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Governments still want new TLD morality veto

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee still wants to block “controversial” new top-level domains on morality grounds.

In a letter to ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, a copy of which I have obtained, the GAC makes it clearer than ever that it wants national laws to play a part in approving new TLDs.

It also suggests that national governments should be able to pre-screen strings before applications are filed, to give applicants “early warning” that they are stepping into controversial waters.

The letter draws the battle lines for what could be some heated debate at ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena next month.

Given that the letter does not appear to have been published by ICANN yet, I will quote liberally.

Under the heading “Universal Resolvability of the DNS”, GAC interim chair Heather Dryden, the Canadian representative on the committee, wrote:

Due to uncertainties regarding the effectiveness of ICANN’s review and objections procedures, a country may feel compelled to block a new gTLD at the national level that it considers either objectionable or that raises national sensitivities.

To date, there do not appear to be controversial top level domains that have resulted in significant or sustained blocking by countries.

The GAC believes it is imperative that the impact on the continued security, stability and universal resolvability of the domain name systems of the potential blocking at the national level of the new gTLD strings that are considered to be objectionable or that raise national sensitivities be assessed prior to introducing new gTLDs.

The letter carries on to say that the GAC will “seek advice from the technical community” on the issue.

Dryden wrote that there should be a “prior review” process that would be able to identify strings that are “contrary to national law, policy or regulation” or “refer to religions, ethnicity, languages or other cultural identifiers that might raise national sensitivities”.

It sounds like the GAC envisions a pre-screening process, before new TLD applications are officially filed, similar to the “expressions of interest” concept that ICANN abandoned in March.

What TLDs this process would capture is unclear. The GAC letter notes by way of example that “several governments restrict the registration of certain terms in their ccTLDs”.

In practical terms, this would raise question marks over TLDs such as “.gay”, which would quite clearly run contrary to the policies of many national governments.

(As I reported earlier this month, the recently relaunched .so registry currently bans “gay”, “lesbian” and related terms at the second level.)

There’s more to be reported on the the implications of this letter, particularly with regards the work of ICANN’s “morality and public order” policy working group and the GAC’s relationship with ICANN in general.

Watch this space.

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Afilias to raise .info prices

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2010, Domain Registries

Afilias has notified ICANN that it plans to raise the maximum annual registration fee for a .info domain next year.

The new price, which will come into effect July 1, 2011, will be $7.42. It’s been $6.75 since November 2008, although the registry often offers deep discounts on new registrations.

Afilias’ contract with ICANN allows it to raise prices by up to 10%, which it appears to be doing in this case.

At least two other other gTLDs have already said they plan to up their maximum prices next year.

NeuStar’s .biz fee will rise by $0.45 to $7.30 in April. PIR’s .org will start costing registrars a maximum of $7.21 at the same time.

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Overstock to bid for o.co.uk next month?

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2010, Domain Sales

Overstock.com, which seems to have made registering single-letter domain names a key part of its branding strategy, likely has o.co.uk next in its sights.

The company drew headlines recently when it paid $350,000 for o.co and subsequently used it in its TV ads, and again yesterday when it picked up o.co.za for $9,000.

While it’s well known that o.com is the ultimate prize, Overstock has also been laying the groundwork for buying o.co.uk for over three years.

Nominet, the .uk registry, is set to open up the first of two sunrise periods on double and single-character .co.uk domains on December 1, and I expect Overstock already has its application ready to go.

It might not be an entirely straightforward bid, however.

Under the Nominet sunrise rules, holders of UK trademarks in use before January 1, 2008 are eligible to apply for their short domains.

Overstock, it turns out, has had a registered trademark on o.co.uk since August 2008.

It applied for the UK trademark in January 2008, the same month that Nominet’s policy-setting committees first started discussing the release of single-letter domains.

As far as I can tell, the trademark is considered valid from August 1, 2007, the same time Overstock was granted its US trademark on o.co.uk.

But can the company prove it was “using” the trademark prior to January 1, 2008, given that the domain was reserved? It does not appear to have a UK trademark on the letter O by itself.

One way or the other, I expect Overstock to eventually win the domain. Under Nominet’s rules, contested domains will go to auction, and Overstock has already proved it has deep pockets.

The company also has US trademarks on other O domains that it does not and cannot currently own, including o.info, o.com, and o.eu. It successfully registered and uses o.biz.

It also has a US trademark on o.de, but that domain appears to be currently registered to a German domain investor.

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Save the Children recovers domains from scumbag

Kevin Murphy, November 22, 2010, Domain Policy

The international charitable organization Save the Children has recovered two domain names from a squatter who held them hostage for $2,500.

Save the Children, which hosts its official web site at savethechildren.org, recently won a UDRP complaint for the domains save-the-children.com and save-the-children.org, which are both parked.

As you might imagine, it was an open-and-shut case.

Save the Children has been around since the 1930s, and it owns trademarks on its name.

Bad faith was proved with a shockingly clueless email from the registrant:

As you may be aware, with the explosion of the internet and domains, there has been a scramble by speculators or entrepreneurs to purchase popular names or names which we believe may become popular, so we can resell them for a profit. In fact, many businesses will buy numerous domain names that are similar, or may be abbreviations or acronyms, or with different suffexes [sic] in order to get them off the market and prevent somebody else purchasing it.

After consulting with my attorney, and in the best interests of a speedy resolution, I’ve been advised to offer to sell my domain to your client.

I am unwilling to give it up for free since I purchased it. However, I am willing to sell it, and I am asking $2,500.00 for my website.

Whois records show that the domain has changed hands a few times since it was first registered in 2001. I hope the current registrant paid a lot for it.

This kind of behavior is why domainers get a bad rep.

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Czech people don’t want IDNs

Kevin Murphy, November 22, 2010, Domain Registries

While Russia’s recently launched all-Cyrillic domain names may be going down a storm, it seems the idea of internationalized domain names does not have international appeal.

A survey of businesses and individuals in the Czech Republic shows a serious lack of support for IDNs under the .cz TLD.

A shocking 87% of organizations, along with 62% of internet users, surveyed by registry CZ.NIC said they were not in favor of .cz IDNs.

Czech uses the Latin alphabet, of course, albeit with a liberal dose of diacritics – the local name of the country is Česká Republika – so there’s less of a pressing need for IDNs than in other nations.

The survey results were less surprising to those in the know. Ondrej Filip, executive director of the .cz registry, said in a statement:

The repeated refusal of IDN was not a surprise. The last three surveys had very similar results and there have been no signs over the last two years pointing towards a change in this trend. Quite the opposite – in the long term, the negative attitude of the Czech Internet public toward IDN is growing.

The results showed slightly growing support for IDNs among individual users and growing opposition from businesses. Some objected on the basis that it would make life hard for foreign visitors.

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