-chair, and was often one of the more engaged and vocal of the directors.

At the start of his run, he was chair of Australian ccTLD registry auDA, but he was let go controversially in 2016.

For much of Disspain’s time on the ICANN board, new boss Atallah was serving as president of ICANN’s Global Domains Division.

Ethos Capital, which recently said it is acquiring a controlling stake in Donuts, also has a few former senior ICANNers, including CEO Fadi Chehadé, among its senior executives.

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Donuts acquires four more gTLDs, but allows one to be scrapped

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2021, Domain Registries

Donuts has acquired a portfolio of four finance-related new gTLDs, according to a source familiar with the matter, but is allowing a fifth string to fall onto the scrap heap of history.

I’m told Donuts will soon take over the ICANN contracts for .markets, .forex, .broker and .trading, which were all part of the Boston Ivy stable.

But its appears that Boston Ivy couldn’t find a buyer for .spreadbetting, which describes a complex form of gambling used in sports and financial markets, and has filed with ICANN to instead terminate its Registry Agreement.

You’ll recall that earlier this month I reported that ShortDot has acquired .cfd from Boston Ivy and plans to market it as “clothing and fashion design”, rather than its originally intended purpose of “contracts for difference”.

Both .spreadbetting and .cfd were unlaunched — both represent controversial forms of financial instrument — but the ones Donuts is acquiring already have a small number of registrations and active sites.

.markets, .forex, .trading and .broker have fewer than 4,000 registered names between them and appear to retail for between $17 and $50 per year.

I’ve lost track of precisely how many gTLD contracts Donuts currently controls, what with its recent acquisitions, but I’m pretty sure it’s pushing 300.

As for Boston Ivy, it’s game over as far as being a gTLD registry is concerned. Its only other string was .nadex, and it terminated that over a year ago.

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