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Olympics tells ICANN to abandon new TLD launch or get sued

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2010, Domain Registries

The International Olympic Committee has threatened to sue ICANN unless it gives IOC trademarks special protection in its new top-level domains program.

The IOC’s critique of ICANN’s new Applicant Guidebook is the first to be filed by a major organization in the current public comment period.

The organization has accused ICANN of ignoring it, preferring instead to take its policy cues from the domain name industry, and said it should “abandon its current timeline” for the launch.

ICANN currently plans to start accepting TLD applications May 30, 2011.

Calling the guidebook “inherently flawed”, the IOC’s director general Urs Lacotte wrote:

If these critical issues are not fully resolved and ICANN chooses not to place the Olympic trademarks on the reserved names list, then the IOC and its National Olympic Committees are prepared to employ all available legislative, regulatory, administrative and judicial mechanisms to hold ICANN accountable for damage caused to the Olympic movement.

(That language looks like it could have been cut-n-paste from a separate letter from the financial services industry, which I reported on last week).

The IOC said that it has opposed the new TLD program 11 times – asking for its trademarks to be placed on the AGB’s reserved strings lists, but received no response.

Special pleading? Perhaps, but the IOC’s trademarks are already specifically protected by legislation in numerous countries, including the US, UK, Canada and China.

The IOC also wants stronger trademark protection mechanisms, such as mandatory typosquatting protections in sunrise periods and extending dispute proceedings to registrars.

Expect many more such missives to start showing up on the ICANN web site over the next 11 days before the ICANN board of directors meets to approve the AGB in Cartagena.

This may be the last chance many organizations get to ask for the changes they want in the AGB before the first round of new TLD applications opens, and I expect them to seize it with both hands.

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Register.com settles Baidu domain hijacking lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, November 25, 2010, Domain Registrars

Register.com has apologised to Chinese portal company Baidu for allowing its domain, baidu.com, to be hijacked by the Iranian Cyber Army hacker group.

The two companies have announced that the lawsuit, which alleged gross negligence among other things, has now been settled. Terms were not disclosed.

If Baidu’s complaint was to be believed, the hackers took over baidu.com with a trivial social engineering attack that relied upon a Register.com tech support employee being asleep at the wheel.

The company is one of China’s largest internet firms, employing over 6,000 people and turning over well over $600 million a year. But for the period of the hijack, visitors to baidu.com instead just saw the hackers’ defacement message instead.

The registrar had argued in court that its terms and conditions released it from liability, but the judge didn’t buy it.

Register.com, which was acquired by Web.com for $135 million in June, said yesterday:

After an internal investigation, we found that the breach occurred because Register’s security protocols had been compromised. We have worked with United States law enforcement officials and Baidu to address the issue. We sincerely apologize to Baidu for the disruption that occurred to its services as a result of this incident.

Baidu said it accepted the apology. And the check, I imagine.

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Minds + Machines to raise $4.7m for new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 25, 2010, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings plans to raise £3 million ($4.7 million) in a stock sale to help finance the TLD aspirations of its main business, Minds + Machines.

The funds would almost double the cash reserves TLDH has on tap, which currently amount to $5.5 million, according to StockMarketWire.com.

Recently appointed CEO Antony Van Couvering said in a statement that ICANN’s recent decision to allow registries and registrars to vertically integrate had a bearing on the decision to raise funds:

Having reviewed ICANN’s Final Proposed Applicant Guidebook, and in view of the ICANN Board’s historic decision to do away with cross-ownership restrictions between registries and registrars, we believe that the timing is right for additional investment by TLDH. ICANN’s registry-registrar decision means that additional gTLD business models are now viable, and we have already seen a marked increase in interest from prospective new clients. We intend to make sure we have the resources to take advantage of this opportunity.

M+M is already associated with new TLD applications including .gay and .eco, both of which are expected to be contested by other applicants.

TLDH is listed on London’s small-cap Alternative Investment Market. The announcement of the placement can be found here.

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Will a Russian domain sell for more than Sex.com?

Kevin Murphy, November 25, 2010, Domain Sales

The scandal-hit Russian domain name market may yet produce some of the most expensive domain name sales of all time. Premium .рф generics are already attracting eight-figure bids.

Bids of $10 million have apparently been placed on at least two domains, квартиры.рф and бетон.рф (apartments.rf and concrete.rf), in the controversial quasi-landrush auction managed by RU-Center, the largest Russian registrar.

IDNblog.com is reporting the apartments.rf asking price, and a reader was kind enough to send me a screenshot of the concrete.rf auction.

If these bids are for real, and these auctions were to close, they would immediately occupy the number two and three slots on the league table of all-time biggest-ticket domain sales

Before sex.com sold for $13 million, DNJournal’s top twenty list had fund.com in the top spot, at $9,999,950, followed by porn.com at $9,500,000 and diamond.com at $7,500,000.

The RU-Center auctions may not close, however.

As I reported yesterday, the registrar and five others are being investigated on antitrust grounds by Russian competition authorities, after allegedly registering tens of thousands of domains to themselves.

The auctions are currently frozen and the .рф registry, Coordination Center for ccTLD, has made noises about applying “sanctions” to the registrars that could include de-accreditation.

RU-Center, which confusingly does business at nic.ru, has defended its position in at least two articles here and here (in Russian, naturally).

As far as I can tell, none of these auctions will close until the registrar and the registry resolve their differences and/or the Russian government probe concludes.

However, it’s pretty obvious that the demand for Cyrillic generic IDNs is enormous in Russia, and could easily challenge .com on the big-sale league tables.

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Three registrars face the ICANN chop

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2010, Domain Registrars

ICANN has told three registrars they are in breach of their registrar contracts and will lose their accreditation next month unless they rectify the problems.

These registrars, all of which appear to have negligible numbers of gTLD domains under management, are affected:

Mister Name will be shut down if it does not pay its ICANN fees and escrow its Whois data.

Open System Ltd is accused of not having a functioning Whois service.

Best Bulk Domains Inc also doesn’t have a functioning Whois, ICANN said. It also has not been paying its dues and hasn’t maintained accurate contact information for itself.

All three have dates in mid-December to clean up their acts or lose their right to sell gTLD domains.

You can find ICANN’s compliance letters here.

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