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For only the second time, ICANN tells the GAC to get stuffed

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has decided to formally disagree with its Governmental Advisory Committee for what I believe is only the second time in the organization’s history.

In a letter to new GAC chair Thomas Schneider today, ICANN chair Steve Crocker took issue with the fact that the GAC recently advised the board to cut the GNSO from a policy-making decision.

The letter kick-starts a formal “Consultation Procedure” in which the board and GAC try to reconcile their differences.

It’s only the second time, I believe, that this kind of procedure — which has been alluded to in the ICANN bylaws since the early days of the organization — has been invoked by the board.

The first time was in 2010, when the board initiated a consultation with the GAC when they disagreed about approval of the .xxx gTLD.

It was all a bit slapdash back then, but the procedure has since been formalized somewhat into a seven-step process that Crocker outlined in an attachment to his letter (pdf) today.

The actual substance of the disagreement is a bit “inside baseball”, relating to the long-running (embarrassing, time-wasting) saga over protection for Red Cross/Red Crescent names in new gTLDs.

Back in June at the ICANN 50 public meeting in London, the GAC issued advice stating:

the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process

A Policy Development Process is the mechanism through which the multi-stakeholder GNSO creates new ICANN policies. Generally, a PDP takes a really long time.

The GNSO had already finished a PDP that granted protection to the names of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in multiple scripts across all new gTLDs, but the GAC suddenly decided earlier this year that it wanted the names of 189 national Red Cross organizations protected too.

And it wasn’t prepared to wait for another PDP to get it.

So, in its haste to get its changing RC/RC demands met by ICANN, the GAC basically told ICANN’s board to ignore the GNSO.

That was obviously totally uncool — a slap in the face for the rest of the ICANN community and a bit of an admission that the GAC doesn’t like to play nicely in a multi-stakeholder context.

But it would also be, Crocker told Schneider today, a violation of ICANN’s bylaws:

The Board has concerns about the advice in the London Communiqué because it appears to be inconsistent with the framework established in the Bylaws granting the GNSO authority to recommend consensus policies to the Board, and the Board to appropriately act upon policies developed through the bottom-up consensus policy developed by the GNSO.

Now that Crocker has formally initiated the Consultation Procedure, the process now calls for a series of written and face-to-face interactions that could last as long as six months.

While the GAC may not be getting the speedy resolution it so wanted, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has nevertheless already voted to give the Red Cross and Red Crescent the additional protections the GAC wanted, albeit only on a temporary basis.

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.sucks domains “will not be $25k”

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Vox Populi Registry, which won the auction for the .sucks new gTLD last week, says its Sunrise prices will not be $25,000 a year after all.

The company has further denied that its general availability prices will be $300 a year.

As DI reported earlier today, the Momentous affiliate beat off competition from Donuts and Top Level Spectrum to win the .sucks contention set.

We reported it was likely to be controversial due to the high prices Vox Populi had previously revealed.

But CEO John Berard, while neither confirming or denying that Vox Populi won the auction, told DI tonight that the company has had a rethink of its pricing strategy.

“We are considering something much more in line with current pricing practices,” he said.

While Berard would not discuss numbers, current pricing practices among new gTLDs tend to be in the $10 to $150 range for GA names and a few hundred for Sunrise registrations.

That’s a far cry from the $25,000 a year Sunrise fee the registry hopeful aired last December.

Berard added that .sucks under Vox Populi would have additional rights protection mechanisms beyond the mandatory set all new gTLDs must carry, but he could not yet provide specifics.

My criticisms of the company’s .sucks have been concerned entirely with its pricing, which I thought would bring the industry into disrepute. If its proposed fees have been lowered, that can only be a good thing.

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Momentous pays over $3 million for .sucks

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Momentous Corp, whose .sucks application has been branded “predatory”, has won the three-way contention set for the new gTLD, according to sources with knowledge of the auction.

The company paid over $3 million for the string, one source said.

Momentous affiliate Vox Populi Registry beat Donuts and Top Level Spectrum, the other applicants, at a private auction I gather was managed by Applicant Auction.

It’s likely to be a controversial win.

Vox Populi has said it plans to charge $25,000 per year for a single Sunrise registration, leading some (myself included) to believe its business model is to exploit the fears of brand owners.

(UPDATE: The company has changed its mind about pricing. It says it won’t charge $25,000 after all.)

In March, US Senator Jay Rockefeller branded the plan nothing more than a “predatory shakedown scheme” with “no socially redeeming value”.

But the company’s CEO, John Berard, told DI last year that .sucks will be an “innovative part of customer service, retention and loyalty”.

Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a customer feedback tool that companies can budget alongside other pricey items such as retaining a PR agency, for example.

The registry plans to have strict rules against cyber-bullying. The proposed $300-a-year general availability price tag is likely to keep it out of the hands of most schoolyard bullies.

There will also be a “zero tolerance” policy toward parked domains and pornography, according to its web site.

That’s unlikely to calm the concerns of trademark owners, however.

.sucks is a gTLD that many advisers have been characterizing as a “must-have” for companies worried about their online image, rather like .xxx was a few years ago.

Vox Populi started accepting Sunrise pre-registrations for $2,500 on its web site last December, but that offer does not appear to be still available.

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.wine applicants changing tune on geo protection?

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Aggressive lobbying of ICANN by the wine-making industries on both sides of the Atlantic may be about to bear fruit.

Applicants for .wine and .vin are talking to the organization about providing special protection for a list of “geographic indicator” terms, according to CEO Fadi Chehade.

In a letter to French secretary of state for digital Axelle Lemaire published last week, Chehade said:

The parties involved are now working on devising a mechanism which would offer protections to a reserved list of names, which would be contractually protected through ICANN’s registry agreement, along with a set of rules around how those names could be distributed to parties that have interests in and the rights to them. Once they are finalized, ICANN would be charged with monitoring and ensuring compliance with these commitments.

While the details have not yet been revealed, this appears to be what wine makers have been looking for.

GIs are terms such as “Napa Valley” and “Champagne”. While they are protected under various national and international laws, they don’t enjoy the same degree of global recognition as trademarks.

They do not qualify for inclusion in the Trademark Clearinghouse, so would not automatically be protected when .wine and .vin launch.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was unable to reach consensus on what should be done about GIs. European countries wanted protections, but the US, Canada and Australia were against the idea.

Wine makers presented a pretty unified front, however, even when they did not benefit from the support of their own governments.

Industry groups and the European Commission had separately started Cooperative Engagement Processes with ICANN — a prelude to filing Independent Review Process complaints.

These CEPs are evidently what kick-started the current negotiations.

There are three applicants for .wine — Donuts, Famous Four and Afilias. Only Donuts has applied for .vin.

Donuts declined to comment on the talks referred to in the Chehade letter.

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DreamHost hit with big breach notice

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registrars

DreamHost, a web hosting provider which says it hosts over 1.3 million web sites, has been hit with a lengthy ICANN compliance notice, largely concerning alleged Whois failures.

The breach notice raises questions about the company’s popular free Whois privacy service.

Chiefly, DreamHost has failed to demonstrate that it properly investigates Whois inaccuracy complaints, as required by the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, according to ICANN.

The notice contains numerous other complaints about alleged failures to publish information about renewal fees, its directors and abuse contacts on its web site.

The domain highlighted by ICANN in relation to the Whois failure is senect.com

ICANN sent three compliance notices to DreamHost concerning a Whois inaccuracy report for the domain name and requested DreamHost demonstrate that it took reasonable steps to investigate the Whois inaccuracy claims. DreamHost’s failure to provide documentation demonstrating the reasonable steps it took to investigate and correct the alleged Whois inaccuracy is a breach of Section 3.7.8 of the RAA.

Weirdly, senect.com has been under private registration at DreamHost since the start of 2012.

ICANN seems to be asking the registrar to investigate itself in this case.

DreamHost offers private registration to its customers for free. It populates the Whois with proxy contact information and the registrant name “A Happy DreamHost Customer”.

DomainTools associates “A Happy DreamHost Customer” with over 710,000 domain names.

As an accredited registrar, DreamHost had over 822,000 gTLD domain names at the last count. According to its web site, it has over 400,000 customers.

The breach notice also demands the company immediately start including the real contact information for its privacy/proxy customers in its data escrow deposits.

ICANN has given the company until November 21 to resolve a laundry list of alleged RAA breaches, or risk losing its accreditation.

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