ICANN has lost another Independent Review Process decision, with the panel stating some potentially alarming opinions about how much power ICANN staff has over its board and “independent” third-party contractors.
This time, the successful IRP complainant was Dot Registry LLC, the Kansas company that applied for the gTLDs .llc, .llp, and .inc as a “Community” applicant.
The company lost its Community Priority Evaluations back in 2014, scoring a miserable 5 of the possible 16 points, missing the 14-point winning line by miles.
The IRP panel has now found — by a two-to-one panelist majority — that these CPE decisions had extensive input by ICANN staff, despite the fact that they’re supposedly prepared by an independent third-party, the Economist Intelligence Unit.
It also found that the ICANN Board Governance Committee rejected Dot Registry’s subsequent Request for Reconsideration appeals without doing its due diligence.
The IRP panel said in essence that the BGC merely rubber-stamped RfR decisions prepared by legal staff:
apart from pro forma corporate minutes of the BGC meeting, no evidence at all exists to support a conclusion that the BGC did more than just accept without critical review the recommendations and draft decisions of ICANN staff.
ICANN had of course denied this interpretation of events, but refused to provide the IRP panel with any of the information the BGC had supposedly used in its decision-making, citing legal privilege.
The panel also had questions related to the relationship between the EIU and ICANN staff, pointing to extensive margin notes left on the draft CPE decisions by ICANN staff.
Remarkably, the EIU appears to have incorporated ICANN suggested text into its decisions, even when the facts may not have supported the text.
For example, the final CPE decision on .inc contained the sentence:
Research showed that firms are typically organized around specific industries, locales, and other criteria not related to the entities structure as an LLC
The panel concluded that this text had originated in ICANN’s margin notes:
Possibly something like… “based on our research we could not find any widespread evidence of LLCs from different sectors acting as a community”.
According to the IRP decision, there was no mention of any pertinent “research” in the record prior to ICANN’s note. It’s possible no such research existed.
It seems the ICANN legal team helps redraft supposedly independent CPE decisions to make them less likely to be thrown out on appeal, then drafts the very decisions that the compliant BGC later uses to throw out those eventual appeals.
The IRP panel by majority therefore found a lack of due diligence and transparency at the BGC, which means the ICANN board failed to act in accordance with its bylaws and articles of incorporation.
One of the three panelists dissented from the the majority view, appending a lengthy opinion to the majority declaration.
The IRP panel went beyond its mandate by improperly extending ICANN’s bylaws commitments beyond its board of directors, he wrote, calling the declaration “a thinly veiled rebuke of actions taken by the EIU and ICANN staff”
Just because ICANN submitted no evidence that the BGC acted independently rather than merely rubber-stamping staff decisions, that does not mean the BGC did not act independently, he wrote.
The dissenting view may carry some weight, given that the majority declaration does not give ICANN any guidance whatsoever on how it should proceed.
Dot Registry has specifically not asked for a rerun of the CPEs, and the panel didn’t give it one. Instead, it had asked the panel to simply declare that its applications should have passed CPE the first time around.
That bold demand was, naturally, declined.
But the panel offers no redress in its place either. ICANN has simply been told that the BGC’s decisions on Dot Registry’s RfRs broke the bylaws. What ICANN does with that information seems to be up to ICANN.
These gTLDs are almost certainly still heading to auction.
The documents for this IRP case can be found here.
Want to register a .beauty or .makeup domain name? L’Oreal will get to decide unilaterally whether “you’re worth it”.
The cosmetics maker has released the registration policies for its first former “closed generic” gTLD, .makeup, and they’re among the most restrictive in the industry.
Free speech appears to be the first victim of the policy — “gripe sites” are explicitly banned in the same breath as cybersquatting, 419 scams and the sale of counterfeit goods.
Domain investors and those who would hide their identity behind Whois privacy services appear to be unwelcome, too.
But perhaps most significantly, L’Oreal has also given itself the right to decide, in its sole discretion, whether a would-be registrant is eligible to own a .makeup domain.
Its launch policy reads:
Registrant Eligibility Requirements
To support the mission and purpose of the TLD, in order to register or renew a domain name in the TLD, Applicants must (as determined by the Registry in its sole and exclusive right):
- Own, be connected to, employed by, associated with, or affiliated with a company that provides makeup and/or cosmetics related products, services, news, and/or content; or (ii) be an individual, association, or entity that has a meaningful nexus (as determined by the Registry in its sole discretion) with the cosmetics industry; and
- Possess a bona fide intention to use the domain name in supporting the mission and purpose of the TLD.
Would-be registrants have to submit an “application” for the domain they want, and L’Oreal gets to decide whether to approve it or not.
Whether L’Oreal chooses to apply liberal or conservative standards here remains to be seen.
Like most new gTLD registries, the company plans to reserve many domains for the use of itself, partners, or future release.
The policies also give L’Oreal broad discretion to suspend or terminate names it decides violate the terms of the registration policy, which it says it can amend and retroactively apply at any time.
Using the domain counter to the mission statement of the gTLD is a violation. The mission statement reads:
The mission and purpose of the TLD is first and foremost to promote the beauty, makeup and cosmetics segments, through meaningful engagement with manufacturers, beauty enthusiasts, consumers, and retailers, using a domain space intended for use by individuals and/or companies within or associated with the various industries that provide, utilize, or bear a recognizable connection to makeup and cosmetic products and/or services.
L’Oreal has defined gripe sites — sites established primarily to criticize — as a security and stability concern that “may put the security of any Registrant or user at risk”, banning
other abusive behaviors that appear to threaten the stability, integrity or security of the TLD or any of its registrar partners and/or that may put the security of any Registrant or user at risk, including but not limited to: cybersquatting, sale and advertising of illegal or counterfeit goods, front-running, gripe sites, deceptive and⁄or offensive domain names, fake renewal notices, cross gTLD registration scams, traffic diversion, false affiliation, domain kiting⁄tasting, fast-flux, 419 scams.
If you want to set up a .makeup web site to criticize, say, L’Oreal for “body shaming” or for its animal testing policy, lots of luck to you.
The gTLD is owned by L’Oreal but seems to be being managed primarily by its application consultant, Fairwinds Partners.
It was originally designated as a single-registrant space, a so-called “closed generic” or “exclusive access” gTLD, in which only L’Oreal could register names.
But the company was forced to change its plans, under pain of losing its application, after the Governmental Advisory Committee persuaded ICANN to perform a U-turn on the permissibility of closed generics.
.makeup is due to start accepting pre-launch requests for Founders Program domains next Monday. General availability will start October 19.
Sunrise will kick off September 8, though L’Oreal warns that it has withheld generic terms such as “shop” from this period.
The company also owns .beauty, and I expect its terms there to be similar.
Verisign has just confirmed that it was behind the winning bid in last week’s .web gTLD auction.
Nu Dot Co won the auction after 23 rounds over two days of bidding, but Verisign was thought to be the real beneficiary.
The company has now released the following statement confirming the relationship:
The Company entered into an agreement with Nu Dot Co LLC wherein the Company provided funds for Nu Dot Co’s bid for the .web TLD. We are pleased that the Nu Dot Co bid was successful.
We anticipate that Nu Dot Co will execute the .web Registry Agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and will then seek to assign the Registry Agreement to Verisign upon consent from ICANN.
As the most experienced and reliable registry operator, Verisign is well-positioned to widely distribute .web. Our expertise, infrastructure, and partner relationships will enable us to quickly grow .web and establish it as an additional option for registrants worldwide in the growing TLD marketplace. Our track record of over 19 years of uninterrupted availability means that businesses and individuals using .web as their online identity can be confident of being reliably found online. And these users, along with our global distribution partners, will benefit from the many new domain name choices that .web will offer.
No big surprises there. Verisign had already told investors it had a $130 million payment coming up soon.
See DI’s analysis on the auction results here.
ICANN’s outgoing Ombudsman fired a parting shot at his former employer last week with a scathing analysis of its rejection of .gay as a community gTLD.
ICANN should reject the decisions of two independent Economist Intelligence Unit panels, which found that Dotgay LLC’s application for .gay did not meet the strict definition of “community” under ICANN rules, LaHatte wrote.
“This is the time to recognise that even if the EIU evaluation did not achieve the appropriate number of points, that the community is real, does need protection and should be supported,” he wrote.
The EIU is responsible for conducting Community Priority Evaluations for applicants who claim to be representing communities.
Its decisions have been unpredictable and to a degree inconsistent, but both times its panels looked at Dotgay’s .gay, they scored the application lower than the 14 out of 16 points required to pass the CPE.
Winning a CPE generally means you get the gTLD in question. Losing means you have to go to auction against competing applicants.
In the case of .gay, the other applicants are Top Level Design, Minds + Machines and Rightside.
Nobody’s ever said that there’s no such thing as a gay community, they’ve just said there’s no such thing as a gay Community (big C) as defined by Dotgay LLC.
LaHatte’s recommendation does not delve into the nitty-gritty of the scoring process, but seems to criticize the system — and the flawed Request for Reconsideration system Dotgay has thrice unsuccessfully invoked — as “inadequate”. He wrote:
The role of the ombudsman is to deal with issues of fairness, and this encompasses issues such as respect for diversity and support for all parts of our community. Sometimes the mechanisms which we have put together to resolve challenges are simply inadequate…
But the issue that I want to emphasise in this recommendation is that it has always been open to ICANN to reject an EIU recommendation, especially when public interest considerations are involved. What is needed is to take a bold approach and demonstrate to the ICANN community, but also much more widely, to the world of Internet users, that ICANN has a commitment to principles of international law (see Article IV of the Bylaws), including human rights, fairness, and transparency.
The board will be very aware of the human rights initiatives undertaken in the light of the IANA transition and the careful evaluation of the accountability processes. But sometimes it is necessary to take a view which evaluates whether the decision taken corresponds with the bylaws and articles of incorporation. That view should be that ICANN supports the gay community and recognises that there is a community which requires protection and recognition, which has been marginalized, threatened and attacked, and which should be considered a genuine community notwithstanding the EIU recommendation.
He’s basically calling on ICANN’s board to cast aside the rules and previous practice in this particular instance and instead make a political statement, in my reading of the recommendation.
I don’t think ICANN will do that.
On a couple of occasions when Dotgay has suffered an ICANN-induced setback in the past, ICANN has put out statements reminding everyone that there will be a .gay, they only question is who runs it.
Because Dotgay filed a community application, it would be obliged to make .gay a restricted space. Its application talks about registrants having to be approved as eligible before they register.
But it also would have the strictest measures in place to address homophobia and harassment — something the other applicants may, but have not formally committed, to implement.
Verisign has emerged as the likely winner of the .web gTLD auction, which closed on Thursday with a staggering $135 million winning bid.
The shell company Nu Dot Co LLC was the prevailing applicant in the auction, which ran for 23 rounds over two days.
Just hours after the auction closed, Domain Name Wire scooped that Verisign had quietly informed investors that it has committed to pay $130 million for undisclosed “contractual rights”.
In its Securities and Exchange Commission quarterly report, filed after the markets closed on Thursday, Verisign said:
Subsequent to June 30, 2016, the Company incurred a commitment to pay approximately $130.0 million for the future assignment of contractual rights, which are subject to third-party consent. The payment is expected to occur during the third quarter of 2016.
There seems to be little doubt that the payment is to be made to NDC (or one of its shell company parents) in exchange for control of the .web Registry Agreement.
The “third-party consent” is likely a reference to ICANN, which must approve RA reassignments.
We speculated on July 14 that Verisign would turn out to be NDC’s secret sugar daddy, which seems to have been correct.
Rival .web applicant Donuts had sued ICANN for an emergency temporary restraining order, claiming it had not done enough to uncover the identity of NDC’s true backers, but was rebuffed on multiple grounds by a California judge.
Donuts, and other applicants, had wanted the contention set settled privately, but NDC was the only hold-out.
Had it been settled with a private auction, and the $135 million price tag had been reached, each of the seven losing applicants would have walked away with somewhere in the region of $18.5 million in their pockets.
This draws the battle lines for some potentially interesting legal fallout.
It remains to be seen if Donuts will drop its suit against ICANN or instead add Verisign in as a defendant with new allegations.
There’s also the possibility of action from Neustar, which is currently NDC’s named back-end provider.
Assuming Verisign plans to switch .web to its own back-end, Neustar may be able to make similar claims to those leveled by Verisign against XYZ.com.
Overall, Verisign controlling .web is sad news for the new gTLD industry, in my view.
.web has been seen, over the years, as the string that is both most sufficiently generic, sufficiently catchy, sufficiently short and of sufficient semantic value to provide a real challenge to .com.
I’ve cooled on .web since I launched DI six years ago. Knowing what we now know about how many new gTLD domains actually sell, and how they have to be priced to achieve volume, I was unable to see how even a valuation of $50 million was anything other than a long-term (five years or more) ROI play.
Evidently, most of the applicants agreed. According to ICANN’s log of the auction (pdf) only two applicants — NDC and another (Google?) — submitted bids in excess of $57.5 million.
But for Verisign, .web would have been a risk in somebody else’s hands.
I don’t think the company cares about making .web a profitable TLD, it instead is chiefly concerned with being able to control the impact it has on .com’s mind-share monopoly.
Verisign makes about a billion dollars a year in revenue, with analyst-baffling operating margins around 60%, and that’s largely because it runs .com.
In 2015, its cash flow was $651 million.
So Verisign has dropped a couple of months’ cash to secure .web — chickenfeed if the real goal is .com’s continued hegemony.
In the hands of a rival new gTLD company’s marketing machine, in six months we might have been seeing (naive) headlines along the lines of “Forget .com, .web is here!”.
That won’t happen now.
I’m not privy to Verisign’s plans for .web, but its track record supporting the other TLDs it owns is not fantastic.
Did you know, or do you remember, that Verisign runs .name? I sometimes forget that too. It bought it from Global Name Registry in late 2008, at the high point of its domains under management in this chart.
I don’t think I expect Verisign to completely bury .web, but I don’t think we’re going to see it aggressively promoted either.
It will never be positioned as a competitor to .com.
If .web never makes $135 million, that would be fine. Just as long as it doesn’t challenge the perception that you need a .com to be successful, Verisign’s purchase was worth the money.