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Cruz-Duffy bill would put brakes on IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2016, Domain Policy

America’s continuing unique oversight role in the DNS root management system, fuck yeah!
That’s basically the takeaway from a new bit of proposed US legislation, put forward by Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy in both houses of Congress yesterday.
The two Republican Congressmen have proposed the inappropriately named Protecting Internet Freedom Act, which is specifically designed to scupper the IANA transition at the eleventh hour.
PIFA would prevent the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from backing away from its role in the DNS root management triumvirate.
It’s supported, ironically, by a bunch of small-government right-wing think tanks and lobby groups.
If the bill is enacted, NTIA would need a further act of Congress in order to cancel or allow to expire its current IANA functions contract with ICANN
The bill (pdf) reads:

The Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information may not allow the responsibility of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration with respect to the Internet domain name system functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file and the performance of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions, to terminate, lapse, expire, be cancelled, or otherwise cease to be in effect unless a Federal statute enacted after the date of enactment of this Act expressly grants the Assistant Secretary such authority.

The bill also seeks to ensure that the US government has “sole ownership” of the .gov and .mil TLDs “in perpetuity”.
These ownership rights are not and have never been in question; the inclusion of this language in the bill looks like a cheap attempt to stir up Congresspeople’s basest jingoistic tendencies.
A Cruz press release said the IANA transition “will allow over 160 foreign governments to have increased influence over the management and operation of the Internet.”
Duffy added:

President Obama wants to hand over the keys to the Internet to countries like China and Russia. This is reckless and absurd. The governments of these countries do not value free speech. In fact, they censor the Internet and routinely repress and punish political dissidents. They cannot be trusted with something as fundamental to free speech as a free and open Internet.

It’s unfiltered scaremongering.
No country — not China, Russia, the US nor any other government — gets increased powers under the IANA transition proposal, which was painstakingly crafted by, and is now supported by, pretty much all community stakeholders over two years.
In fact, governmental power is significantly curtailed under the proposal.
Post-transition, the Governmental Advisory Committee’s current voting practice, which essentially requires unanimity, would be enshrined in ICANN’s bylaws.
If the GAC came to ICANN with advice that did not have consensus — that is, some governments formally objected to it — ICANN would be able to reject it much more easily than it can today.
The one area where the GAC does get a new role is in the so-called “Empowered Community”, a new concept that will enter the ICANN bylaws post-transition.
The Empowered Community would be a non-profit legal entity formed by the ICANN community in the exceptional event that the ICANN board goes rogue and starts doing really egregious stuff that nobody wants — for example, introducing Draconian policy regulating freedom of speech.
The EC would have the power to kick out the ICANN board members of its choice, reject the ICANN budget, throw out proposed bylaws amendments and so on. As far as ICANN is concerned, the EC would be God.
Its members, or “Decisional Participants” would be the GNSO, the ccNSO, the ALAC, the ASO and the GAC.
The fact that the GAC has a seat at the EC table is the straw that Cruz, Duffy and co grasp at when they talk about governments getting increased power in a post-transition ICANN.
But the GAC’s voice is equal to those of the other four participants, and the GAC is not allowed a vote on matters stemming from ICANN’s implementation of consensus GAC advice.
In other words, the only way Cruz’s boogeymen governments would ever get to push through a censorship policy would be if that policy was also supported by all the other governments or by the majority of the diverse, multi-stakeholder ICANN community.
The arguments of Cruz and Duffy are red herrings, in other words.
Not only that, but the US record on attempted censorship of the DNS root is hardly exemplary.
While it’s generally been quietly hands-off for the majority of the time ICANN has had its hand on the rudder, there was a notable exception.
The Bush-era NTIA, following a letter-writing campaign by the religious right — Bible-thumping Cruz’s base — exerted pressure on ICANN to reject the proposed porn-only .xxx gTLD.
So who’s the real threat here, Red China or Ted Cruz, the man who tried to ban the sale of dildos in Texas?
The Protecting Internet Freedom Act is obviously still just a bill, but Republicans still control both houses of Congress so it’s not impossible that the tens of thousands of hours the ICANN community has put into the IANA transition could be sacrificed on the altar of embarrassing the President, who is probably Kenyan anyway.

Priced to sell: $46m of two-letter .xxx names

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2016, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has added over 1,200 two-character .xxx names to its catalog of priced premiums.
With prices ranging from $100,000 to $37,500, the newly offered domains carry a total ticket price of over $46 million.
The only six-figure name on the list is vr.xxx. ICM said in a press release today it has already sold vr.porn and vr.sex for $100,000 apiece.
There are seven names with adult connotations (such as 69.xxx and bj.xxx) priced at $75,000, eight more at $50,000 and two at $40,000.
The rest of the list of 1,227 names are being offered at $37,500, which is roughly 10 times the prices on the equivalent .porn, .sex and .adult domains.
While ICM noted the interest in domain investing from China recently, it does not appear to have valued its numeric-only domains (such as 88.xxx) any more highly than less attractive-looking combinations (such as 0o.xxx).
Judging by the list published on ICM’s web site, it has already sold well over 300 two-character domains in its newest three gTLDs.
Had those sold at the buy-now prices it would have raised over $1.1 million in revenue.
But ICM since September has been offering an option to register premium names for premium annual fees that are lower than the one-off price. A $37,500 domain costs $3,000 a year to register, under this model.
The total value of ICM’s premium list, including all the longer domains, is roughly $115 million.

Third ICM windfall due as .sex hits sunrise

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2015, Domain Registries

If we’ve learned one thing about new gTLD sunrise periods, it’s that adult-oriented TLDs sell quite well.
ICM Registry started its third such period yesterday, as .sex went into its “TMCH Sunrise” phase.
Until October 1, any company with a trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse will be able to buy a matching .sex domain on a first-come, first-served basis.
From October 5 to October 30, anyone with a .xxx domain name or current .xxx “Sunrise B” block will be able to buy the matching .sex during the Domain Matching phase.
Anyone who buys a .xxx before October 1 will be able to participate in this second sunrise.
ICM reported in May that .porn received 3,995 sunrise registrations while .adult sold 3,902 — both via a combination of TMCH Sunrise sales and blocks.
At ICM’s prices, that’s enough to comfortably cover its ICANN application fees.
Every other new gTLD with the exception of .sucks has sold fewer than 1,000 sunrise names.
General availability for .sex starts November 4.

IDN .com hits the root

Eleven variants of .com and .net in non-Latin scripts joined the internet today.
Verisign’s whole portfolio of internationalized domain name new gTLDs were added to the DNS root at some point in the last 24 hours, and the company is planning to start launching them before the end of the year.
But the company has been forced to backtrack on its plans to guarantee grandfathering to thousands of existing [idn].com domains in the new domains, thereby guaranteeing a backlash from IDN domainers.
The eleven gTLDs are: .कॉम, .ком, .点看, .คอม, .नेट, .닷컴, .大拿, .닷넷, .コム, .كوم and .קוֹם. Scripts include Arabic, Cyrillic and Hebrew.
Verisign signed registry agreements with ICANN back in January, but has been trying to negotiate a way to allow it to give the owners of [idn].com domains first rights to the matching domain in the “.com” in the appropriate script.
The company laid out its plans in 2013. The idea was to reduce the risk of confusion and minimize the need for defensive registrations.
So what happened? Trademark lawyers.
Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos told financial analysts last week that due to conversations with the “community” (read: the intellectual property lobby) and ICANN, it won’t be able grandfather all existing [idn].com registrants.
All of the new IDN gTLDs will be subject to a standard ICANN Sunrise period, which means trademarks owners will have first dibs on every string.
If you own водка.com, and somebody else owns a trademark on “водка”, the trademark owner will get the first chance to buy водка.ком.
According to SeekingAlpha’s transcript, Bidzos said:

Based primarily on feedback from domain name community stakeholders, we have revised our IDN launch strategy. We will offer these new IDN top-level domains as standalone domain names, subject to normal introductory availability and rights protection mechanisms, available to all new gTLDs. This revised approach will not require ICANN approval and is designed to provide end users and businesses with the greatest flexibility and, for registrars, a simple and straightforward framework to serve the market.
Finally, we believe this approach should provide the best opportunity for increased universal acceptance of IDNs. We expect to begin a phased rollout of the IDNs towards the end of this year, and we’ll provide more information on our launch plans when appropriate.

Senior VP Pat Kane added on the call that the grandfathering provisions, which would have required ICANN approval, have been “taken out”.
The question now is whether Verisign will introduce a post-sunrise mechanism to give rights to [idn].com.
That would not be unprecedented. ICM Registry ran into similar problems getting its grandfathering program for .porn approved by ICANN. It wound up offering a limited, secondary sunrise period for existing .xxx registrants instead.

Whois privacy supporters to top 20,000

Over 20,000 people have put their names to statements slamming proposals that would ban some commercial web sites from using Whois privacy on their domains.
ICANN’s public comment period on a working group’s Whois privacy reform proposals closes today after two months, with roughly 11,000 individual comments — the vast majority against changes that would weaken privacy rights — already filed.
Separately, Michele Neylon of Blacknight Solutions, which hosts SaveDomainPrivacy.org, tells DI that a petition signed by more than 9,000 people will be submitted to ICANN tonight.
If we count the signatories as commenters, that would make this the largest ICANN comment period to date, outstripping the 14,000 comments received when religious groups objected to the approval of .xxx in 2010.
SaveDomainPrivacy.org and RespectOurPrivacy.org, separate registrar-led initiatives, are responsible for the large majority of comments.
While registrars no doubt have business reasons for objecting to the muddling the Whois privacy market, their letter-writing outreach has been based on their claims that they could be forced to unmask the Whois of vulnerable home-business owners and such.
The Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues Working Group (PPSAI) report, published in May, sketches out a framework that could allow intellectual property owners to have privacy removed from domains they suspect of hosting infringing content.
A minority position appended to the report by MarkMonitor, Facebook, LegitScript and supported by members of the Intellectual Property and Business Constituencies, would put a blanket ban on using privacy on domains used to commercially transact.

Registrars open floodgate of Whois privacy outrage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2015, Domain Policy

A letter-writing campaign orchestrated by the leading domain registrars has resulted in ICANN getting hit with over 8,000 pro-privacy comments in less than a week.
It’s the largest volume of comments received by ICANN on an issue since right-wing Christian activists deluged ICANN with protests about .xxx, back in 2010.
The comments — the vast majority of them unedited template letters — were filed in response to the GNSO Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (PPSAI) Working Group Initial Report.
That report attempts to bring privacy and proxy services, currently unregulated by ICANN, under ICANN’s contractual wing.
There are two problematic areas, as far as the registrars are concerned.
The first is the ability of trademark and copyright owners to, under certain circumstances, have the registrant of a privately registered name unmasked.
Upon receiving such a request, privacy services would have 15 days to obtain a response from their customer. They’d then have to make a call as to whether to reveal their contact information to the IP owner or not.
Possibly the most controversial aspect of this is described here:

Disclosure cannot be refused solely for lack of any of the following: (i) a court order; (ii) a subpoena; (iii) a pending civil action; or (iv) a UDRP or URS proceeding; nor can refusal to disclose be solely based on the fact that the request is founded on alleged intellectual property infringement in content on a website associated with the domain name.

In other words, the privacy services (in most cases, also the registrar) would be forced make a judgement on whether web site content is illegal, in the absence of a court order, before removing Whois privacy on a domain.
The second problematic area is an “additional statement” on domains used for commercial activity, appended to the PPSAI report, penned by MarkMonitor on behalf of Facebook, LegitScript, DomainTools, IP attorneys Smith, Gambreall & Russell, and itself.
Those companies believe it should be against the rules for anyone who commercially transacts via their web site to use Whois privacy.
Running ads on a blog, say, would be fine. But asking for, for example, credit card details in order to transact would preclude you from using privacy services.
The PPSAI working group didn’t even approach consensus on this topic, and it’s not a formal recommendation in its report.
Regardless, it’s one of the lynchpins of the current registrar letter-writing campaigns.
A page at SaveDomainPrivacy.org — the site backed by dozens of registrars big and small — describes circumstances under which somebody would need privacy even though they engage in e-commerce.
Home-based businesses, shelters for domestic abuse victims that accept donations, and political activists are all offered up as examples.
Visitors to the site are (or were — the site appears to be down right now (UPDATE: it’s back up)) invited to send a comment to ICANN supporting:

The legitimate use of privacy or proxy services to keep personal information private, protect physical safety, and prevent identity theft
The use of privacy services by all, for all legal purposes, regardless of whether the website is “commercial”
That privacy providers should not be forced to reveal my private information without verifiable evidence of wrongdoing

The content of the site was the subject of a sharp disagreement between MarkMonitor and Tucows executives last Saturday during ICANN 53. I’d tell you exactly what was said, but the recording of the relevant part of the GNSO Saturday session has not yet been published by ICANN.
Another site, which seems to be responsible for the majority of the 8,000+ comments received this week, is backed by the registrar NameCheap and the digital civil rights groups the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight For The Future.
NameCheap appears to be trying to build on the reputation it started to create for itself when it opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act a few years ago, going to so far as to link the Whois privacy reforms to SOPA on the campaign web site, which says:

Your privacy provider could be forced to publish your contact data in WHOIS or even give it out to anyone who complains about your website, without due process. Why should a small business owner have to publicize her home address just to have a website?
We think your privacy should be protected, regardless of whether your website is personal or commercial, and your confidential info should not be revealed without due process. If you agree, it’s time to tell ICANN.

The EFF’s involvement seems to have grabbed the attention of many reporters in the general tech press, generating dozens of headlines this week.
The public comment period on the PPSAI initial report ends July 7.
If it continues to attract attention, it could wind up being ICANN’s most-subscribed comment period ever.
Do geeks care about privacy more than Christians care about porn? We’ll find out in a week and a half.

ICM claws back 68 .porn names it accidentally released

ICM Registry has recovered nine .porn and .adult domain names from their registrants after they were accidentally released into the market.
Domains such as ads.porn, hosting.adult and buy.porn were among those snapped up by registrants, despite the fact that they were supposed to be registry-reserved.
ICM CEO Stuart Lawley told DI that a list of 68 .porn/.adult names (34 strings in each of the two gTLDs) have been brought back into the registry’s portfolio.
Only nine had been registered in the less than 24 hours the names were in the available pool, he said.
Lawley said it was his own personal fault for not sending the reserved list to back-end provider Afilias.
The affected registrants have been offered a domain from ICM’s premium list up to the value of $2,500 for each of the names ICM took back, he said.
Only one registrant has so far declined the offer, Lawley said.
Konstantinos Zournas of OnlineDomain, who broke the news about ads.porn yesterday, identifies this former registrant as “James” and reported that he is taking legal advice.
This is not the first time that a registry has accidentally released reserved names into the pool, where they were subsequently snapped up by domainers.
In January, .CLUB Domains accidentally sold credit.club, a name it had planned to keep on its premium reserved list for $200,000, for $10.99.
In that case, .CLUB honored the purchase after the buyer agreed to develop the site, scoring many brownie points in the domain investor community.
Both .CLUB and ICM have terms in their agreements allowing domains accidentally released to be recovered.
In ICM’s case, the names it accidentally released were not premiums, but rather domains that the registry plans to use as part of its own business — not to be sold at any price.
It used buy.xxx as a cornerstone of its .xxx marketing, for example, and it plans to use buy.porn and buy.adult for the exact same purpose.

ICM beats own annual projections with .porn on day one

ICM Registry says it managed to comfortably beat its own expectations for annual sales within the first eight hours of .porn and .adult going into general availability yesterday.
CEO Stuart Lawley said that there were 10,038 .porn domains and 8,277 .adult domains in its registry at the end of yesterday.
The company’s new gTLD applications with ICANN had predicted 10,000 .porn domains and 3,000 .adult domains at the end of the first year of availability, he said.
“We are therefore delighted to have exceeded those numbers on day one of GA,” he said. “We are particularly pleased with the high numbers from .adult.”
The majority of the names were registered either during the sunrise periods (ICM had two per TLD) or the recently ended “domain matching” program, which gave .xxx owners first dibs on matching .porn and .adult names.
A month ago, the company said .porn received 3,995 registrations while .adult had 3,902 at the end of the sunrises.
Earlier this week, after domain matching ended, Lawley said that .porn had almost 7,500 names while .adult had almost 7,000.
ICM will launch .sex in September.

.porn and .adult sunrises net around 8,000 sales

The sunrise periods for .porn and .adult netted just shy of 4,000 domains per TLD, according to ICM Registry.
The company said .porn received 3,995 registrations while .adult trailed slightly with 3,902.
Those numbers are a combination of regular Trademark Clearinghouse sunrise registrations and Sunrise B registrations.
The ICANN-mandated sunrise periods ended April 1 and were followed by unique Sunrise B periods, during which anyone who bought a .xxx block in 2011 could register the matching new gTLD names.
This time, however, Sunrise B domains actually do resolve.
I believe the the Sunrise B phases accounted for something like 1,500 names apiece.
The previous high bar for 2012-round new gTLD sunrises was .london, with just over 800 registrations.
While .porn and .adult may be record breakers for this round, sales were just a twentieth of the levels seen when .xxx launched in 2011 — about 80,000 names were defensively registered back then.
Later this week, ICM will kick off another launch phase — Domain Matching — during which anyone who owned a .xxx domain prior to April 30 can get their matching .porn and .adult names.
General availability is scheduled for June 4.

ICM sells tube.xxx (again) in $500,000 deal

Kevin Murphy, April 7, 2015, Domain Sales

ICM Registry has sold the premium domain name tube.xxx for a second time, after repurchasing it from the original buyer.
The sale was part of a $500,000 package that also included livecam.xxx, affair.xxx and hookups.xxx.
The buyer this time is Inn Productions, a previous supporter of .xxx.
The tube.xxx domain was originally sold to a porn producer called Really Useful as part of a deal that also include the plural, tubes.xxx.
But after Really Useful was acquired by former ICM nemesis Manwin Licensing, ICM reacquired the undeveloped domain to resell later.