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Industry objection forming to Google and Amazon’s keyword gTLD land grab

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2012, Domain Registries

Members of the domain name industry, led by Michele Neylon of Blacknight, plan to complain to ICANN about dozens of single-registrant new gTLD applications filed by Google and Amazon.

The signatories of a new letter are bothered by plans by these companies and others to hold dictionary word gTLDs for their own exclusive use, not allowing regular internet users to register domains.

While the letter does not call out applicants by name, it specifically mentions .blog, .music and .cloud as examples of potentially objectionable single-registrant gTLDs.

Google has applied for .blog and .cloud for its own use, among many others. Amazon has done the same for .cloud and .music and dozens of others. All three are heavily contested.

The letter is so far signed by 13 people, many of whom work for registrars. It states in part:

generic words used in a generic way belong to all people. It is inherently in the public interest to allow access to generic new gTLDs to the whole of the Internet Community, e.g., .BLOG, .MUSIC, .CLOUD. Allowing everyone to register and use second level domain names of these powerful, generic TLDs is exactly what we envisioned the New gTLD Program would do. In contrast, to allow individual Registry Operators to segregate and close-off common words for which they do not possess intellectual property rights in effect allows them to circumvent nation-states’ entrenched legal processes for obtaining legitimate and recognized trademark protections.

The ICANN Applicant Guidebook gives certain special privileges to single-registrant gTLDs.

In its discretion, ICANN can release such registries from the Code of Conduct, which obliges them to treat all accredited registrars on a non-discriminatory basis.

The condition for this exception is that “all domain name registrations in the TLD are registered to, and maintained by, Registry Operator for its own exclusive use”.

The measure was designed to capture dot-brand gTLDs such as .google and .amazon, where only the registry itself controls the second-level domain names.

But Google seems to want to benefit from the exception to the Code of Conduct while still offering second-level domains for use by its customers, at least in some applications.

In its .blog application, for example, it states:

Charleston Road Registry [the applying Google subsidiary] intends to apply for an exemption to ICANN’s Registry Operator Code of Conduct and operate the proposed gTLD with Google as the sole registrar and registrant. The proposed gTLD will specifically align with Blogger, an existing Google product, and will provide users with improved capabilities that meet their diverse needs.

The specialization goal of the proposed gTLD is to provide a dedicated second-level domain space for the management of a userʹs Blogger account.

However, the same application also states:

The mission of the proposed gTLD is to provide a dedicated domain space in which users can publish blogs. All registered domains in the .blog gTLD will automatically be delegated to Google DNS servers, which will in turn provide authoritative DNS responses pointing to the Google Blogger service. The mission of the proposed gTLD is to simplify the Blogger user experience. Users will be able to publish content on a unique .blog domain (e.g., myname.blog) which will serve as a short and memorable URL for a particular Blogger account.

“Google want .blog to be only for Blogspot users, which is insane,” Neylon told DI. “No one company should have control of a generic name space like that.”

“The new TLD project spent thousands of hours working on protecting IP rights, and then you get big companies blatantly abusing the system,” he said.

It’s not at all clear whether Google’s plan for .blog is a permitted use case. Does Google’s plan for .blog and other gTLDs mean third parties will be “controlling” and/or “using” .blog domains?

Or is its plan more akin to a dot-brand offering its customers vanity URLs, such as kevin.barclays or john.citi?

I err to the former interpretation.

When a new gTLD applicant asked ICANN for clarity on this matter last December, ICANN’s response was:

“Exclusive use” has its common meaning. The domain name must be exclusively used by the Registry Operator, and no unaffiliated (using the definition of “Affiliate” in the Registry Agreement) third-party may have control over the registration or use of the domain name.

Neylon said he plans to send the letter to ICANN management, board and new gTLD program Independent Objector next week. There’s no target number of signatures.

One-letter domain sales not enough for .co

.CO Internet has added another high-profile customer to its roster of .co domain name registrants with the announcement today that Amazon has purchased four premium names.

Amazon has acquired a.co, k.co, z.co and cloud.co. The deal follows the allocation of t.co and x.co to Twitter and Go Daddy respectively and Overstock.com’s purchase of o.co.

While this is undoubtedly great news for .co’s visibility, it seems to me that .CO Internet is in danger of looking like a one-trick pony due to the brand’s over-reliance on high-profile short domain deals.

If Amazon throws its marketing muscle behind cloud.co, that will prove much more useful in terms of awareness-raising than the allocation of more single-character domains ever will.

It remains to be seen what Amazon plans to do with its three new short .co domains. It would be much more useful for the TLD if they are used for purposes other than URL shorteners.

There are only 36 such domains available. If people only associate .co with short Twitter links, the appeal of the TLD could be checked.

.CO Internet knows this, of course, which is why its marketing strategy from the start has been focused on gaining rank-and-file support from entrepreneurs and web developers.

Right now, I can’t help but feel that the longevity of the .co brand could benefit much more from a successful start-up or two than yet another single-character domain sale.

Prices for the Amazon domains were not disclosed. The four domains combined could feasibly have fetched a seven-figure sum, judging by the $350,000 Overstock paid for o.co.

The registry has also for some months been trying to sell off i.co, and has engaged Sedo as its broker.