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Round-up of the ICANN new TLDs comment period

Today is the deadline to file comments on version four of ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook for prospective new top-level domain registries.

Of the few dozen comments filed, the majority involve special pleading in one way or another – everybody has something to lose or gain from the contents of the DAG.

That said, I’ve read all the comments filed so far (so you don’t have to) and lots of good points are raised. It’s clear that whatever the final Applicant Guidebook contains, not everybody will get what they want.

Here’s a non-comprehensive round-up, organized by topic.

Trademark Protection

Trademark holders were among the first to file comments on DAG v4. As I’ve previously reported, Lego was first off the mark with an attempt to convince ICANN that the concerns of the IP lobby have not yet been resolved.

Since then, a few more of the usual suspects from the IP constituency, such as Verizon and InterContinental Hotels, have filed comments.

The concerns are very similar: the Universal Rapid Suspension process for trademark infringements is too slow and expensive, the Trademark Clearinghouse does not remove cost or prevent typosquatting, not enough is done to prevent deadbeat registries.

Verizon, a long-time opponent of the new TLD program and a rigorous enforcer of its trademarks, used its letter to raise the issue of cybercrime and hit on pressure points relating to compliance.

It brings up the KnujOn report (pdf) released in Brussels, which accused ICANN registrars of being willfully blind to customer abuses, and the fact that ICANN compliance head David Giza recently quit.

Two IP-focused registrars also weighed in on trademark protection.

Com Laude’s Nick Wood filed a very good point-by-point breakdown of why the URS process has become too bloated to be considered “rapid” in the eyes of trademark holders.

Fred Felman of MarkMonitor covers the same ground on rights protection mechanisms, but also questions more fundamentally whether ICANN has shown that the new TLD round is even economically desirable.

Felman has doubts that new gTLDs will do anything to create competition in the domain name market, writing:

the vast majority of gTLDs currently being proposed in this round are gTLDs that hide traditional domain registration models behind a veil of purported innovation and creativity

Well, I guess somebody had to say it.

Fees

There are concerns from the developing world that $185,000, along with all the associated costs of applying for a TLD, is too steep a price to pay.

The “African ICANN Community” filed a comment a month ago asking ICANN to consider reducing or waiving certain fees in order to make the program more accessible for African applicants.

Several potential TLD registries also think it’s unfair that applicants have to pay $185,000 for each TLD they want to run, even if it’s basically the same word in multiple scripts.

Constantine Roussos, who intends to apply for .music, reiterated the points he brought up during the ICANN board public forum in Brussels last month.

Roussos believes that applicants should not have to pay the full $185,000 for each non-ASCII internationalized domain name variant of their primary TLD.

He wrote that he intends to apply for about six IDN versions of .music, along with some non-English Latin-script variants such as .musique.

Antony Van Couvering of registry consultant Minds + Machines and .bayern bidder Bayern Connect both echo this point, noting that many geographical names have multiple IDN variants – Cologne//Koeln/Köln, for example.

Roussos also notes, wisely I think, that it appears to be a waste of money paying consultants to evaluate back-end registry providers for applicants who choose to go with an recognized incumbent such as VeriSign, NeuStar or Afilias.

Another request for lower fees comes from the Japan Internet Domain Name Council, which thinks geographical TLD applications from small cities should receive a discount, as well as a waiver of any fees usually required to object to a third-party application.

Contended Strings and Front-Running

Of the known proposed TLDs, there are several strings that will very likely be contended by multiple bidders. This has led to maneuvering by some applicants designed to increase their chances of winning.

Roussos suggested that applicants such as his own .music bid, which have made their plans public for years, should be awarded bonus points during evaluation.

This would help prevent last-minute con artists stepping in with “copy-paste” bids for widely publicized TLDs, in the hope of being paid off by the original applicant, he indicated.

Roussos thinks the amount of work his .music has done in raising community awareness around new TLDs has earned the company extra credit.

It’s a thought echoed by Markus Bahmann, dotBayern’s chairman, and his counterpart at dotHamburg.

The opposing view is put forward by rival .bayern bidder Bayern Connect’s Caspar von Veltheim. He reckons such a system would put “insiders” at an unfair advantage.

M+M’s Van Couvering also said he opposes any applicant getting special treatment and added that M+M wants an explicit ban on trademark front-running included in the DAG.

Front-running is the practice of registering a TLD as a trademark in order to gain some special advantage in the new TLD evaluation process or in court afterward.

(M+M’s owner, Top Level Domain Holdings, has reportedly been front-running itself – attempting to defensively register trademarks in the likes of .kids, .books and .poker, while simultaneously trying to fight off similar attempts from potential rivals.)

Roussos of .music responded directly to M+M this afternoon, presenting the opposite view and promising to use its trademarks to defend itself (I’m assuming he means in court) if another .music applicant prevails.

Rest assured that if we, as .MUSIC are faced with the possibility of being gamed and abused in a manner that we find illegal, we will use our trademarks and other means necessary to do what we have to do to protect ourselves and our respective community.

He said .music is trademarked in 20 countries.

Morality and Public Order

This was a hot topic in Brussels, after the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee agreed that it did not like the “MOPO” objection provisions of DAG v4, but could not think of a better replacement.

MOPO would give a way for governments to scupper bids if they do not like the morality implications. Anybody applying for .gay, for example, would have to deal with this kind of nonsense.

Jacob Malthouse of BigRoom, one of the would-be .eco bidders, reckons ICANN should treat the GAC the same as it treated the GNSO on the issue of vertical integration – remove MOPO from the DAG entirely in order to force the GAC to come up with something better.

The GAC had previously said it would address the MOPO issue in its comments on DAGv4, but its filing has not yet appeared on the ICANN site.

There’s a GNSO working group over here, but M+M’s Van Couvering notes that no GAC members have got involved post-Brussels.

Terrorism

Two commentators objected to the idea that an applicant could be rejected for involvement in “terrorism”, a term that DAGv4 does not define.

I reported on this a few days ago, but since then Khaled Fattal of the Multilingual Internet Group has filed a surprising rant that seems to indicate he has way more beef than really necessary.

Here’s a few quotes mined from the full comment:

it will alienate many in the international community who will choose not to take part in future ICANN processes including its New gTLDs, distrusting ICANN’s motives, or actively choosing to boycotting it, and causing many to seriously start re-considering alternatives.

as a Syrian born Arab American would I pass the IvCANN terrorism verification check as they are? After all Syria, my country of birth, is on the U.S. Government list of states sponsor of terrorism? And I admit, I do know an “Osama”, does that disqualify me? I Forgot to add, “Osama Fattal” a cousin. So would I pass or fail this check?

The arbitrary inclusion of terrorism as a measuring stick without any internationally recognized laws or standards is wrong and offensive to many around the world. If acted upon, it will be seen by millions of Muslims and Arabs as racist, prejudicial and profiling and would clearly indicate that ICANN has gone far beyond its mandate.

Vertical Integration and .brand TLDs

The issue of whether registries and registrars should be allowed to own each other is a thorny one, but there’s barely any mention at all of it in the DAGv4 comments filed so far.

The DAGv4 language on VI, which effectively bans it, is a place-holder for whatever consensus policy the GNSO comes up with (in the unlikely event that its working group ever gets its act together).

Most efforts on VI are therefore currently focused in the GNSO. Nevertheless, some commentators do mention VI in their filings.

Roussos of .music wants .music to be able to vertically integrate.

Abdulaziz Al-Zoman of SaudiNIC said VI limits should be removed to help applicants who need to turn to third-party infrastructure providers.

From the IP lobby, Celia Ullman of cigarette maker Philip Morris notes that there’s nothing in DAGv4 about single-registrant .brand TLDs. She writes:

would this mean that trademark owners owning a gTLD would need to open the registration procedure to second-level domain names applied for to third unrelated parties? In this case, what would be the incentive of actually registering and operating such a gTLD?

Clearly, the idea that a .brand would have to be open to all ICANN registrars on a non-discriminatory basis is enough to make any trademark attorney choke on their caviare.

JPNIC, the .jp ccTLD operator, also points out that DAGv4 says next to nothing about .brand TLDs and strongly suggests that the final Applicant Guidebook spells out just what a registry is allowed to do with its namespace (lawsuits are mentioned)

Disclaimer

I’ve paraphrased almost everybody in this article, and I’ve done it rather quickly. Despite my best efforts, some important nuance may have been lost in the act.

If you want to know what the commentators I’ve cited think, in their own words, I’ve linked to their comments individually throughout.

I may update this post as further comments are filed.

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Bulgaria polls public for Cyrillic TLD ideas

The Bulgarian government is asking its people what Cyrillic top-level domain it should ask for if ICANN refuses to reverse its rejection of .бг.

The Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology has published a poll on its web site, presenting four options for an IDN ccTLD.

Its first choice, .бг, was rejected by ICANN/IANA in May due to its visual similarity to another ccTLD, believed to be Brazil’s .br.

The four new options are .бгр, .българия, .бя and .бъл.

Bulgarians can also vote for “nothing but .бг” or declare that they do not want a Cyrillic domain at all.

The poll page, via Google Translate, suggests that the Ministry is prepared to wait for another opportunity to apply for .бг or for an ICANN appeals process to be created, if that’s what the public wants.

The Minister had previously promised to appeal the rejection of .бг.

(First reported by Novinite.)

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The .CO launch, by the numbers

The .co top-level domain is now live and open for general registrations, following a well-planned and self-evidently successful launch period.

The TLD is the country-code for Colombia, but it’s being sold as a generic alternative to .com by .CO Internet.

Here’s the story of the launch, explained with numbers:

27,000 – approximate number of active .com.co registrations made before the start of 2010, under the previous, much more restrictive regime (source).

5,000 – roughly how many of these .com.co registrants chose to participate in sunrise grandfathering, which would allow them to grab the equivalent .co domain before anybody else (source).

100 – number of brands on .CO Internet’s Specially Protected Marks List. These 100 companies, selected by Deloitte, had their brands placed on a registry-reserved list during the launch period.

83 – brands on the SPML who had chosen to register their .co names by the time the sunrise closed (source). Companies on the SPML who continue to decline their domain will see their brand released back into the pool.

10 – registrars initially approved to take .co registrations. Many more companies are selling the domains, but they’re all acting as resellers for these 10. More registrars will be approved in future.

225 to 335 – price in US dollars of a sunrise registration for trademark holders (source).

11,000 – approximate number of sunrise registrations

1,500 – approximate number of rejected sunrise applications (source)

27,905 – applications made during the landrush (source)

451 – landrush applicants applying for 10 or more domains

2,523 – domains receiving more than one landrush application. These domains will now be offered at auction. (source)

133 – number of countries where landrush applicants resided

350– Fortune 500 companies that have registered their trademarks under .co as of today

81,000 – the price in US dollars of the first .co domain to be auctioned, the single-letter e.co. The domain sold on Sedo to Bookmarks.com on June 10 (source)

350,000 – price in US dollars of the biggest seller to date, the single-letter o.co. The domain was sold to Overstock.com, directly by the registry, earlier this week. (source)

91,613 – registrations in the first 12 minutes of general availability, which started at 6pm UTC yesterday. (source)

216,159 – currently active registrations as of 10am UTC today, 16 hours into general availability (source)

? – number of .co domains still active July 22, 2011.

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add your data to the list.

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I’m on Facebook

Kevin Murphy, July 19, 2010, Gossip

I’ve just signed DomainIncite up for a Facebook account.

Find it here.

All welcome.

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Will ICANN drop anti-terror rule from new TLD process?

Kevin Murphy, July 19, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has been chastised for prohibiting terrorists from applying for new top-level domains. Really.

Abdulaziz Al-Zoman of SaudiNIC has written to the organization to worry about the fact that “terrorism” has been added to the list of forbidden activities for new TLD applicants.

The word made its first appearance in version four of the Draft Applicant Guidebook, and was harshly criticized during the ICANN board’s public forum in Brussels last month.

Al-Zoman is primarily concerned that there is no definition of “terrorism” in the DAG.

While the international community is extensibly [sic] divided on who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter, and notwithstanding ICANN’s lack of definition whatsoever in the DAG 4 on terrorism, it is a surprise to me to see ICANN involving itself in the area of terrorism while its mandate is only being a global technical coordinator.

He has a point, of course.

Hamas is the probably the best example today: an elected government with a paramilitary wing, classified as a terrorist organization by the US and UK, among others.

In the old days, we could have used the IRA as an example: a bunch of extremists blowing up English pubs, backed by American money.

During the public comment forum in Brussels, ICANN’s Kurt Pritz gave every indication that the word “terrorism” will be yanked or defined in the next DAG. From the transcript:

I agree with you that certain terms, and especially that one that is so sensitive, either requires — it should be removed or it should be — you know, it should have additional definition.

He was responding to a somewhat hyperbolic statement from Khaled Fattal, CEO of the Multilingual Internet Names Consortium, which is worth quoting (again from the transcript).

For ICANN to invoke the term “terrorism” in this arbitrary manner threatens ICANN’s ability to effectively undertake its mandate of being the global technical coordinator of the Internet. It would also challenge its legitimacy as a global public service provider in the eyes of the international community if it continues on this path, but most importantly, alienate many of the international community.

Moreover, it raises many concerns as to whether ICANN is succeeding at truly internationalizing itself.

Furthermore, the arbitrary inclusion of terrorism as a measuring stick without any internationally recognized law or standard is wrong and if acted upon it can be understood or seen by Muslims and Arabs as racist and profiling.

Strong stuff.

Now, ICANN’s painted itself into a bit of a corner. To placate its critics, it can either adopt a definition of terrorism, or it can drop the word entirely.

The former idea is probably unworkable – Wikipedia’s attempt to define “terrorism” under international law is over 4,500 words – and the latter could lead to interesting headlines.

ICANN GIVES THUMBS UP TO TERROR DOMAINS

I think I’ll leave that one for Fox.

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