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ICANN director slammed vertical integration

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN really shook up the domain name industry last month when it said it was dropping rules that prevent registrars and registries from owning each other.

But two of its directors voted against the decision and one, George Sadowsky, entered a lengthy dissenting opinion in which he said the benefits of so-called “vertical integration” are “largely illusory”.

Vertical integration would allow existing registrars to apply to run new top-level domains. It would enable companies to more easily apply for “.brand” or small niche TLDs.

This has been banned in previous registry contracts, due in part to the potential for abuse of registry data and anti-competitive behaviour by registrars.

Sadowsky delivered a four-point objection to the VI resolution, which was passed in early November, according to minutes published this week.

He said that introducing VI at the same time as the new TLD program would create unpredictable and irreversible consequences for the industry, and questioned ICANN’s ability to enforce compliance with data-sharing rules.

in spite of the measures to be taken to ensure “good conduct,” the resolution has the potential to commingle all of the data, public and private, regarding a registry in one place, providing the possibility of easy and invisible sharing of data within a merged or co-owned entity regardless of the scope of any agreement with ICANN.

Such sharing is likely to be undetectable given the close affiliations among the entities. Data now forbidden to be shared between registries and registrars will be shared. Both auditing and enforcement by ICANN are unlikely to be effective, all the more so as we move from 20+ to hundreds of new gTLDs.

Data sharing would give registrars greater insight into valuable domains, potentially facilitating registrant-unfriendly activities such as warehousing.

Those companies which opposed VI, including Afilias and Go Daddy, have previously said that the potential for registrar abuse, harming registrars, was too great.

Sadowsky said:

Assuming that each gTLD registry must continue to treat all registrars equally, the real benefits of vertical integration are largely illusory, but those that can be easily obtained by the officially forbidden sharing of data are real

The minutes also show that Mike Silber voted against the resolution, saying he “believes there will be very unpleasant, unintended consequences”.

Harald Alvestrand, Ram Mohan, Thomas Narten, Jonne Soininen and Bruce Tonkin had conflicts of interest and were not in the room for the debate. The two voting directors, Tonkin and Alvestrand, officially abstained from the vote.

The minutes also contain this mysterious entry:

Confidential Issue
Pursuant to Article V, Section 5.4 of the ICANN Bylaws, the Board of Directors, by unanimous vote, determimed that, to protect the interests of ICANN, the matter under discussion should not be included in the minutes until such time as the Board designated the item should be published.

Anybody with any ideas what this might be, please feel free to theorize in the comments.

What next for new TLDs? Part 4 – GAC Concerns

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2010, Domain Policy

Like or loathe the decision, ICANN’s new top-level domains program appears to have been delayed again.

But for how long? And what has to happen now before ICANN starts accepting applications?

In short, what the heck happened in Cartagena last week?

In this four-part post, I will attempt an analysis of the various things I think need to happen before the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) is approved.

In this fourth post, I will look at areas of the AGB that the Governmental Advisory Committee is still concerned about.

GAC Concerns

The GAC’s laundry list of objections and concerns has grown with every official Communique it has released during an ICANN public meeting over the last few years.

While it has not yet published its official “scorecard” of demands for the home-stretch negotiations, it has released a list of 11 points (pdf) it wants to discuss with the board.

These 11 points can be grouped into a smaller number of buckets: objections and disputes procedures, trademark protection, registry-registrar separation, and the treatment of geographical names.

I wrote about the trademark issue in part one of this post.

The GAC appears to have adopted many of the arguments of the IP lobby – it thinks the AGB does not currently do enough to ensure the costs to business of new TLDs will be minimized – so we might expect that to be a major topic of discussion at the GAC-Board retreat in February.

I’ll be interested to hear what it has to say about registry-registrar separation.

The GAC has been pushing for some looser cross-ownership restrictions, in order to foster competition, since 2007, and most recently in September.

It has previously been in favor of restrictions on “insider” companies with market power, but for a more relaxed environment for new entrants (such as “community” TLDs that may largely operate under agreements with their local governments).

This position looks quite compatible with ICANN’s new vertical integration policy, to me, so I’m not sure where the GAC’s concerns currently lie.

The issue of disputes and objections may be the trickiest one.

The GAC basically wants a way for its members to block “controversial” TLD applications on public policy grounds, without having to pay fees.

The “Rec6” policy, previously known as “morality and public order objections” is one of the issues the ICANN board has specifically acknowledged is Not Closed.

This is from its Cartagena resolution:

Discussions will continue on (1) the roles of the Board, GAC, and ALAC in the objection process, (2) the incitement to discrimination criterion, and (3) fees for GAC and ALAC-instigated objections. ICANN will take into account public comment including the advice of the GAC, and looks forward to receiving further input from the working group in an attempt to close this issue.

GAC members on the Rec6 working group repeatedly highlighted objection fees as a deal-breaker – governments don’t want to have to pay to object to TLD applications.

This appears to been cast as some kind of sovereignty-based matter of principle, although I suppose it could just as easily be an “in this economic climate” budgeting concern.

ICANN’s position is that the GAC as a whole can object for free, but that individual governments have to pay. Fees for some objection procedures will run into tens of thousands of dollars.

The GAC also has beef with the AGB’s treatment of geographic strings.

This is an area where ICANN says the AGB already “substantially reflects the views of the ICANN community” but intends to take GAC comments into account.

ICANN has already made substantial concessions on the geographic names issue, but there may still be a few loopholes through which territory names could slip through the net and be approved without the endorsement of their local governments.

Finally, the GAC wants to include amendments to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, previously recommended by law enforcement agencies, in the AGB discussion.

The appears to have come completely out of the blue, without any direct relevance to the new TLD program.

It’s a long list covering a lot of issues, and it could get longer when the GAC publishes its official “scorecard”. We’ll have to wait and see.

What next for new TLDs? Part 3 – The .xxx Factor

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2010, Domain Registries

Like or loathe the decision, ICANN’s new top-level domains program appears to have been delayed again.

But for how long? And what has to happen now before ICANN starts accepting applications?

In short, what the heck happened in Cartagena last week?

In this four-part post, I will attempt an analysis of the various things I think need to happen before the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) is approved.

In this third post, I will look at the state of play with the .xxx TLD application, and what that means for the new TLD process.

The .xxx Factor

At some time in February, the ICANN board and its Governmental Advisory Committee plan to meet (possibly in Geneva) to discuss both the AGB and the .xxx TLD proposal.

While these are two separate issues, how .xxx is being handled may have an impact on the timetable for the AGB’s approval.

Let’s first look at what’s happening with .xxx.

As you will have almost certainly already read, the ICANN board resolved on Friday that it “intends to approve” .xxx, despite GAC advice that may be to the contrary.

The ICANN-GAC power structure is governed by an 11-point charter in ICANN’s bylaws. The last two points, J and K, deal with what happens when the two parties disagree.

Under what, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to call “GAC-J” (instead of “ICANN Bylaws section Article XI, Section 2, Paragraph 1(j)”), ICANN has to call a meeting with the GAC when it plans to disregard GAC advice.

Specifically, if the ICANN board “determines to take an action” that is not consistent with GAC advice, it has to “inform” the GAC, stating why it decided to not follow the advice, then “try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution”.

GAC-J has, to the best of my knowledge, never been invoked before. There isn’t even a procedure in place for handling this kind of official consultation.

But on Friday, the board stated that it intends to not follow the GAC’s advice on the .xxx application and “hereby invokes the consultation as provided for in ICANN Bylaws section Article XI, Section 2, Paragraph 1(j).”

Now that GAC-J has been invoked, the GAC and board will meet to find their “mutually acceptable solution”.

Should such a solution prove elusive, the ICANN board has to make a final decision, stating why it has disregarded the GAC’s advice. That’s handled by what I’ll call GAC-K.

What does all this have to do with new TLDs and the timetable for the publication and approval of the final Applicant Guidebook?

As ICM Registry president Stuart Lawley pointed out in a comment on CircleID, the procedures being created to resolve the .xxx dispute could very well soon be applied to the AGB.

As Lawley points out, ICANN has not yet put the GAC on notice that it plans to disagree with any of the 11 concerns outlined in the Cartagena GAC Communique.

While the Communique “assumes” ICANN has invoked GAC-J with regards new TLDs, the board has not explicitly done so.

This is uncharted territory, but I think it’s possible that this oversight (if it is an oversight) has the potential to add latency to the new AGB approval timetable.

ICANN might be well-advised to pass a resolution officially invoking GAC-J before the February bilateral meeting, in order to turn it into a bylaws-compatible consultation.

As long as it invokes the bylaws before March, the San Francisco meeting will be able to host a GAC-Board consultation under the terms of GAC-J, enabling the AGB to be approved that week.

If ICANN does not take either of these options, the GAC will be able (if it wants to be a pain) to further delay the process by demanding another inter-sessional consultation, like it just did in Cartagena.

I’ll discuss the GAC’s actual concerns in the fourth part of this post.

What next for new TLDs? Part 2 – The GAC Bottleneck

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2010, Domain Registries

Like or loathe the decision, ICANN’s new top-level domains program appears to have been delayed again.

But for how long? And what has to happen now before ICANN starts accepting applications?

In short, what the heck happened in Cartagena last week?

In this four-part post, I will attempt an analysis of the various things I think need to happen before the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) is approved.

In this second post I will look at the process problems presented by ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

The GAC Bottleneck

The main meta-story of Cartagena was ICANN’s turbulent relationship with its Governmental Advisory Committee, which is either maturing or (less likely) heading to towards a shattering collision.

The two big proposals that were widely expected to get the ICANN board’s nod last Friday – the new TLD final Applicant Guidebook and the .xxx TLD – were both delayed in whole or part by the GAC.

It’s become abundantly clear that the overall ICANN decision-making process has become subject to what I’m going to call the GAC Bottleneck.

If ICANN is serious about getting things done to its desired timetable in future, it will need to start paying attention to the GAC much earlier and much more seriously.

There’s been a failure to communicate over the last several years, the inherently problematic results of which were clearly embodied in sessions last Monday in which the GAC and the ICANN board discussed the definition of “advice”.

If there’s an “advisory” committee, and neither the committee nor the body its “advises” knows what “advice” means, that’s a pretty big stumbling block to constructive dialogue, which helps nobody.

The GAC believes that this historic uncertainty is the main reason why the new TLD program has hit an impasse at this late stage in the process.

The official Cartagena GAC Communique said:

the GAC considers that these [unresolved GAC concerns with the AGB] result primarily from the fact that the Board adopted the GNSO recommendations on new gTLDs without taking due account of GAC advice at that time, thereby creating a flawed process.

That’s pretty strong stuff – the GAC is basically saying that all the thousands of discussions the community has endured since 2007 have been carried out under faulty assumptions, because ICANN failed to pay heed to GAC advice when it was writing the rules of engagement for developing new TLD policy.

It’s also the reason we’re looking at the need for a GAC-Board retreat next February, at which ICANN will attempt to address the GAC’s outstanding concerns, before the AGB can be approved.

More on that in part three of this post.

What next for new TLDs? Part 1 – Unresolved Issues

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2010, Domain Services

Like or loathe the decision, ICANN’s new top-level domains program appears to have been delayed again.

But for how long? And what has to happen now before ICANN starts accepting applications?

In short, what the heck happened in Cartagena last week?

In this four-part post, I will attempt an analysis of the various things I think need to happen before the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) is approved.

In this first post I will look at the issues that ICANN has explicitly tagged as unresolved, with special reference to trademarks.

Unresolved Issues

ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, explaining the board’s resolution on new TLDs on Friday, said:

The intention has been, as much as possible, to indicate those areas where the board feels that the work that has been done is sufficient to move to closure… What we’ve also tried to do is indicate which areas are still clearly open for consideration.

The resolution names only two issues that are explicitly still open for further policy development: geographic strings and “morality and public order” objections. I’ll discuss these in a future post.

Issues considered already reflecting “the negotiated position of the ICANN community” include “trademark protection, mitigating malicious conduct, and root-zone scaling”.

But does this mean that the trademark issue, easily the most contentious of these three “overarching issues” is really sufficiently “closed” that we’ll see no more changes to those parts of the AGB?

I don’t think so. While the Cartagena resolutions say trademark protection has been addressed, it also says “ICANN will take into account public comment including the advice of the GAC.”

It may be too late for the IP community to affect changes directly, beyond the comments they’ve already filed, but the GAC, which has already aligned itself with the trademark lobby, may be able to.

Beyond the text of the resolution, ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush said in an interview with ICANN head of media relations Brad White:

We’ve spent a lot of time with the trademark community and come up with three new independent mechanisms for protecting trademark rights on the internet. So the sense of board and the sense of the community is that that’s probably a sufficient effort in developing mechanisms. What we now might look at is how we might enhance, tweak and improve those processes, but we’re not going to convene another process to look at yet another kind of solution for intellectual property rights.

In other words, according to Dengate Thrush, ICANN isn’t planning to create any new IP rights protection mechanisms in the AGB, but these mechanisms, such as Uniform Rapid Suspension and the Trademark Clearinghouse, could be still be modified based on comments received from the trademark lobby over the last week or so.

Most of the outcry from the IP lobby recently has called for the specifics of these two mechanisms to be tilted more in favor of trademark interests; there’s been little call for any new mechanisms.

Trademark rights protections also account for two of the 11 issues that the Governmental Advisory Committee has tagged “outstanding” which “require additional discussion”, by my reading.

More on the GAC bottleneck in part two of this post.

ICANN new TLD launch delayed (again)

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s new top-level domains program has been delayed, likely for a few months at least, after governments submitted a laundry list of issues they believe are still unresolved.

The Governmental Advisory Committee is mainly bothered that the Applicant Guidebook fails to adequately protect trademark rights and that the cost of the program could outweigh the benefits.

The ICANN board resolved at its meeting here in Cartagena earlier today to meet with the GAC for an unprecedented consultation next February.

(The meeting will also discuss the .xxx application, which I’ve reported on for The Register).

The actual board resolution is hopelessly lengthy and confusing at first reading. Take this doublethink:

ICANN considers that the solutions developed to address the overarching issues of trademark protection, mitigating malicious conduct, and root-zone scaling substantially reflect the negotiated position of the ICANN community, but ICANN will take into account public comment including the advice of the GAC.

Some delegates here tell me they think this means the book has been closed on the portions of the guidebook dealing with IP protection mechanisms, for example.

(J Scott Evans, head of the IP constituency, stormed out of the room in a huff when this part of the resolution was read aloud.)

But the text of the resolution pretty clearly states that IP protections and the other overarching issues are still open for negotiation with the GAC and could be amended based on comments filed this week.

The resolution is open to interpretation with regards these three “overarching issues”.

It does, however, refer to other issues that are explicitly unresolved in ICANN’s view, namely the treatment of geographic names and the handling of “morality and public order” objections.

Both are singled out as needing more work before they can be finalized.

What does all this mean for the launch timetable? I think it means there isn’t one. Again.

[The ICANN board] Directs staff to synthesize the results of these consultations and comments, and to prepare revisions to the guidebook to enable the Board to make a decision on the launch of the new gTLD program as soon as possible.

“As soon as possible” is either meaningless or, taken literally, means the board’s next meeting. That’s likely to be late January, if previous years are any guide.

ICANN sees “crescendo” of new TLD comment

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2010, Domain Registries

With less than 24 hours to go before ICANN’s board of directors decides the fate of the new top-level domains program, the comments and criticisms are rapidly accumulating, split along predictable lines.

In short: pretty much everybody in the domain name industry wants the TLD process to kick off ASAP, and pretty much everybody else who has an interest thinks it should not.

Kurt Pritz, ICANN’s senior vice president of stakeholder relations, said at a press conference this morning that “rather than comment diminishing towards the end to a whimper and the Guidebook being launched, we’re seeing it raising to a crescendo”.

Publicly filed comments can be found here.

“Crescendo” may be an over-statement, but verbal comments here at the ICANN meeting have been flying thick and fast and the rhetoric dial will certainly get turned up to 11 during the public forum this afternoon.

Many opponents of the proposed final Applicant Guidebook are objecting to the fact that the deadline for filing comments is tomorrow, just a couple of hours before the board convenes.

Microsoft associate general counsel Russell Pangborn, for instance, wrote:

Approval of the PAG on December 10 conveys the message that the Board deems public comment irrelevant. The possibility that ICANN staff will have read all public comment and provided a public comment summary to the Board with sufficient time for full consideration and discussion by the Board is slim at best.

Microsoft is one of many companies worried that new TLD registries’ business models will essentially be subsidized by defensive registrations paid for by big trademark holders.

The US Chamber of Commerce put it fairly succinctly:

the current plan still requires businesses to pay for defensive registrations in hundreds of new gTLDs, at prices that are unconstrained by ICANN or other bodies… Moreover, the legal expenses and domain acquisition costs of defensive registrations will not be offset by potential economic or informational value to either registrants or Internet users.

But the most comprehensively detailed objection filed by IP stakeholders over the last day or so seems to have come from INTA, the International Trademark Association.

Weighing in at 15 pages, the INTA filing says the AGB “raises significant new issues”, such as the lifting of the vertical integration ban and the new registry code of conduct.

One of its biggest issues, which I’ve heard from several other people here in Cartagena this week, is that the AGB’s rights protection mechanisms, such as Uniform Rapid Suspension and the Trademark Clearinghouse, seem to specifically exclude non-US trademarks.

That’s a pretty big issue for Europeans – the German representative on the Governmental Advisory Committee indicated on Tuesday that he thinks it’s a deal-breaker.

As I blogged yesterday, the GAC has aligned itself with the trademark lobby in its objections to ICANN, which may well delay the launch of the new TLD program somewhat.

The key issue for the GAC is the balance between cost (to trademark owners) and benefit (to everyone else).

Elliot Noss of Tucows expressed in his comment how difficult it is to predict what economic value could be created by new TLDs.

When the new round proceeds we will see a marked change in the way people will use domain names. The ability to find resources of all kinds more easily on the Internet will provide a small, but clear incremental benefit to users. But that benefit will be felt trillions of times! Every time someone finds something on the Internet more easily there will be a benefit.

There has been a lot of discussion of competition for .com. What we need to think about is NOT will any single domain become a competitor for .com, but instead will a large number of domains in aggregate provide competition for .com. This issue cannot possibly be understood by studying the extremely limited TLD introductions of the past.

Some other likely TLD applicants kept their statements short and sweet, perhaps for fear of inadvertently causing delay through verbosity.

Statton Hammock of Network Solutions wrote:

A document of this complexity and importance can never be “perfect,” or “complete” in the eyes of everyone. Though further refinements to the language could be made, we believe that the DAG, in its current form, is robust enough to support the launch of the new gTLD application process.

Pritz said that the ICANN board is “actively monitoring” the comments and will continue to do so up until its meeting tomorrow.

Trademarks may delay new TLD approval

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2010, Domain Registries

The intellectual property lobby won a notable victory this week, after governments told ICANN they want it to delay approval of the new top-level domains program until it has more cybersquatting protections.

Some members of the Governmental Advisory Committee appear to have been lobbied hard by the IP community, and have taken its concerns on board more or less wholesale.

The UK representative, Mark Carvell of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, was most vocal during a meeting of the GAC and ICANN board here in Cartagena, Colombia yesterday.

He said of the proposed final Applicant Guidebook for new TLDs (which the GAC still pointedly refers to as the “DAG”, for Draft Applicant Guidebook):

Most representations we received came from brand owners, rights holders, they’re the ones being most agitated by this. I think they also recognized the potential opportunities, but the big issue for them was the costs…

The rights protection mechanisms are still not effective enough, that’s what’s coming to us in the Ministry… If you’re really hoping to sign off the guidebook this week, I think that’s something you really ought to reconsider.

Carvell pointed in particular to the proposed Trademark Clearinghouse and Uniform Rapid Suspension policies as needing work – this is essentially the IP lobby’s position also.

His views were supported by Germany, Norway and the Canadian GAC chair, among others.

A repeated refrain was “we’re not there yet”, which prompted ICANN vice-chair Dennis Jennings to push for a definition of “there”. What, in other words, would make the GAC happy enough to go ahead?

The GAC isn’t great when it comes to providing straight answers to those kinds of questions, but Carvell gave it a shot.

He said that currently the GAC does not believe that the benefits of new TLDs outweigh the costs. When it does, that would be the “key turning point”:

When we get to that position, that the benefits for businesses, for the global economy, for opportunities for business, are going to be greater, scaled-up, greater than the costs to brand owners and those who are going to have shell out big-time in order to effectively subsidize, in their view, perhaps subsidize the process.

The US representative, Suzanne Sene, added that “the whole issue is of feeling confident that benefits will outweigh the costs”.

That’s still worryingly free of a measurable benchmark, if you’re an impatient new TLD applicant.

In a further open meeting today, it became clear that the GAC is still putting forth the idea that there could be a “fast-track” or “trial” style TLD application round for “non-controversial” TLDs – presumably meaning TLDs of little interest to defensive trademark holders.

GAC chair Heather Dryden said today that “introducing a conservative first round is the best way to manage risk in the unknown”, an idea that was promptly challenged by TLD applicants including Minds + Machines CEO Antony Van Couvering.

I don’t get the feeling that the GAC has thought the idea through a great deal. In order to be half-way objective, it would presumably require the created of a second, parallel AGB for pre-approving applications. I don’t think the idea has legs.

But do the GAC’s objections mean that new TLD program, currently pencilled in to open the first application round May 30, 2011, will be delayed?

The GAC has not yet submitted its formal Cartagena advice (it should be published tomorrow), but it will presumably reflect the concerns raised over the last few days.

Under ICANN’s bylaws, the organization has to justify any decision to reject GAC advice and then “try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution.”

European Commission representative Bill Dee invoked that part of the bylaws during yesterday’s meeting, and ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush agreed that talks were needed.

Dengate Thrush said he was in favor of a GAC-board meeting over one or two days at some point between now and the San Francisco ICANN meeting next March, to thrash out their differences and Dryden seemed to agree.

If that meeting was held fairly soon, it would not necessarily mean ICANN misses the May 30 deadline.

The current proposed timeline contains a 30-day window between Friday and January 11 in which ICANN staff update the “approved” AGB according to the board’s directions.

There follows an obligatory four-month ICANN outreach and marketing campaign.

Conceivably, although scheduling may be a challenge, if the GAC and board meet and resolve their differences over the next 30 days or so, the May 30 deadline could be workable.

I think it might be quite unlikely that’s going to happen, however.

The ICANN board convenes to discuss and vote on the AGB this Friday. It will be very interesting to see how its resolution is worded, and whether it can both save face and serve the GAC.

New TLDs “not at risk”, but delay not ruled out

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s program to introduce new top-level domains has not been put at risk by the US government’s recent request for delay, according to both its chairman and chief executive.

Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush and CEO Rod Beckstrom sought to play down the significance of the Department of Commerce letter during a press conference here in Cartagena this afternoon.

Dengate Thrush said the sudden involvement of the US in the new TLD policy was not a surprise, but was “one more factor to take into account” that did not put the program as a whole at risk.

Beckstrom noted that the Commerce letter was submitted to the ongoing public comment period, and would be treated as such, saying “obviously along with other inputs received we will duly consider it”.

Dengate Thrush elaborated, saying ICANN was still considering how to formally respond to the letter.

Because it deals with both Affirmation of Commitments and AGB concerns, it appears that the two threads may be unpicked and dealt with separately.

Both men were obviously more coy about whether the US intervention could delay final approval of the Applicant Guidebook, which the ICANN board will vote on this Friday.

Currently, the plan is to open the first round of applications May 30. But it seems that’s a target, not a promise.

Observing that the AGB continues to stir up passions on both sides of the debate, Dengate Thrush said that it is unlikely that the board will be swayed either way by passion alone.

But if “getting it right” means adding a month or two of delay to the launch date of the program, then that’s what the board will have to do, he said.

A similar sentiment on the constructiveness of comments was put forward by outgoing director Harald Alvestrand during a session yesterday.

He indicated that comments that merely reiterate long-held and previously considered disagreements are unlikely to cause delays, but changed minds based on new information could carry weight.

With the comments of all three directors in mind, it’s probably a bit early to second-guess the board’s Friday decision.

Apparently they are being fed updates on new AGB comments as they are received, so they can be as informed as possible before convening.

My feeling is that a full picture of the decision the board faces is unlikely to emerge for a few days.

Porn group threatens lawsuits over new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2010, Domain Registries

Porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition has added its name to the list of organizations saying that ICANN could be sued over its new top-level domains program.

In her latest letter to ICANN, FSC executive director Diane Duke has made a last-ditch attempt to get the proposed .xxx TLD rejected, and not-so-subtly raises the threat of court action:

ICM Registry promises millions of dollars of income for ICANN, assuming that income is not consumed by the inevitable litigation which ICANN will find itself a party to if the proposal is adopted

But she also writes about lawsuits targeting the new TLD program itself.

ICM’s .xxx application is being handled under the rules established for “sponsored” TLDs in 2003, rather than the rules for gTLDs in the Applicant Guidebook that will be enforced in future.

As such, .xxx is not subject to challenges such as the “morality and public order objections” envisioned by the AGB, unlike potential future applications such as .porn. Duke wrote:

What about those in the adult community who wish to apply for a gTLD? With ICANN’s policy development in regards to “Morality and Public Order” will gTLDs be held to a higher standard than the sTLD? Does ICANN believe that it is not liable for this inequity? Any company prepared to invest the substantial moneys necessary to manage a gTLD will surely take ICANN to court to demand equitable standards for their TLD application.

She goes on to suggest that ICM itself may sue to block such applicants.

Does ICANN really believe that the litigious ICM will sit idly by while a .SEX or .PORN gTLD is introduced? Is ICANN so naive to believe that the purveyor of the “sponsored” TLD, who spent in excess of $10 million to bully its way through ICANN’s processes, will stop its threats of litigation with a mere approval of the sTLD?

Is the FSC privy to the TLD aspirations of others in the adult business? Or is this just a lot of hot air born out of desperation? I guess time will tell.

The FSC becomes the third organization to publicly threaten litigation in order to get what it wants out of ICANN.

As I’ve previously reported, the International Olympic Committee and the BITS financial trade group have already made similar noises.

ICANN expects to set aside $60,000 from every $185,000 TLD application fee to deal with “risks” including the expense of defending itself from lawsuits.

The ICANN board is expected to vote on the .xxx application and the new TLD program next Friday. I expect the number of organizations threatening lawsuits will be in double figures by then.