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ICM sees 20-fold increase in registrations after sharp price drop

ICM Registry says its rate of domain registrations increased 20-fold during the first day .xxx has been on sale at .com prices.

The company took 1,000 registrations at the new $7.85-a-year registry fee since it revealed the price drop yesterday.

While that’s not an earth-shattering number, .xxx’s average daily take is 40 to 50 names, according to ICM CEO Stuart Lawley. The company had roughly 110,000 names under management before the offer started.

Some registrars have only started pushing the names today, he said. Retail prices are roughly the same as those for .com, with Go Daddy, for example, currently selling .xxx for $14.95 a year.

The reduced fee only applies for the month of May, but registrants can lock in prices for up to 10 years.

According to Lawley, domains registered in the last 24 hours were almost exclusively either for one year or 10 years, with an average of 2.3 years.

Almost half (48%) of the new names had been previously registered but allowed to expire over the last few months, he said.

Examples include valentine.xxx, students.xxx, hdmovies.xxx and plenty of others with somewhat more NSFW keywords. ICM actually maintains its own list of dropped porn-related keyword domains here.

One customer yesterday registered .xxx for the new retail price that would have cost him $88,000 on the secondary market for the equivalent .com, Lawley said.

YouPorn spanks ICM as .xxx prices slashed

YouPorn owner Manwin Licensing scored a PR coup in its lawsuit against ICM Registry today, when the .xxx registry agreed to steep financial concessions in order to settle the case.

One of the effects of the settlement, at least according to Manwin, is that .xxx is slashing its registry fees from $60 to $7.85 a year for any new domains registered in May.

That brings .xxx into line with .com pricing, temporarily.

The discount only lasts for a month, but it applies to any length of registration up to 10 years. A 10-year registration would see ICM get $78.50, as opposed to the usual $600.

ICM said it will offer price reductions in future years too.

According to Manwin, this reduction is part of the settlement of the anti-trust lawsuit that it filed in November 2011.

“One of Manwin’s key motivations was to make .XXX pricing lower and more competitive,” the company said in a press release.

However, ICM told its registrars about the price reduction over a month ago, so Manwin’s claims might not be as straightforward as they seem.

What’s less open to interpretation is ICM’s agreement to donate $2 from every new .xxx domain created into “a fund designated by Manwin to support the adult entertainment industry”.

In return, Manwin has agreed to drop its boycott of .xxx — ads for .xxx sites will now be allowed to appear on its highly trafficked “tube” sites.

According to a Manwin press release, ICM has also made the humbling admission that “websites hosted on their adult-specific TLDs are not the only responsible and safe adult content websites.”

The lawsuit originally claimed that ICM and ICANN acted anti-competitively by introducing .xxx. ICM counter-sued saying that Manwin’s boycott was illegal.

.pw claims 50,000 domains registered in three weeks

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2013, Domain Registries

Directi’s recently relaunched .pw top-level domain has racked up 50,000 domain name registrations after just three weeks of general availability, according to the company.

The number, which will put a smile on the faces of many new gTLD applicants, relates to GA only and does not include defensive registrations made during the ccTLD’s sunrise period, Directi confirmed to DI.

“Our goal was 100,000 names for the first year,” Directi CEO Bhavin Turakhia said in a press release. “The feeling of achieving 50% of the goal within the first three weeks is surreal.”

As previously reported, there were 4,000 .pw domains registered during the first half hour of GA.

Directi (running .pw as .PW Registry and/or Radix Registry) signed up 120 registrars to sell .pw names, which it brands as “Professional Web”.

It’s really the ccTLD for Palau, a small nation in the Pacific.

The registry is going for budget buyers, with registry fees and retail prices coming in a little lower than .com.

Will the Trademark Clearinghouse kill off premium domains?

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2013, Domain Policy

Rules proposed for the new Trademark Clearinghouse threaten to cut off some of new gTLD registries major sources of early revenue, according to registry providers.

Premium domain sales and founders programs are among the now industry-standard practices that would be essentially banned under the current draft of the TMCH rules, they say.

The potential problems emerged in a draft TMCH Requirements document circulated to registries 10 days ago and vigorously discussed during a session at the ICANN meeting in Beijing last week.

The document lists all of the things that new gTLD registries must and must not, and may and may not, do during the mandatory Sunrise and Trademark Claims rights protection launch periods.

One of the bits that has left registries confused is this:

2.2.4 Registry Operator MUST NOT allow a domain name to be reserved or registered to a registrant who is not a Sunrise-Eligible Rights Holder prior to the conclusion of the Sunrise Period.

What this means is that trademark owners get first dibs on pretty much every possible string in every gTLD.

“Trademark owners trump everything,” Neustar business affairs veep Jeff Neuman said during the Beijing meeting. “Trademark owners trump every possible use of every possible name.”

It would mean, for example, that if a new gTLD wanted to allocate some names to high-profile anchor tenants during a “founders program”, it would not be able to do so until after the Sunrise was over.

Let’s say the successful applicant for .shop wants to reserve the names of hundreds of shop types (book.shop, food.shop, etc) as premium names, to allocate during its founders program or auction later.

Because the .shop Sunrise would have to happen first, the companies that the own rights to, for example, “wallpaper” or “butcher” (both real US trademarks) would have first rights to wallpaper.shop and butcher.shop, even if they only planned to defensively park the domains.

Because there’s likely to be some degree of gaming (there’s a proof-of-use requirement, but the passing threshold is pretty low), registries’ premium lists could be decimated during Sunrise periods.

If ICANN keeps its TMCH Requirements as they are currently written, new gTLD registries stand to lose a lot of early revenue, not to mention control over launch marketing initiatives.

However, if ICANN were to remove this rule, it might give unscrupulous registries the ability to circumvent the mandatory Sunrise period entirely by placing millions of strings on their premium lists.

“Registries should have discretion to schedule their start-up phases according to their business plans so long as rights protection processes are honored, so that’s the balancing we’ve tried to do,” ICANN operations & policy research director Karen Lenz said during Beijing.

“It’s trying to allow registries to create requirements that suit their purposes, without being able to hollow out the rights protection intention,” she said.

The requirements document is still just a draft, and discussions are ongoing, she added.

“It’s certainly not our intention to restrict business models,” Lenz said.

Registries will get some flexibility to restrict Sunrise to certain registrants. For example, they’ll be able to disqualify those without an affiliation to the industry to which the gTLD is targeted.

What they won’t be able to do is create arbitrary rules unrelated to the purpose of the TLD, or apply one set of rules during Sunrise and another during the first 90 days of general availability.

The standard Registry Agreement that ICANN expects all new gTLDs to sign up to does enable registries to reserve or block as many names as they want, but only if those names are not registered or used.

It seemed to be designed to do things like blocing ‘sensitive’ strings, rather like when ICM Registry reserved thousands of names of celebrities and cultural terms in .xxx.

The Requirements document, on the other hand, seems to allow these names being released at a later date. If they were released, the document states, they’d have to be subject to Trademark Claims notices, but not Sunrise rules.

While that may be a workaround to the premium domains problem, it doesn’t appear to help registries that want to get founders programs done before general availability.

It seems that there are still many outstanding issues surrounding the Trademark Clearinghouse — many more than discussed in this post — that will need to be settled before new gTLDs are going to feel comfortable launching.

GAC Advice on new gTLDs “not the end of the story”

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2013, Domain Policy

Governments may want new gTLD registries to become the internet’s police force, but ICANN doesn’t have to take it lying down.

ICANN is set to open up the shock Beijing communique to public comments, CEO Fadi Chehade said Friday, while chair Steve Crocker has already raised the possibility of not following the GAC’s advice.

“Advice from governments carries quite a bit of weight and equally it is not the end of the story,” Crocker said in a post-meeting interview with ICANN PR Brad White.

“We have a carefully constructed multi-stakeholder process,” he said. “We want very much to listen to governments, and we also want to make sure there’s a balance.”

The ICANN bylaws, he reminded us, give ICANN “a preference towards following advice from the GAC, but not an absolute requirement.”

That’s a reference the the part of the bylaws that enables ICANN’s board to overrule GAC advice, as long as it carries out consultation and provides sound reasoning.

It was invoked once before, when ICANN tried to get a handle on the GAC’s concerns about .xxx in 2011.

In this case, I’d be very surprised indeed if the GAC’s advice out of Beijing does not wind up in this bylaws process, if only because the document appears to be internally contradictory in parts.

It’s also vague and broad enough in parts that ICANN is going to need much more detail if it hopes to even begin to implement it.

It looks like at least 517 new gTLD applications will be affected by the GAC’s advice, but in the vast majority of cases it’s not clear what applicants are expected to do about it.

The first part of dissecting the Beijing communique will be a public comment period, Chehade said during the interview Friday. He said:

The community wishes to participate in the discussion about the GAC communique. So, alongside the staff analysis that is starting right now on the GAC communique we have decided to put the GAC communique out for public comment, soliciting the entire community to give us their input to ensure that the GAC communique is taken seriously but also encompasses our response, encompasses the views of the whole community.

Watch the full video below.

ICANN headed for GAC fight over IGO pleading

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN may be heading for a bust-up with its Governmental Advisory Committee over the issue of a special domain name block-list for intergovernmental organizations.

The board of directors this week indicated at a meeting with the GAC in Beijing that it’s prepared to deny the GAC’s official demand for IGO protection at second level in all new gTLDs.

The GAC wants the names and acronyms of hundreds of IGOs — any organization that qualifies for a .int domain name — blocked, so that nobody would be able to register them, in every new gTLD.

It would, for example, give the European Forest Institute the exclusive rights to efi.tld in all future gTLDs.

Other well-known cybersquatting targets such as the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO), the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization (NASCO) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region of Africa (ICGLR), would also be protected.

Some potentially very useful operational domains, such as a who.tld, would be banned (because of the World Health Organization).

Clearly, the GAC’s demands are a solution looking for a problem, giving special protection to many organizations that simply don’t need it, potentially at the expense of legitimate users.

The GAC had indicated that clashes with legitimate uses could be handled in a similar way to country names will be controlled in new gTLDs, where registries have to request special permission from the governments concerned to release the domains to others.

This would open a whole can of worms, however, the implications of which were outlined in an April 1 letter from ICANN board chair Steve Crocker to the GAC.

The board’s case was also succinctly articulated by director Chris Disspain during the board’s meeting with the GAC on Tuesday, and worth quoting in full. Disspain said:

This would mean that the Church of England would require the approval of the Council of Europe to register coe.church. It means the government of Canada would require the approval of the Andean Community to register can.anything. It means the International Standards Organization would require the approval of the International Sugar Organization to register iso.anything.

Even if this is what you intended in principle, the implementation of this advice is extremely problematic.

Who at each IGO would make a decision about providing consent? How long would each IGO have to provide consent? Would no reply be equivalent to consent? What criteria would be used to decide whether to give consent or not? Who would draft that criteria? Would the criteria be consistent across all IGOs or would consent simply be granted at the whim of an IGO.

The board believes that all these issues make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accept the advice as is.

Rather than rejecting this advice we seek an acknowledgement from the GAC in its communique that there are issues to be worked through, and we seek agreement with the GAC that they will work with the board and staff on these issues from now until Durban [this July] when the board will make a decision?

Disspain added that despite a board decision in November to set the ball rolling on IGO protections, it most certainly has not already decided to grant the GAC’s request.

This is an excellent development in GAC-board relations, in my view.

Rather than quaking at GAC advice, or rush-approving it to meet new gTLD program deadlines, the board is schooling the GAC about the obvious flaws in its position, and inviting it to think about the problems in a bit more depth, hearing alternate views, before lobbing advice grenades.

It’s a stark contrast to its treatment of the GAC’s 2011 advice on International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent names, where the board agreed to special protections in order to get the new gTLD program out of the door, creating thousands of extra person-hours of work for the GNSO.

When the GAC issued its IOC/RC/RC advice, it assured ICANN that the organizations concerned were special cases.

Others warned — presciently, as it turned out — that such protections would be merely the top of a slippery slope that would lead to a much longer list of protected names.

An effect of ICANN’s strong position now is that the slope is less steep and less slippery.

What happens next with the IGO names depends on the GAC’s communique from the ongoing Beijing meeting.

If it decides to engage with ICANN to sort out the problems it’s trying to create, they have until Durban to come to a deal. If it stands firm, ICANN may have to invoke the part of its bylaws that allows it to overrule the GAC, which has only done once before, when it approved .xxx.

Governments expand gTLD objection shortlist

Kevin Murphy, April 2, 2013, Domain Policy

With the start of its meetings in Beijing just a couple of days away, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has handed out clues as to which new gTLDs it might object to.

The GAC says that 20 specific bids have already been put forward by one government as potential recipients of GAC Advice, but that there are nine broad categories of concern.

Some of the categories seem to obviously apply to certain narrow types of gTLD, while others are broad enough to catch almost any bid the GAC doesn’t like the look of.

Any application that receives adverse GAC Advice at the end of the Beijing meeting faces, at the very least, a prolonged approval process along the lines of what .xxx had to endure.

The worst-case scenario is rejection of the bid by the ICANN board of directors.

These are the GAC’s categories, along with some educated guesses about which strings they could apply to:

  • “Consumer protection” — could apply to anything, depending on how well-lobbied the GAC has been by a particular interest group. Any gTLD that could implausibly be argued to increase the risk of counterfeiting may show up here. A liberal interpretation could well capture .music or sports-related strings.
  • “Strings that are linked to regulated market sectors, such as the financial, health and charity sectors” — Dozens of applications, such as those for .lawyer, .doctor, .health .bank, and .charity — will fall into this category.
  • “Competition issues” — This most likely applies to applications for category-killer dictionary words where the applicant is already a dominant player in the relevant market, such as Google’s bid for .search or Amazon’s for .book.
  • “Strings that have broad or multiple uses or meanings, and where one entity is seeking exclusive use” — Again, this could apply to the many controversial “closed” gTLD applications.
  • “Religious terms where the applicant has no, or limited, support from the relevant religious organisations or the religious community” — I suspect that the the Vatican’s application for .catholic is less at risk than a Turkish company’s bid for .islam. Any Islam-related domains are likely to fail the “support” test, given the lack of centralized control over the religion.
  • “Minimising the need for defensive registrations” — A category that seems to have been specially created for .sucks.
  • “Protection of geographic names” — Most probably will be used to kill off DotConnectAfrica’s application for .africa and Patagonia Inc’s application for .patagonia. But will Amazon’s dot-brand bid also fall foul?
  • “Intellectual property rights particularly in relation to strings aimed at the distribution of music, video and other digital material” — If the GAC buys into the lobbying and believes that an unrestricted .music or .movie gTLD would increase piracy, expect objections to some of those bids. The GAC doesn’t have to provide a shred of evidence to support its Advice at first, remember, so this is not as ludicrous a possibility as it sounds.
  • “Support for applications submitted by global authorities” — This is a newly added category. If the GAC is proposing to submit advice in support of one application in a contention set, there’s no mechanism ICANN can use to ensure that he supported applicant wins the set. The Advice may turn out to be useless. Certain sports-related applications are among those with “global authority” backing.
  • “Corporate Identifier gTLDs” — Not, as this post originally speculated, dot-brands. Rather, this applies to the likes of .inc, .corp, .llc and so on.
  • “Strings that represent inherent government functions and/or activities” — Expect military-themed gTLDs such as .army and .navy to feature prominently here. Could also cover education and healthcare, depending on the government.

The GAC also plans to consider at least 20 specific applications that have been put forward as problematic by one or more governments, as follows:

Community name where the applicant does not have support from the community or the government: 1

Consumer protection: 2

Name of an Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO): 1

Protection of geographic names: 9

Religious terms: 2

Strings applied for that represent inherent government functions and/or activities: 3

Support for applications submitted by global authorities: 2

ICANN plans to formally approve the first batch of new gTLDs, with much ceremony, at an event in New York on April 23, but has said it will not approve any until it has received the GAC’s Advice.

The GAC is on the clock, in other words.

While it’s been discussing the new gTLDs on private mailing lists since last year’s Toronto meeting, it’s already missed at least self-imposed deadline. The information released today was due to be published in February.

While the ICANN Beijing meeting does not officially begin until next Monday, and the rest of the community starts its pre-meeting sessions at the weekend, the GAC starts its closed-session meetings this Thursday.

Defensive registrations with Donuts could be 95% cheaper than normal domains

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2013, Domain Registries

Portfolio gTLD applicant Donuts plans to offer trademark owners defensive registrations at 5% to 10% of the cost of a normal domain name registration, co-founder Richard Tindal said today.

Speaking at the Digital Marketing & gTLD Strategy Congress here in New York, Tindal also revealed some of Donuts’ current thinking about the Domain Protected Marks List service outlined in its gTLD applications.

DPML, which was created by Donuts rather than ICANN, is a little like ICM Registry’s Sunrise B service for .xxx — trademark owners will be able to block domains related to their trademarks.

DPML domains will not resolve, and there’ll be no annual renewal fee.

But there will likely be several differences with .xxx, as Tindal explained.

How to get a block

Each DPML listing will block a string across all of Donuts’ gTLDs, which could be as many as 307 (if Donuts wins all of its contention sets), potentially reducing administrative headaches for trademark owners.

Second, while ICM only allowed strings to be blocked that exactly matched the trademark, Donuts’ standard will merely be that the blocked domain contains the trademarked string.

Trademark owners will have to buy a DPML listing for each string they want blocked, however. It’s not going to be a “wildcard” system. ING wouldn’t be able to block everything ending in “ing”.

If Microsoft wanted to block microsoft.tlds and microsoftwindows.tlds, it would have to request both of those strings separately, but the blocks would be place across every Donuts TLD.

The standard for inclusion is probably going to be that the trademark is listed in the official Trademark Clearinghouse, and that it would qualify for a Sunrise registration (ie, it’s actually being used).

Trademarks that qualify for the Trademark Claims service but not Sunrise would not, it seems, qualify for DPML.

Un-blocks

There’s also going to be a way for trademark owners to un-block domains that have been blocked by other trademark owners.

If Apple the gadget maker blocked the string “apple” across all Donuts gTLDs, for example, Apple Records would be able to unblock apple.music (if Donuts wins .music) if it had a trademark on “apple” in the TMCH.

The standard again would be that Apple Records qualified for a Sunrise, but the unblocking could actually happen long after the .music Sunrise period was over.

If Apple the gadget maker thought it might want to use apple.tld domains in future, its best best would be to register the domains during Sunrise, Tindal said.

Pricing

DPML listings would be available for either five or 10 years (Donuts hasn’t decided yet, but it’s leaning towards five) and pricing will probably be between 5% and 10% of the cost of registering the domains normally during general availability, Tindal said.

Let’s say, for example, that Donuts wins only a certain number of its contention sets and ends up launching 200 new gTLDs, each of which is priced at $10 per domain per year.

If the 5-10% price estimate holds, trademark owners would have to pay between $0.50 and $1 per string, per gTLD, per year. For a single trademark, that would be between $100 and $200 per year, or $500 to $1,000 over the five-year period of the block.

It doesn’t sound like there’s going to be an option for trademark owners to block their sensitive strings in only selected, relevant Donuts gTLDs using DPML. It’ll be all or none.

Donuts has not yet disclosed its pricing plans for any of its proposed gTLDs, so the numbers used here are of course just examples. They could be higher or lower when the domains come to market.

In addition, if the string in question is a “premium” generic word in one or more of Donuts’ gTLDs, the price of blocking it could head sharply north.

Tindal noted that the plans outlined during today’s conference session represent Donuts’ current thinking and may be subject to change.

TLD Health Check from DI is the first business intelligence tool for the new gTLD era

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2013, Domain Services

DI today introduces TLD Health Check, an industry-first business intelligence service that enables users to quickly and easily monitor the performance of top-level domains.

TLD Health Check is software as a service. It allows anyone to not only track the growth of gTLDs new and old, but also to compare TLD popularity and abuse levels across the industry.

TLD Health Check is launching with 27 interactive charts and tables that make it simple for users to:

  • TLD Health Check screenshotMonitor the growth of gTLD registries. gTLD growth (or shrinkage) can be tracked against multiple criteria including domains under management, newly added domains, renewals and deleted domains. Based on official registry reports, the service also dynamically calculates metrics such as average registration periods, enabling users to gauge registrant confidence in each gTLD’s relevance and longevity.
  • Rank TLDs by popularity. TLDs can have lots of domains, but which TLDs are being visited most often by regular internet users? TLD Health Check aggregates TLD data from Alexa’s list of the top one million most-popular domain names, to figure out which TLDs web surfers actually use on a daily basis.
  • Compare abusive activity across 300+ TLDs. TLD Health Check calculates TLD abuse data from several major third-party malware and phishing domain lists, letting you instantly compare abuse levels between every live TLD.
  • Track cybersquatting levels by TLD. Drawing on a database of over 75,000 UDRP decisions, TLD Health Check lets you compare TLDs to see where the major cybersquatting enforcement is happening. DI PRO’s intelligent algorithms allow you to see only successful UDRP cases.
  • TLD Health Check screenshotMeasure registrar market share. Different registrars excel at selling different TLDs. TLD Health Check measures registrar growth and ranks companies by their market share in each TLD.
  • (Coming Soon) Monitor secondary market activity. Leveraging a database of tens of thousands of reported domain name sales, you can see where the secondary market action is.

The services is built on top of a massive database, over two years in the making, comprising hundreds of thousands of records dating back to 1999. Our data sets are updated hourly, daily, weekly and monthly.

Get Access

TLD Health Check screenshotTLD Health Check is currently in open subscriber beta, and we have an aggressive program of weekly feature upgrades and additions planned for the next few months.

The service can be accessed now by DI PRO subscribers, for no additional charge.

If you’re not already a PRO subscriber, please visit our subscriptions page to sign up for instant access.

New Monthly Subscription Option

To coincide with the launch of TLD Health Check, and in response to many reader requests, today we’re also announcing a new monthly subscription option for DI PRO.

Not only that, but any new subscriptions processed before March 15 will receive a perpetual $10-per-month discount if the subscriber uses the discount code NYC when subscribing.

DI is attending the Digital Marketing & gTLD Strategy Congress in New York today and tomorrow. Fellow attendees are welcome to request an in-person TLD Health Check demo.

ICM’s claims against Manwin thrown out of court

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2013, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has suffered a blow in its ongoing lawsuit with porn merchant Manwin Licensing, with a judge this week dismissing all of the registry’s counterclaims against the YouPorn owner.

ICM was sued by Manwin on antitrust grounds in late 2011, but returned fire last October with is own set of allegations, which also included claims that Manwin’s boycott of .xxx was anti-competitive.

But the judge in the case, Philip Gutierrez, on Tuesday granted Manwin’s motion to dismiss all of ICM’s claims.

Gutierrez ruled that ICM had failed to argue it had standing to complain under competition law, stating: “Harm to ICM only is not sufficient to constitute antitrust injury. It must allege harm to the competitive process.”

He also granted Manwin’s motion to strike ICM’s claims under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws, which are designed to protect free speech.

The judge decided that Manwin’s boycott of .xxx was protected under the anti-SLAPP statute.

ICM is now entitled to re-draft and re-submit its counterclaims; if it does not do so it will have to pay Manwin’s legal fees in connection with the anti-SLAPP action, Gutierrez ruled.

“The judge has granted us 30 days to amend our counterclaims. We are exploring all options open to us,” ICM CEO Stuart Lawley said.

Manwin’s owner, Fabian Thylmann, was arrested in Brussels last December and extradited to Germany to face charges of tax evasion.