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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.