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ICANN puts porn gTLDs on hold for no good reason?

Kevin Murphy, July 4, 2014, Domain Policy

In a decision that seems to have come out of nowhere, ICANN has effectively put bids for three porn-themed new gTLDs on hold.

In a June 21 meeting, the board’s New gTLD Program Committee discussed .adult, .sex and .porn, calling them “sensitive strings”.

While it passed no resolution, I understand that ICANN legal staff is delaying the signing of contracts for at least one of these gTLDs while the NGPC carries out its talks.

It’s a surprising development, given that the three strings are not subject to any Governmental Advisory Committee advice, are not “Community” applications, and have not been formally objected to by anyone.

The report from the NGPC meeting acknowledges the lack of a GAC basis for giving the strings special treatment (emphasis added):

The Committee engaged in a discussion concerning applications for several adult-oriented strings in the current round of the New gTLD Program, including .ADULT, .PORN, and .SEX. The applications propose to serve the same sector as the .XXX sponsored TLD. Staff noted that the applications were not the subject of GAC advice, or any special safeguards, other the safeguards that are applicable to all new gTLDs. The Committee considered how the safeguards in the new gTLD Program compare to the safeguards that were included in the .XXX Registry Agreement. The Committee requested staff prepare additional briefing materials, and agreed to discuss the matter further at a subsequent meeting.

This begs the question: why is ICANN giving .porn et al special treatment?

What’s the basis for suggesting that these three strings should be subject to the same safeguards that were applied to .xxx, which was approved under the 2003 sponsored gTLD round?

.porn, .sex and .adult were were applied for under the 2012 new gTLD program, which has an expectation of predictability and uniformity of treatment as one of its founding principles.

Who decided that .sex is “sensitive” while .sexy is not? On what basis?

Is it because, as the NGPC report suggests, that the three proposed gTLDs “serve the same sector” as .xxx?

That wouldn’t make any sense either.

Doesn’t .vacations, a contracted 2012-round gTLD, serve the same sector as .travel, a 2003-round sponsored gTLD? Why wasn’t .vacations subject to additional oversight?

Is it rather the case that the NGPC is concerned that ICM Registry, operator of .xxx, has applied for these three porn strings and proposes to grandfather existing .xxx registrants?

That also wouldn’t make any sense.

.sex has also been applied for by Internet Marketing Solutions, a company with no connection to .xxx or to the 2003 sponsored gTLD round. Why should this company’s application be subject to additional oversight?

And why didn’t .career, which “serves the same sector” as the sponsored-round gTLD .jobs and was applied for by the same guys who run .jobs, get this additional scrutiny before it signed its contract?

It all looks worryingly arbitrary to me.

Famous Four makes $175,000 from .webcam porn names

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2014, Domain Sales

Famous Four Media has sold a package of 15 .webcam domain names to an unspecified buyer for a total of $175,000.

The deal included tube.webcam, asian.webcam and milf.webcam, which Famous Four described as “adult oriented”.

Whois records for the domains are not yet available.

The .webcam gTLD is due to go to general availability today, alongside .bid and .trade. Together, they’re the registry’s first three gTLDs to hit GA.

It’s not an explicitly adult-oriented gTLD, but “cam” sites are a pretty big deal in the world of porn nowadays, so it’s easy to guess where .webcam will get most of its action.

The $175,000 deal — almost the full new gTLD application fee — was brokered by HuntingMoon, which specializes in adult industry names, in collaboration with Media Options and Domain Broker UK.

The deal follows hot on the heels of the $3 million sale of sex.xxx.

How much are new gTLDs really costing trademark owners? We have some numbers.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the last six months of new gTLDs, it’s that predictions about massive levels of defensive registrations were way off the mark.

New gTLDs are not seeing anywhere near the same numbers of sales during sunrise periods as their predecessors.

I have managed to collate some data that I think gives a pretty accurate picture of how many sunrise registrations are being made and therefore how much new gTLDs are costing trademark owners.

About 128 gTLDs have finished their sunrise periods to date, and I have the sunrise sales figures for 101 of them. All of these numbers were provided by the respective registry operator.

The biggest sunrise, per these numbers, was for .clothing, which had 675 registrations. That’s 5.97% of the 11,301 overall names in the .clothing zone file today, over three months after launch.

At the other end of the scale is شبكة. (“.shabaka” or “.web” in Arabic), which sold just five names during its sunrise, the first of the program, which was restricted to Arabic trademarks.

The total number of sunrise sales across across all 101 gTLDs is 14,567, making for an average of 144.2 domains per new gTLD sunrise.

Sunrise currently accounts for 1.87% of all names in these 101 gTLDs, but that’s an artificially high number because some of the gTLDs I have sunrise numbers for are not yet in general availability.

But compare the real numbers to .co, which sold over 11,000 names at sunrise when it launched in summer 2010, or .xxx, which took 80,000 sunrise applications in late 2011.

Trademark owners are not defensively registering with anywhere near the same fervor as they once did.

If that 144.2 average names holds true for all 128 gTLDs that have completed sunrise, we can approximate that 18,461 names have been sold during sunrise periods to date.

I should point out that I’m assuming in these calculations that all sunrise registrations are “defensive” and that brand owners are not defensively registering during general availability.

Neither of those assumptions will be fully true.

Not all sunrise sales are made to genuine brand owners, of course. Some number of generic dictionary domains have been registered by people who obtained trademarks just in order to get the matching domain.

And only a psychic could know whether a GA registration is “defensive” or not at this stage.

But let’s assume that every sunrise reg went to a genuine brand owner. How much have they had to pay for these names?

It’s difficult to calculate a precise dollar value because each registry has a different pricing scheme and sometimes the price of a name can vary even within a specific given TLD.

I looked to the prices listed at 101domain, which has pretty exhaustive coverage of new gTLDs, for a guide.

The average first-year cost for a sunrise registration in the 75 or so new gTLDs currently being sold to trademark owners at 101domain is a little shy of $165.

Assuming that’s a good guide for pricing in sunrise periods that have already closed, we can calculate that 18,461 names at $165 a pop equals $3,046,089 out of the pockets of trademark owners in the first year.

But the sunrise fees are not the only costs, of course. In order to participate in a sunrise you must first register your mark in the Trademark Clearinghouse.

There are 30,251 marks registered in the TMCH, according to the TMCH itself. At $150 a pop — the minimum you can pay for a TMCH registration — that’s $4,537,650 spent on defensive measures.

Add in the cost of the sunrise registrations and a generous $100,000 to cover the cost of the 50 Uniform Rapid Suspension cases that have been filed to date and the total cost to brand owners so far over the first 128 new gTLDs comes to $7,683,739.

Whether this is “a lot” or not probably depends on your perspective.

It’s certainly not the billions of dollars that were being predicted by some as recently as last year.

In September the Better Business Bureau and the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse speculated that 600 “open” new gTLDs could lead to $10 billion being spent on defensive registrations.

That statement was made in a press release calling for stronger cybersquatting legislation in the US.

But if 101 open gTLDs leads to $3,046,089 being spent, 600 such gTLDs should lead to a total cost of about $18 million, not including the fixed TMCH costs (which probably won’t grow very fast in future).

That’s not the same ballpark, not the same league, not even the same sport.

Sex.xxx sells for $3m as PussyCash cites SEO value

Kevin Murphy, May 29, 2014, Domain Sales

ICM Registry has sold a package of 40 premium .xxx domain names with a total value of $5 million to Barron Innovations, operator of the PussyCash porn affiliate network.

The headline sale in the batch is sex.xxx, which carried a standalone $3 million price tag.

That’s the first .xxx name to sell for a seven-figure sum. The previous record for a single name was $500,000 for gay.xxx.

It’s also the highest-priced non-.com domain name ever sold, according to publicly available sale prices.

It beats shopping.de, which went for the euro equivalent of $2.85 million in 2008, making sex.xxx the 10th most-expensive domain we know about.

Sex.com is of course the highest priced domain ever sold, going for $13 million in 2010.

According to ICM, Barron bought cam.xxx, phone.xxx and black.xxx for undisclosed six-figure prices. The deal also included web.xxx, market.xxx, mate.xxx and education.xxx, the company said.

Barron is evidently affiliated with webcam-oriented porn sites ImLive.com and Webcamwiz.com, as well as the related lead-generation program PussyCash.com.

PussyCash was subject to this glowing review (NSFW) in the adult industry press recently and is apparently a bit of a big deal in that world.

ICM tells me Barron had been studying the search engine optimization performance of .xxx for some time before signing the deal. Shay Efron, spokesperson for the buyer, said in a press release:

We have studied the undeniably superior performance of .XXX domains in terms of SEO and conversion rates and decided to make a huge splash by acquiring the very best keyword generic names available. We evaluated SEX.xxx, the flagship domain, and decided it has the potential to became the leading brand in the entire adult industry, so it was an obvious part of a very large deal.

The company intends to develop the names, according to a press release.

This is pretty good news for ICM (because of the cash) but it’s also promising for new gTLDs as a whole.

I’m not privy to Barron’s research, but if it’s confident enough in the SEO benefits of .xxx to spend $3 million on one name, that might be a signal that other niche gTLDs could see the same benefits in future.

It might not happen overnight — ICM launched .xxx two and a half years ago — but premium names could appreciate in value, assuming new registries manage to get some actual users building sites.

Republicans introduce pointless ICANN bill

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2014, Domain Policy

Three Republican Congressmen have introduced a bill that would prevent the US government removing itself from oversight of the DNS root zone.

For a year.

The inappropriately titled Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act is designed to:

prohibit the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from relinquishing responsibility over the Internet domain name system until the Comptroller General of United States submits to Congress a report on the role of the NTIA with respect to such system.

Basically, the NTIA would be barred from walking away from root zone oversight until an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the transition was published, which would have to happen within a year.

The report would also have to include a definition of “multi-stakeholder”.

The three Republicans who introduced the bill — Representatives Todd Rokita, John Shimkus, and Marsha Blackburn — either have no idea what they’re talking about, or they’re being intellectually dishonest.

Blackburn said in a press release:

We can’t let the Internet turn into another Russian land grab. America shouldn’t surrender its leadership on the world stage to a “multistakeholder model” that’s controlled by foreign governments. It’s imperative that this administration reports to Congress before they can take any steps that would turn over control of the Internet.

Shimkus said:

In the month of March alone we’ve seen Russia block opposition websites, Turkey ban Twitter, China place new restrictions on online video, and a top Malaysian politician pledge to censor the Internet if he’s given the chance. This isn’t a theoretical debate. There are real authoritarian governments in the world today who have no tolerance for the free flow of information and ideas. What possible benefit could come from giving the Vladimir Putins of the world a new venue to push their anti-freedom agendas?

This is hysterical nonsense.

Not only has ICANN no intention of allowing the IANA function to be controlled by foreign governments, the NTIA has explicitly stated from the start that no governmental solution would be acceptable.

It’s also ironic that the only two governments to ever consider censoring the root zone were the European Commission and the United States, under the Republican Bush administration.

The current expectation, assuming community talks proceed as swiftly as hoped, is for stewardship of the IANA function to leave the NTIA’s hands when the current contract expires in October 2015.

Even if the DOTCOM (really?) Act were to be passed into US law this year, it shouldn’t have any serious impact on the timing of the root transition.

With that in mind, the three-page bill (pdf) looks quite a lot like an extended press release, rather than a serious attempt to keep the root in US hands.