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.sucks terminates Com Laude as “gag order” row escalates

Vox Populi, the .sucks gTLD registry, has terminated the accreditation of brand protection registrar Com Laude as part of an ongoing dispute between the two companies.

Com Laude won’t be able to sell defensive .sucks registrations to its clients any more, at least not on its own accreditation, in other words.

The London-based registrar is transferring all of its .sucks domains to EnCirca as a result of the termination and says it is considering its options in how to proceed.

The shock move, which I believe to be unprecedented, is being linked to Com Laude’s long-time criticisms of Vox Populi’s pricing and policies.

The registrar today had some rather stern words for Vox Pop. Managing director Nick Wood said in a statement:

We have always been critical of this registry and particularly its sunrise pricing model which we regard as predatory. We have advised clients where possible to consider not registering such names. We hope that all brand owners will think twice before buying or renewing a .sucks domain. After all, it is not possible to block out every variation of a trademark under .sucks. In our view, fair criticism is preferable to dealing with Vox Populi.

Ouch!

The termination is believed to be linked to controversial changes to the .sucks Registry-Registrar Agreement, which Vox Pop managed to sneak past ICANN over Christmas.

One of the changes, some registrars believed, would prevent brand protection registrars from openly criticizing .sucks pricing and policies. They called it a “gag order”.

Com Laude SVP Jeff Neuman was one of the strongest critics. I believe he was a key influence on a Registrar Stakeholder Group letter (pdf) in January which essentially said registrars would boycott the new RRA.

That letter said:

It’s ironic for a Registry whose slogan is “Foster debate, Share opinions” has now essentially proposed implementing a gag order on the registrars that sell the .sucks TLD by preventing them from doing just that

While the RRA dispute was resolved more or less amicably following ICANN mediation, with Vox Pop backpedaling somewhat on its proposed changes, Com Laude now believes the registry has held a grudge.

Its statement does not say what part of the .sucks RRA it is alleged to have breached.

Vox Pop has not yet returned a request for comment. I’ll provide an update should I receive further information.

Com Laude said in a statement today:

Jeff Neuman, our SVP of our North American business, Com Laude USA, led the effort in the Registrar Stakeholder Group to quash proposed changes to Vox Populi’s registry-registrar agreement, in order to protect the interests of brand owners and the registrars who work with them. Since then, Vox Populi has accused Com Laude of breaching the terms of the registry-registrar agreement, a claim we take seriously and refute in its entirety. We are now considering our further options.

Wood added:

We have informed our clients of the action being taken and all have expressed their support for the manner in which we have handled it. We are pleased to have received messages of support from across the ICANN community including other registry operators. Clearly there is strong distaste at the practices of Vox Populi.

Strong stuff.

NameVault terminated by ICANN

NameVault, a registrar that once had over 75,000 domains under management, has been terminated by ICANN over multiple alleged contract breaches.

ICANN told (pdf) the Canadian company this week that its right to sell gTLD domain names will come to an end June 17.

The breaches primarily relate to its failure to provide records relating to the domain stronglikebull.com and its failure to provide ICANN with a working phone number.

NameVault belonged to domain investor Adam Matuzich, but I hear he may have sold it off to an Indian outfit several months ago (that may have been a surprise to ICANN too).

Back in 2011, it had over 75,000 names on its books. Today, it has fewer than 1,000.

The decline seems to be largely due to the departure of fellow domain investor Mike Berkens, who started taking his portfolio to Hexonet a few years ago.

ICANN will now ask other registrars if they want to take over NameVault’s domains.

It’s the fourth registrar to lose its accreditation this year.

Neustar wants to be a registrar ASAP

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Registries

Neustar, registry manager for the .biz and .us top-level domains, has put the wheels in motion to acquire an ICANN registrar accreditation as soon as possible.

It’s the first major gTLD operator to formally request permission to “vertically integrate” since ICANN announced last November that it was prepared to lift the ownership caps that have previously kept registries and registrars quite strictly separated.

Neustar’s .biz contract currently forbids it from owning more than 15% of an ICANN registrar.

In a letter to ICANN sent this afternoon, Neustar vice president of law and policy Jeff Neuman said the company wants this provision deleted:

We are asking for this language now to allow Neustar to compete fairly for new gTLDs on the same terms and conditions as registrars entering the new gTLD registry market.

It is critical to resolve this issue immediately to ensure that Neustar is able to compete on a level playing field with the new entrants into the marketplace and to promote the efficiencies and innovation for consumers as advocated by the ICANN Board.

ICANN shocked the industry last year when its board of directors decided to allow registries and registrars to own each other.

The decision meant that niche community and brand TLDs will be able to sell direct to registrants, without having to secure the support of reluctant big-name registrars.

It also meant that existing gTLD operators will be able to own registrars for the first time.

As a caveat, designed to protect consumers from gaming registries, ICANN proposed a Code of Conduct designed to limit the cross-pollination of data that could be abused.

Similarly, the Code calls for registries to treat all approved registrars equally, regardless of ownership stakes, to avoid competition concerns.

Neuman wrote that Neustar is prepared to have language along the lines of the current draft Code of Conduct, but “no more restrictive”, incorporated into the .biz registry contract.

Other incumbent gTLD registry operators, notably VeriSign and Afilias, are bound by similar contractual restrictions and will presumably also pursue their options along the same lines in future.

Surge in new domain registrars

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2011, Domain Registrars

ICANN is seeing a spike in newly accredited domain name registrars.

Since the start of the year, the organization has approved 16 new companies, compared to only about 40 in the whole of 2010.

About half a dozen of the new registrars appear to belong to domain investor Andrew Reberry of TurnCommerce, which owns domains such as Glossary.com, Bulldozers.com and Fluff.com.

Many of the others were accredited yesterday and have very generic registrar names, such as Host Name Services Inc, International Registration Services Inc and Online Name Services Inc.

There are no web sites associated with this latest batch yet, but I’d be surprised if many turn out to have sought accreditation with customer-facing domain services in mind.

This is pure speculation, but I wonder if any of this may be related to ICANN’s recent decision to loosen the restrictions on cross-ownership between registrars and registries.

If and when ICANN opens up its new top-level domains program to applications, which could happen as soon as August, potential registries will also be allowed to own registrars.

Could the market for flipping accredited companies return? It’s happened before, but it may not be the most efficient or economical way of achieving accreditation nowadays.

The uptick in newly approved registrars may of course just be an anomaly.

WordPress.com becomes a domain name registrar

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2010, Domain Registrars

Automattic, the company behind the WordPress.com blogging service, appears to have been granted an ICANN registrar accreditation, which would allow it to start selling domain names direct to its users.

The development seems to put a question mark next to the company’s reseller relationship with Go Daddy subsidiaries Wild West Domains and Domains By Proxy.

Currently, WordPress.com allows users to buy domain names and map them to their wordpress.com blog directly through their blog’s interface. The company charges $17 a year, with optional privacy.

It’s my understanding that the company currently acts as a Wild West Domains reseller, with the privacy protection service offered by Domains By Proxy. Both are Go Daddy companies.

Recently, WordPress.com started offering an Offsite Redirect service, enabling users to bounce visitors to example.wordpress.com to example.com after they’ve switched hosts.

Go Daddy used this as an opportunity to encourage WordPress.com users to migrate to its own hosting service in this blog post.

Automattic showed up on ICANN’s list of accredited registrars IDs yesterday, suggesting that it will not be long before it is also on the official list of accredited registrars.