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UDRP filings hit new record

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2011, Domain Policy

The World Intellectual Property Organization handled more cybersquatting cases in 2010 than in any other year to date, according to just-released statistics.

WIPO said today it received 2,696 UDRP complaints last year, up 28% over 2009’s 2,107 cases.

But the number of domains covered by these cases actually slipped a little, from 4,688 to 4,370, according to WIPO.

Since the policy was created in 1999, WIPO says it has decided over 20,000 UDRP complaints, covering over 35,000 domain names in 65 TLDs.

It may sound like a lot, but it’s actually a vanishingly small percentage of the 205.3 million domain names that are registered across all TLDs today.

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.xxx introduces the 48-hour UDRP

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2011, Domain Registries

The forthcoming .xxx top-level domain will have some of the strictest abuse policies yet, including a super-fast alternative to the UDRP for cybersquatting cases.

With ICM Registry likely to sign its registry contract with ICANN soon, I thought I’d take another look at some of its planned policies.

I’d almost forgotten how tight they were.

Don’t expect much privacy

ICM plans to verify your identity before you register a .xxx domain.

While the details of how this will be carried out have not yet been revealed, I expect the company to turn to third-party sources to verify that the details entered into the Whois match a real person.

Registrants will also have to verify their email addresses and have their IP addresses recorded.

Whois privacy/proxy services offered by registrars will have to be pre-approved by ICM, “limited to services that have demonstrated responsible and responsive business practices”.

Registrants using such services will still have their full verified details stored by the registry, in contrast to TLDs such as .com, where the true identity of a registrant is only known to the proxy service.

None of these measures are foolproof, of course, but they would raise barriers to cybersquatting not found in other TLDs.

Really rapid suspension

The .xxx domain will of course abide by the UDRP when it comes to cybersquatting complaints, but it is planning another, far more Draconian suspension policy called Rapid Takedown.

Noting that “the majority of UDRP cases involve obvious variants of well-known trademarks”, ICM says it “does not believe that the clearest cases of abusive domain registration require the expense and time involved in traditional UDRP filings.”

The Rapid Takedown policy is modeled on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Trademark holders will be able to make a cybersquatting complaint and have it heard within 48 hours.

Complaints will comprise a “simple statement of a claim involving a well-known or otherwise inherently distinctive mark and a domain name for which no conceivable good faith basis exists”.

A “response team” of UDRP panelists will decide on that basis whether to suspend the domain, although it does not appear that ownership will be transferred as a result.

X strikes and you’re out

ICM plans to disqualify repeat cybersquatters from holding any .xxx domains, whether all their domains infringe trademarks or not.

The policy is not fully fleshed out, so it’s not yet clear how many infringing domains you’d have to own before you lose your .xxx privileges.

High-volume domain investors would therefore be advised to make sure they have clean portfolios, or risk losing their whole investment.

Gaming restrictions

ICM plans to allow IP rights holders to buy long-term, deep-discount registrations for non-resolving .xxx domains. As I’ve written before, Disney doesn’t necessarily want disney.xxx to point anywhere.

That would obviously appeal to volume speculators who don’t fancy the $60-a-year registry fee, so the company plans to create a policy stating that non-resolving domains will not be able to convert to normal domains.

There’s also going to be something called the Charter Eligibility Dispute Resolution Process, which which “will be available to challenge any resolving registration to an entity that is not qualified to register a resolving name in the .xxx TLD”.

This seems to suggest that somebody (think: a well-funded church) who does not identify as a member of the porn industry would be at risk of losing their .xxx domains.

The CEDRP, like most of the abuse policies the registry is planning, has not yet been fully fleshed out.

I’m told ICM is working on that at the moment. In the meantime, its policy plans are outlined in this PDF.

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Porn group launches .xxx boycott

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2011, Domain Registries

The Free Speech Coalition has made good on its promise to start a boycott of .xxx domain names.

The California-based porn industry association has just launched a “Just Say NO” campaign, in an attempt to persuade pornographers that .xxx domains are bad for business.

Do the math – it doesn’t add up. Even if ICM’s claims of new consumers who “trust” .XXX ring true, for a company like Kink.com, which has approximately 10,000 domain names, it would have to bring in three-quarters of a million dollars in new revenues annually JUST TO BREAK EVEN!

As well as the retail price of the domains, which currently estimated to be north of $70 per year, the FSC has laid out a bunch of other reasons why it believes .xxx is a bad investment.

These include the fact that some countries (I’m aware of Saudi Arabia and India) have said they intend to block .xxx domains, and that this may make some high-traffic web sites wary of linking to them.

It’s also critical of how .xxx sites will have to comply with policies created by the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which ICM is setting up to “sponsor” .xxx.

But perhaps the most telling quote in the FSC’s press release comes from its executive director, Diane Duke. She said:

FSC acknowledges and respects that, when push comes to shove, businesses need to do what they think is best for their company. That is why adult companies need to know the implications of purchasing .XXX domain names and why buying .XXX could be the worst investment they’ll ever make.

While FSC makes good points, I agree with Mike Berkens of TheDomains. I just can’t see a boycott working, and the end result may just be to just make FSC look naïve.

If you’re a pornographer, and you think there’s even an outside chance of .xxx taking off, would you risk declining to defensively register your brands on a matter of principle?

The cost of enforcing trademarks — if you have one — via the UDRP post-sunrise would be larger than simply registering them up-front, and there would be no guarantee of success.

It’s a big risk, one that I can’t see many potential registrants taking.

Some in the porn business even believe that some webmasters publicly decrying .xxx are doing so primarily to reduce competition for the premium real estate. Writing in Xbiz, Stephen Yagielowicz said:

some of your “friends” that are telling you to avoid the new adult domain extension, are speculators hoping to lessen the competition for premium .XXX names; while others are mere hucksters, seeking to profit by offering “an alternative TLD” — such as .adult, .porn, .sex or “dot-whatever-does-not-involve-Stuart-Lawley”

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Go Daddy CEO catches flak for “elephant snuff film”

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2011, Domain Registrars

Bob Parsons has come in for criticism for a recent video diary in which he headed to Zimbabwe to hunt elephant.

A petition launched yesterday at Change.org, entitled “Tell Go Daddy’s CEO: Real Men Don’t Kill Elephants” has attracted over 400 signatures.

The petition describes Parsons’ video as “basically a gruesome, 4-minute elephant snuff film”.

You can watch it here, if you can stomach the AC/DC soundtrack, photos of Parsons grinning over the corpse, and the scene where dozens of Zimbabweans (many wearing Go Daddy baseball caps) greedily tear up the elephant’s carcass.

The justification presented in the video is that “problem” elephants have been destroying crops, putting farmers’ livelihoods at risk.

The petitioner says there are better, more humane ways of dealing with the problem.

I expect this kind of PR plays well to the NASCAR crowd. To desk-bound, liberal-elite media, city-boy vegetarians such as myself, less so.

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Go Daddy employee class action dismissed

Kevin Murphy, March 25, 2011, Domain Registrars

A class action lawsuit alleging that Go Daddy committed “wage theft”, filed by a disgruntled former call center worker, has been dismissed by an Arizona court.

While the plaintiffs have been given leave to amend their complaint, they’ve parted ways with their lawyers after a disagreement, which suggests the case may be on shaky ground.

I reported on the filing of the suit for The Register last May, and followed it up with a tangential blog post here.

The lead plaintiff, Toby Harris, claims he was fired after just a couple of months as a Go Daddy sales/support call center guy after he questioned why some of his commissions had been withheld.

His manager had apparently rated his work below a certain performance threshold, meaning he lost out on over $1,300 of bonuses in his first month. Harris said this was arbitrary and unfair.

He was then fired after, according to his termination letter, breaking security protocol by failing to sufficiently validate a customer’s identity. Harris said he was fired because he was a “whistleblower”.

Four other former Go Daddy employees are named plaintiffs in the class action, which alleges that by treating commissions as discretionary bonuses, Go Daddy has avoided paying its call center staff legally owed overtime wages.

But a few weeks ago, the judge in the District Court where the case is being heard dismissed the complaint (pdf) on the grounds that it did not assert enough facts to support its claims.

While the judge gave plaintiffs the opportunity to re-file the complaint, their lawyers evidently decided it was not worth it. They withdrew from the case.

Judging by a court filing the lawyers made last week (pdf), and several claims made by Harris on the gripe site NoDaddy.com, it was not an amicable split. Harris now seems to be looking for replacement attorneys to file an amended complaint before time runs out.

The thread on the NoDaddy forum devoted to the class action is extraordinary. Started in May last year, it’s grown to over 1,600 posts, the majority of which are rants written by Harris, often addressing Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons directly and in personal terms.

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