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ICM will NOT offer free .porn names to .xxx buyers

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2014, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has reneged on its promise to “grandfather” trademark owners and other .xxx registrants in its forthcoming .sex, .porn and .adult new gTLDs.

While the changes are sure to infuriate trademark owners and .xxx registrants, the company insists that ICANN is to blame for blocking its original plans.

Originally, ICM had promised to reserve every .sex, .porn and .adult domain that matched an existing .xxx domain — if you owned or had blocked example.xxx then example.porn and so on would be reserved.

There was not to be a charge for any of these reservations.

The current versions of ICM’s new gTLD applications are unequivocal — nobody who owns a .xxx name or bought a block will be charged for the equivalent .sex, .porn or .adult names or blocks.

On names “blocked” by trademark owners during the .xxx Sunrise B period, the applications state:

All existing blocked names under the .XXX Sunrise B program… will not need to take any action to have those same names blocked in the new gTLD. All of these matching names will be automatically reserved from registration in the new TLD, free of charge.

On names registered in general availability, the applications state:

all existing .XXX names will be reserved from registration in the new gTLD and only registrants of that .XXX name will be given the opportunity to initially register that corresponding .XXX name in the new gTLD. If the .XXX registrant elects to register the name in the new gTLD, this can be done for a low annual fee. If the .XXX registrant does not elect to register the name in the new gTLD, then the new, matching, gTLD name will be reserved on [ICM’s] registry-reserved list at NO cost.

While neither application has been amended yet, neither of these statements are any longer true, ICM has confirmed.

Instead, the company’s new Domain Matching Program anticipates an extra launch phase between Sunrise and general availability. Under ICANN rules, it’s a Limited Registration Period.

During this month-long phase, anyone who owns a .xxx domain or block will be able to purchase the matching new gTLD names, unless it has already been registered in the Sunrise period.

What does this all mean…

For regular .xxx registrants?

If you own a .xxx domain, you no longer get a free permanent reservation on the matching .porn, .sex and .adult names while you make up your mind whether to buy them.

Instead, you’ll have to buy it during the 30-day DMP window.

ICM’s fee for DMP and Sunrise will be the same as for general availability, ICM CEO Stuart Lawley told DI.

Also, if there’s a trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse that matches your second-level string, that trademark’s owner will be able to register the matching names before you get a chance.

Remember, not all TMCH users are legitimate brands. Some are domain investors gaming the system.

For premium .xxx buyers?

The changes may also concern registrants of “premium” .xxx names, many of which may have assumed they’d get the matching .porn, .sex and .adult reservations free of charge.

Porn site operators Really Useful and Barron Innovations, which have spent millions apiece on premium .xxx names such as teen.xxx and sex.xxx, have both said in ICM press releases that the grandfathering program formed an important part of their decision-making.

“We look forward to enjoying the benefits of ICM’s unique Domain Matching Program, which gives .XXX holders an opportunity to secure matching .XXX domain names in .PORN, .ADULT and .SEX,” Barron spokesperson Shay Efron said when the $3 million sale of sex.xxx was announced.

“We will be speaking individually to each premium name holder who purchased premium names after we had announced the original grandfathering plan,” Lawley told us.

It seems that the premium string will be registry-reserved, however, so there’s no chance of them being snapped up during Sunrise.

For brands?

If you’re a brand who bought a .xxx block during the Sunrise B period back in 2011, you no longer get grandfathered into a free permanent reservation in .sex, .adult and .porn.

Instead, you’ll have to buy your names as usual either during Sunrise, DMP or — if you feel like taking a risk — general availability.

The problem is: you only qualify for Sunrise if you’re registered in the TMCH, and most Sunrise B buyers are not.

Something like 70,000 names were registered during the .xxx Sunrise B period three years ago, but there are only 33,000 marks registered in the TMCH today.

The owners of more than half of the Sunrise B blocks, who may have thought their blocks would carry over to ICM’s three new gTLDs free of charge, currently do not even have the right to buy their names in Sunrise.

If you have a .xxx Sunrise B block AND are in the TMCH, you may find yourself competing with other trademark owners with matching marks during the .porn, .adult and .sex Sunrise periods.

Any Sunrise B match not registered during the Sunrise and DMP phases will be up for grabs during GA, just the same as any other domain.

Lawley reminds us that the .xxx Sunrise B predated ICM’s new gTLD applications by many months — nobody bought a block in 2011 thinking it would be enforced in all four gTLDs.

He added that ICM has “recently secured a unique offer through the TMCH that will enable trademark owners to register with the TMCH for one year, at a reduced fee.”

Why did ICM make the changes?

The changes put the registry on a collision course with the Intellectual Property Constituency of ICANN, which looks out for the interests of trademark owners and is not a fan of porn-themed TLDs.

“The IPC is going to collectively shit a brick,” one IPC member told us.

But the IPC, which has been unshakable when it comes to the strict enforcement of ICANN’s mandatory new gTLD rights protection mechanisms, may have shot itself in the foot to an extent.

According to ICM, it’s ICANN’s fault, and indirectly the IPC’s, that it’s had to abandon free grandfathering.

In a statement sent to DI, the company said:

Throughout the ICANN approval process, ICM pursued multiple pathways to try and ensure its original “grandfathering plan”. However, due to technological concerns and strong trademark protection policies that ICANN’s intellectual property community requires in all new gTLDs, ICANN flatly rejected ICM’s grandfathering plan.

The mandatory new gTLD rights protection mechanisms enforced by ICANN means that no domain names may be set aside before trademark owners have had a crack at the Sunrise period, ICM said:

Those rights protections require that TMCH-validated Sunrise Holders get the first priority for names in any new gTLD and also contain certain prohibitions on all registries from earmarking domain names for third parties.

However, ICM has still managed to set aside an unknown number of names as part of its Premium Domains Program — those names will be immune from registration during both Sunrise and the DMP.

It’s also going to reserve, free of charge, a bunch of “culturally sensitive” names — these are strings that members of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee asked to be reserved in .xxx.

Names related to child abuse material will also be registry-reserved at no cost to the child protection agencies that requested the blocks when .xxx launched.

Plenty of stuff is getting reserved, just not Sunrise B blocks.

ICANN’s rules against “earmarking” domains may have prevented ICM offering matching domains to regular .xxx registrants, but it’s hard to see how that would prevent a .xxx block carrying over to .porn. Blocks are not assigned to a specific registrant; they belong to the registry.

The .adult and .porn gTLDs are set to start their 30-day Sunrise periods March 1, 2015. The 30-day DMP for both will begin April 15.

The .sex gTLD was contested, so it’s running a little behind. ICM expects to launch it later in 2015.

For only the second time, ICANN tells the GAC to get stuffed

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has decided to formally disagree with its Governmental Advisory Committee for what I believe is only the second time in the organization’s history.

In a letter to new GAC chair Thomas Schneider today, ICANN chair Steve Crocker took issue with the fact that the GAC recently advised the board to cut the GNSO from a policy-making decision.

The letter kick-starts a formal “Consultation Procedure” in which the board and GAC try to reconcile their differences.

It’s only the second time, I believe, that this kind of procedure — which has been alluded to in the ICANN bylaws since the early days of the organization — has been invoked by the board.

The first time was in 2010, when the board initiated a consultation with the GAC when they disagreed about approval of the .xxx gTLD.

It was all a bit slapdash back then, but the procedure has since been formalized somewhat into a seven-step process that Crocker outlined in an attachment to his letter (pdf) today.

The actual substance of the disagreement is a bit “inside baseball”, relating to the long-running (embarrassing, time-wasting) saga over protection for Red Cross/Red Crescent names in new gTLDs.

Back in June at the ICANN 50 public meeting in London, the GAC issued advice stating:

the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process

A Policy Development Process is the mechanism through which the multi-stakeholder GNSO creates new ICANN policies. Generally, a PDP takes a really long time.

The GNSO had already finished a PDP that granted protection to the names of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in multiple scripts across all new gTLDs, but the GAC suddenly decided earlier this year that it wanted the names of 189 national Red Cross organizations protected too.

And it wasn’t prepared to wait for another PDP to get it.

So, in its haste to get its changing RC/RC demands met by ICANN, the GAC basically told ICANN’s board to ignore the GNSO.

That was obviously totally uncool — a slap in the face for the rest of the ICANN community and a bit of an admission that the GAC doesn’t like to play nicely in a multi-stakeholder context.

But it would also be, Crocker told Schneider today, a violation of ICANN’s bylaws:

The Board has concerns about the advice in the London Communiqué because it appears to be inconsistent with the framework established in the Bylaws granting the GNSO authority to recommend consensus policies to the Board, and the Board to appropriately act upon policies developed through the bottom-up consensus policy developed by the GNSO.

Now that Crocker has formally initiated the Consultation Procedure, the process now calls for a series of written and face-to-face interactions that could last as long as six months.

While the GAC may not be getting the speedy resolution it so wanted, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has nevertheless already voted to give the Red Cross and Red Crescent the additional protections the GAC wanted, albeit only on a temporary basis.

Momentous pays over $3 million for .sucks

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Momentous Corp, whose .sucks application has been branded “predatory”, has won the three-way contention set for the new gTLD, according to sources with knowledge of the auction.

The company paid over $3 million for the string, one source said.

Momentous affiliate Vox Populi Registry beat Donuts and Top Level Spectrum, the other applicants, at a private auction I gather was managed by Applicant Auction.

It’s likely to be a controversial win.

Vox Populi has said it plans to charge $25,000 per year for a single Sunrise registration, leading some (myself included) to believe its business model is to exploit the fears of brand owners.

(UPDATE: The company has changed its mind about pricing. It says it won’t charge $25,000 after all.)

In March, US Senator Jay Rockefeller branded the plan nothing more than a “predatory shakedown scheme” with “no socially redeeming value”.

But the company’s CEO, John Berard, told DI last year that .sucks will be an “innovative part of customer service, retention and loyalty”.

Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a customer feedback tool that companies can budget alongside other pricey items such as retaining a PR agency, for example.

The registry plans to have strict rules against cyber-bullying. The proposed $300-a-year general availability price tag is likely to keep it out of the hands of most schoolyard bullies.

There will also be a “zero tolerance” policy toward parked domains and pornography, according to its web site.

That’s unlikely to calm the concerns of trademark owners, however.

.sucks is a gTLD that many advisers have been characterizing as a “must-have” for companies worried about their online image, rather like .xxx was a few years ago.

Vox Populi started accepting Sunrise pre-registrations for $2,500 on its web site last December, but that offer does not appear to be still available.

Why kicking out the .gay “community” was right

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2014, Domain Policy

Since Dotgay’s application for a Community Priority Evaluation on .gay failed last week, there’s been some unrest among its supporters and in the media.

An effort to get #ICANNisBroken trending hasn’t exactly set the Twittersphere alight, but there have been a handful of news stories that attack the CPE decision for failing to represent the gay community.

I think the criticisms are misplaced.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducts the CPEs for ICANN, got it right in this case, in my view.

Dotgay scored 10 points out of 16 on the CPE. It needed 14 to pass. A pass would have given it exclusive rights to .gay, forcing the three other applicants to withdraw.

It could have scored 14 had it managed to get 4 points out of the available 4 on the “Nexus” criteria — the strength of the relationship between the string “gay” and the community Dotgay said it wanted to represent.

The EIU scored Dotgay zero.

The reason was that Dotgay, in its application, defined its community like this:

The Gay Community includes individuals who identify themselves as male or female homosexuals, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, ally and many other terminology – in a variety of languages – that has been used at various points to refer most simply to those individuals who do not participate in mainstream cultural practices pertaining to gender identity, expression and adult consensual sexual relationships. The Gay Community has also been referred to using the acronym LGBT, and sometimes the more inclusive LGBTQIA. The most common and globally understood term – used both by members of the Gay Community and in the world at large – is however “Gay”.

Dotgay lost the 4 points it needed to pass the CPE almost entirely because of this paragraph.

It overstretched, and it doing so it failed to play by the ICANN rules.

Remember, the EIU was asked to determine the “nexus”, or correlation, between the gTLD string — the word “gay” — and the people Dotgay said it was trying to represent.

By trying to be as inclusive as possible to as many different sexuality/gender identities as it could, Dotgay lost sight of the fact that the gTLD string it wants only describes a subsection of those people.

LGBTQIA isn’t even a particularly well-understood acronym. The “A” could mean “Ally”, as Dotgay said in its application, or “Asexual”, as it is often (but not in Dotgay’s application) interpreted.

Dotgay tried to define “intersex” people — humans whose genitalia or other sexual characteristics do not conform to the standard male/female norms — as “gay”. Are they “gay”?

It tried to define “allies” of gay rights as “gay”. Are we?

The majority of the straight people reading this post, myself included, would characterize themselves as an “ally” of the gay community — we’re supporters of equal rights — but we would not call ourselves “gay”.

The fact that we wouldn’t is an important part of the EIU’s logic, the reason it found Dotgay had overstretched in its community definition, and as hard as I try I can’t figure out why that logic is faulty.

“Membership in the Gay Community is not restricted by any geographical boundaries and is united by a common interest in human rights,” the Dotgay application reads.

Is that not an implicit admission that the “gay community” defined in the application actually includes the majority of the populations of most right-thinking democracies?

Regardless of the EIU’s logic, there has been a moderate amount of outrage online about its decision.

The article getting the most link love appears to be this one at Slate, written by “LGBTQ activist” Marc Naimark.

First, note the acronym Naimark uses in his bio at the bottom of the piece. There are two letters missing when compared to the Dotgay application — “I” and “A”, for “Intersex” and “Ally” or “Asexual”.

Would Dotgay have won its CPE if it had limited itself to the same five letters? Maybe, maybe not. GLAAD defines “gay” as only those people attracted to the same gender. Transsexuals may not count. I and A almost certainly don’t.

Is this just nit-picking?

Not really. The point of the CPE, taken as a whole, was to allow genuine communities to avoid expensive auctions whilst preventing gaming by unscrupulous registries that would seek to claim a valuable string without a genuine community behind them.

In a previous new gTLD round, ICM Registry defined its .xxx “community” as essentially ‘anyone who wants to be a member of the community’. The .mobi registry defined its community as basically ‘anyone with a mobile phone’.

These were both attempts, in my view, to game the rules ICANN had put in place for that particularly new gTLD application round. They were both successful.

What Dotgay tried to do with its .gay application was to define its community as basically everyone. I don’t think I would call it gaming, but I might call it a failure to follow the community rules closely enough.

So is it a bad thing that Dotgay’s CPE got rejected?

I don’t think so.

Remember, Dotgay has not been ruled out of the process. It can still compete at auction with the other applicants.

If that’s too rich for it, there may even be an opportunity for the company to combine in another way with a rival applicant, rather like DotGreen did with Afilias for .green.

In Salon, Naimark wrote that a non-Community .gay — one manged by Top Level Design, Minds + Machines or Rightside, the other three applicants — will likely be awash with pornography or homophobia:

Now, instead, .gay is up for auction, with dotgay LLC facing off against three much larger rivals whose sole aim is to make as much money as possible from .gay names. That means no oversight over who gets a name or what it’s used for. Gay bashers will be able to buy .gay domains. More significantly, the largest market is likely to be among porn sites. Any legitimate use of the name by individuals, businesses, and organizations associated with the LGBTQ community will likely be drowned in a sea of sex: On the Internet, everyone will be .gay for pay.

On the face of it, that seems like a compelling argument. Wouldn’t it be nicer if .gay was devoted to worthy causes rather than gay porn? I would probably agree with that argument.

But none of the four applicants for .gay — not even Dotgay — have any prohibitions or restrictions on porn in their applications.

There’s no reason on the new gTLD program record to believe Dotgay won’t sell .gay domains to porn sites too.

Where Dotgay does have a moral advantage against its competitors is in its explicit prohibitions against homophobic speech in the domain names it sells.

One of the policies it proposes in its application is that domain names should not be “words or phrases that incite or promote discrimination or violent behavior, including anti-gay hate speech.”

The other three applicants don’t have anything nearly as specific in their applications.

But by applying as a formal, big-C “Community” applicant, Dotgay also had to promise to restrict its gTLD to a limited number of people who were members of its self-defined “community”.

This is where I struggle.

Dotgay proposes to restrict .gay to people who obtain a special code via a number of as-yet unspecified, approved “Authentication Providers” — organizations that represent sections of the LGBTQIA community.

This process has clearly been created by the applicant, in my opinion, in order to get the required number of points in the CPE’s “Registration Policies” criteria, where you have to be restrictive to win.

What Dotgay is proposing is a system whereby in order to express your homosexuality (or membership of another LGBTQIA community, including “ally”) you need to apply to an approved gay-related organization for a special code.

That just seems wrong to me.

Whatever happened to the “self-identified” gay person? I thought that “self-identification”, in the sexual and gender identity world, was a bit of a big deal.

You need a password to “come out” online? Really?

I don’t want to be accused of “straightsplaining”, so it’s a genuine question: is it okay for a registry to need to authenticate your sexual/gender identity before you can register a .gay domain?

ICM buys .sex for up to $3 million

ICM Registry, the .xxx domain name registry, may have paid as much as $3 million for the .sex gTLD.

Internet Marketing Solutions Limited, the only other applicant for .sex, withdrew its application this week.

Word is that ICM forked out somewhere between $2 million and $3 million for exclusive rights to the string.

I hear it was a private deal, not an auction organized by a third party.

I wonder whether the price was affected by the revelation by ICANN earlier this month that it considers porn-related gTLD strings “sensitive” for no particular reason.

It’s quite low, considering that sex.com sold for $13 million and sex.xxx sold for $3 million just a couple of months ago.

ICM now is the only applicant for .sex, .porn and .adult. It plans to grandfather existing .xxx registrants into the new namespaces, assuming ICANN doesn’t throw a spanner in the works.