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Governments react to Brussels new TLDs meeting

Kevin Murphy, March 4, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has issued an official Communique following its meeting with the ICANN board on new top-level domains, which wrapped up on Wednesday.

While acknowledging the talks were “sometimes challenging”, the GAC said (pdf) the consultation was useful and should be continued during the San Francisco meeting later this month.

There’s not a great deal to work with in the Communique if you like reading tea leaves, but these paragraphs go some way to negate a view I expressed yesterday that the GAC does not want ICANN to overrule its recommendations. With my emphasis:

While fully respecting the Board’s right not to accept GAC advice, the GAC is obliged to ensure that existing rights, the rule of law and the security and protection of citizens, consumers and businesses, and the principle of national sovereignty for governments are all maintained within the new environment, as well as respect for legitimate interests and sensitivities regarding terms with national, cultural, geographic and religious significance. The GAC is committed to taking whatever time is required to achieving these essential public policy objectives.

The GAC envisions that discussion of the issues involved will continue up to and through the ICANN/GAC meeting in San Francisco in March

That’s not incredibly encouraging language if you’re impatiently awaiting the launch of the new TLDs program and were banking on ICANN putting the GAC’s concerns to bed in SF.

But those who count themselves among the intellectual property constituency can probably take heart that the GAC seems to be still committed to fighting its corner.

The GAC now awaits the publication of ICANN’s official compromise positions, post-Brussels, which it plans to take to its members’ respective “stakeholders”.

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ICM picks new sunrise partner for .xxx launch

ICM Registry has hired IP Rota, a new London-based company, to handle trademark validation in the sunrise periods of the forthcoming .xxx top-level domain.

IP Rota is the work of NetBenefit co-founder Jonathan Robinson, who also currently sits on the boards of Nominet and Afilias, .xxx’s back-end partner.

The company replaces Valideus, which was originally recruited to design and implement ICM’s sunrise policies, apparently due to grumblings from rival registrars. ICM said:

Valideus was originally retained by ICM to assist with the design of the .XXX launch but graciously withdrew from implementation of the initial rights protection mechanism because of the potential for perceived conflict of interest with a related domain name registrar, Com Laude.

Com Laude is a registrar specialising in corporate brand protection. It shares ownership with Valideus.

ICM is planning three sunrise periods for .xxx, including one that would let trademark holders not in the porn business to pay a one-time fee to have their brand.xxx placed on a reserved list.

The .xxx TLD contract still has not been approved by ICANN, of course. Barring last-minute surprises, that could happen as soon as the ICANN board meeting, March 18.

The registry is IP Rota‘s first client.

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How will new TLDs affect your portfolio?

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2011, Domain Sales

(Editor’s Note: this is a guest post by Shane Cultra, author of the popular domain investment blog DomainShane. I was interested in hearing new perspectives on new top-level domains, and Shane was good enough to provide his thoughts.)

It was inevitable. The growth of the internet and the ever increasing number of people using the web, was going to cause a shortage in domain names.

As the big three – .com, .net, and .org – reached the point that available domains were merely comprised of unpronounceable and hard-to-spell leftovers, internet users began looking for more.

Countries began to market their own ccTLDs as generics, trying to appeal to both local and international users alike. Domain name registries saw the dollar signs and began clamoring to introduce alternatives.

So now that they’re on their way, how will new TLDs affect the value of your domains? Will .web, .car, .love and all the other endless possible TLD options impact the value of your portfolio?

My answer to this question is simple: yes.

There is no doubt all the new TLDs will impact your portfolio’s value. If you own anything other than .com, I think the value of your domains will fall. I feel that .net and .org will fall the least.

The real answer comes down to how the search engines rank the new TLDs. The TLDs that hold the most value will be able to compete in both the US and the international search market.

If Google treats them well, then they will be in the upper tier. The problem is the more TLDs that Google ranks, the more choices a domain owner will have.

As we know, the more choices the lesser the value and chance of a sale. If there are only three shoes on the shelf from which to choose it bodes better for the seller than a shelf with 100 shoes.

In my opinion, the real money being made is by the companies selling these new TLDs. The new releases will leave the domain investing community and domain buyers in general “holding the bag”.

The .travel and .mobi TLDs showed early what will happen as people shy away from a TLD after a short period of time. Speculators were left with worthless domains.

In order for a new TLD to work it takes massive adoption. The local geographic community, the domain investing community, business, and the general public must be a part for it to succeed.

The new .co TLD has come as close as any in the last five years to getting over this hump; .tv, and .me, have also found their place.

A profitable endeavor for the companies managing the release , but only profitable for a handful of people that hold the best of the names.

So back to the original question, will this hurt the value of my portfolio? My second response to my “yes” answer is I think it will increase the value of your .coms.

Dot-com domains are king and will always be the king. They are scarce , wanted and all those that hold the same keyword in alternative TLDs wish they held the .com. Those that tell you different are either naïve or lying.

Domains are often compared to real estate and .com to beachfront property, and I think it’s a good analogy. Beachfront has continued to be considered the most-wanted and highest-priced real estate.

I would throw in big city real estate in this comparison too. You can still buy homes and land outside the cities and away from the beach. Homes just as nice or nicer. Areas of land that are twice as big but still don’t have the value of the beach and city.

When people think of the internet they immediately think .com. When they think of high priced real estate they think of the beach and city. Along with beach and city property, I believe people will always perceive the .com as the highest value.

This is how I am approaching my investment in newer TLDs. I am treading lightly. I continue to invest heavily in .com with a 10% investment in other TLDs. That 10% is invested in super high-quality keywords.

I have no plans to invest in lesser domains, as I think the only possible way to make a profit on my investment is development and I don’t feel comfortable developing domains outside of my field or keywords from random categories.

When I buy outside of .com, I tend to buy in my niche (the names of plants) as they are in my “comfort zone”. For example, I purchased hosta.me because hosta.com is taken and would cost me a ton of money.

I have all the photos and information to develop a site and with hosta being a very collectable plant I thought hosta.me would work. I also can target US Internet users using my webmaster tools – the audience I am trying to reach.

That same domain was a hand-register which tells me that although that has value to me, I would have very little chance of reselling that domain. In short, a bad investment for a flip. In my opinion, this will be the case with 98% percent of all the new TLDs so be very dot-careful.

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Domainer loses 3.org.uk

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2011, Domain Policy

Domain investor Scott Jones, who managed to secure the domain name 3.org.uk in Nominet’s recent short domain names sunrise period, has lost it due to a trademark claim.

Nominet said in a statement this afternoon:

The domain name 3.org.uk was registered at the end of the Registered Rights Sunrise phase. Following registration, an objection was raised concerning the IP rights provided by the applicant for that domain. This objection has been upheld by CMS, our IP validation rights agency and the domain name has now been made available for registration during the Unregistered Rights Sunrise phase.

I think it’s a safe bet that the objection was filed by 3, the stupidly named British mobile phone company, which does business at three.co.uk.

As I blogged a few weeks ago, Nominet assigned 99 one and two-character .co.uk domain names to trademark holders under the first of two sunrise allocation phases.

Because 3.co.uk was not on that list (pdf), I’m going to assume it was applied for by one than one party. Contested domains from the sunrise are due to go to auction March 15.

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Surprise! More new TLDs delay likely

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2011, Domain Policy

The launch of ICANN’s new top-level domain program looks set to encounter more delays, after international governments said they needed more time for consultation and debate.

Three days of talks between the ICANN board of directors and its Governmental Advisory Committee, which concluded yesterday, resolved many of the GAC’s concerns with new TLDs, but not enough.

Obtaining final closure of these outstanding issues during the San Francisco meeting, March 17, now seems quite unlikely, especially if the GAC gets its way.

The meeting started on an optimistic tone on Monday, degenerated into stalemate on Tuesday, and ran over into an unscheduled third day yesterday, by which point the frustration was audible.

Prior to the meeting, the GAC had provided a “scorecard” that covered 12 areas of new TLD policy where it was still unhappy with ICANN’s positions.

ICANN, in return, had provided matching summary documents that outlined the GAC advice and summarized ICANN’s current thinking on each of the issues.

It became apparent over the first two days of the meeting that the ICANN board was willing to compromise on a number of matters, but that the GAC was unable to do the same, due to its need to consult with ministers and unnamed “advisers”.

One side often seemed to have done more homework than the other, particularly on the issue of trademark protection, where the GAC entered the room as a proxy for the trademark lobby, but without the granular background knowledge needed to answer ICANN’s questions.

Talks disintegrated on Tuesday afternoon, when it became clear that GAC members could not proceed before further consultations with their respective capitals, and that ICANN could not fully address their concerns without further clarifications.

Both sides of the aisle retreated into private discussions for the rest of the day, with the ICANN board later emerging with a list of areas it was prepared to accept GAC advice.

These positions had been more fully fleshed out when the meeting reconvened yesterday morning, but hopes of resolving the discussions by San Francisco appeared to be dashed by the GAC.

The ICANN board decided in January that March 17 will host a so-called “bylaws consultation”, during which ICANN tells the GAC where it has decided to disagree and overrule its advice.

But the GAC unexpectedly revealed yesterday that it does not want the March 17 meeting to have that “bylaws” designation.

A clearly frustrated Peter Dengate Thrush, ICANN’s chairman, asked repeatedly why, in light of the substantial strides forward in Brussels, the GAC had suddenly decided it needed more time:

what we’ve done is clarify and limit the work, so the work we now need to do in San Francisco is reduced and comes in with greater clarity. I don’t understand how more work and more clarity leads to the conclusion that you come to. So you have to help me with this.

The US representative, Suzanne Sene, said the GAC was “surprised” by the bylaws designation.

Actually, if we can go back to the January resolution, a sort of reaction we had at that time was some slight surprise actually that without having seen the GAC scorecard, you were already forecasting that you anticipated not being able to accept the advice contained in the scorecard.

Despite the generally civil tone of the talks, and Dengate Thrush’s opening and closing remarks – in which he said that the meeting was neither “adversarial” nor a “power struggle” – this part of the discussion came across more than most like a pissing contest.

ICANN officially rejecting GAC advice through a bylaws consultation would be unprecedented, and I get the distinct impression that it is something the GAC does not want to happen.

If you’re a government, being overruled by a bunch of DNS policy wonks in California is bad PR.

But if a mutually acceptable compromise is to be made without any advice being rejected, GAC reps need time to take ICANN’s concessions back to their superiors for input, and then to form their own consensus views. Thence the delay arises.

At the end of the meeting, it appeared that talks will be continuing in private in the run-up to the San Francisco meeting, which starts March 13. It also appears that the board and GAC will hold not one but two days of talks during the meeting.

What’s less clear to me is whether ICANN has already agreed that the “bylaws” designation will be removed from the March 17 meeting.

If it does, we’re looking at a few weeks more delays post-SF, while the GAC and board resolve their remaining differences, which could easily impact the planned April 14 publication of the next version of the Applicant Guidebook.

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