Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

auDA rejects domaining ban but approves second-level domains

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2019, Domain Policy

Australian ccTLD registry auDA has rejected a proposal that would have essentially banned domainers from the .au space.

In response to recommendations of its Policy Review Panel, auDA management said that the PRP “has not provided any evidentiary material” that so-called “warehousing” is harmful.

It further concluded that the policies proposed for monitoring and rooting out suspected domainers would disproportionately increase compliance costs for both registrants and auDA itself.

In management’s response (pdf) to the PRP, auDA wrote that the ban would make investors second-class citizens when compared to powerful trademark owners:

The warehousing prohibition appears to disproportionately target domain investors as the licence portfolios or holdings of trademark and brand owners will be excluded under the PRP proposal. This proposal elevates the rights of trademark and other intellectual property owners over other licence holders in the .au domain, which may give rise to issues of market power and anti-competitive practices. Management believes that further information is required to assess whether the net benefit to the community of prohibiting warehousing in respect of a class of registrants outweighs the competition issues. For these reasons Management believes that there should be no change to the existing policy position.

It added:

Management does not support the PRP recommendation for a resale and warehousing prohibition for the reasons set out earlier. The proposed test for determining whether a registrant has contravened the resale and warehousing prohibition will increase compliance costs for registrants and administration, monitoring and enforcement costs for auDA. These costs may be disproportionate to the risk or severity of the harm to the community from warehousing and the cost of a licence in the .au domain.

Not only did it decide not to crack down on domainers, but auDA also plans to make their lives a little easier by updating current eligibility policy to explicitly state that parking, or “monetization”, is permitted.

To ensure there is no ambiguity or reliance on interpreting ‘content’, auDA management has recommended an additional allocation criteria can be applied to com.au and net.au which would include that a domain name could be used for the purpose of pay-per-click or affiliate web advertising/ lead generation, or electronic information services including email, file transfer protocol, cloud storage or managing Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

It’s a comprehensive win for domainers, such as those represented by the Internet Commerce Association, which had been outraged by the PRP’s findings.

It’s less good news when it comes to the perhaps more controversial plans to allow direct, second-level registrations under .au.

auDA has decided to go ahead with these longstanding plans, which domainers worry will promote confusion and dilute the value of their third-level .com.au portfolios.

The new draft plans (pdf) for the launch of 2LDs would see existing 3LD registrants given “priority status” to register the exact-match 2LD.

There would be a six-month application window for registrants to lodge their claims, beginning October 1 this year.

If the .com.au version and .org.au version, for example, were owned by different parties, the registrant with the earliest registration date would have priority.

After the application window closed, any unclaimed domains would be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.

These rules, and all the results of auDA’s response to the PRP, are open for public comment until May 10.

ICA opposes Aussie domaining ban

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

The Internet Commerce Association has weighed in to the debate about whether domain investing should be effectively banned in Australia’s .au ccTLD.

Naturally enough, the domainer trade group opposes the ban, saying that investment is a natural part of any market, and very probably supplying the registry with millions of dollars of revenue.

The comments came in a letter to auDA (pdf) from ICA general counsel Zak Muscovitch in response to auDA’s latest policy review proposals, which I reported on two weeks ago, that propose to further crack down on “warehousing”.

auDA wants to ban the practice of registering domains “primarily” for resale or warehousing, clarifying the current rule that prohibits registering “solely” for resale (which is easily evaded by, for example, parking).

A set of indicators would be used to zero in on offenders, such as observing the registrant’s history of selling or offering to sell domains, the existence of an auction listing for the domain, or the fact that the registrant owns more than 100 .au names.

But ICA reckons the effort is misguided and could even be damaging to auDA’s finances, pointing out that it and its registrars likely receive millions of dollars from the registration and renewal of speculative domain names.

Muscovitch’s letter goes on to question whether the policy review panel that came up with the proposals did any research into the potential economic impact of banning domain investment, pointing out that in some cases to seize domainers’ portfolios could wipe out a family’s life savings.

ICA also questions whether the panel has sufficiently thought through how enforceable its proposed rules would be, given the additional complexity introduced into the system.

The policy review paper is still open for comments, but if you want to chip in you’d better be quick. The comment period ends at 1700 AEST Friday, which is 0700 UTC.

Australia likely to BAN domaining

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2019, Domain Registries

Domain investors will soon be no longer welcome in Australia’s .au, if proposed policy changes are approved.

Registrants who own more than 100 names and cannot prove they’re not a domainer will have their names deleted, under the recommendations of an Policy Review Panel appointed by Aussie ccTLD registry auDA this week.

The practice of vacuuming up domains for resale has long been against auDA policy, but the rules have been perceived as weak, easily worked around, and have been rarely enforced.

The current policy states: “A registrant may not register a domain name for the sole purpose of resale or transfer to another entity.”

But domainers have successfully argued that by parking their speculative domains, resale is no longer the “sole” purpose of the registration.

That loophole would be closed under the PRP’s recommendations. If approved by auDA, the rule would be changed to:

A registrant is prohibited from registering any open 2LD domain name for the primary purpose of (a) resale, (b) transfer to another entity, or (c) warehousing.

The PRP noted that it had received input “that registering domain names for resale increases the cost of doing business, increases the scarcity of names, and that registering domain names for the purpose of resale adds no real value to the internet name space.”

Registrants with 100-strong portfolios of “acronyms, dictionary words, or common phrases” would be singled out for review, as would registrants who are seen to engage in the resale of their domains.

Registrants who have “solicited the sale of the domain name or offered the domain name for sale to another for valuable consideration in excess of documented out-of-pocket costs” or who have sold more than six domains in six months, would also be presumed domainers.

Being found to be “warehousing”, domainers would no longer be eligible to their names.

They’d need to show “clear and convincing evidence” that the domain in question was not registered for resale in order to keep their names.

It’s a fairly comprehensive ban on domaining, in other words.

While there may well be workarounds — such as owning matching trademarks or selling shell companies rather than merely the domains — I can’t think of any that would wouldn’t be overly burdensome or costly in the vast majority of cases.

The PRP has also recommended the introduction of opening up .au to direct, second-level registrations, much like the UK, New Zealand and others have over the last several years.

Domainers also hate this, as it could dilute the value of their investments.

The PRP’s final report is now open for public comment until April 12.

After receiving these comments, auDA expects its board to provide a response April 15, which itself will be open for public comment until May 10.

Andruff escalates Disspain feud, asks ICANN to ban him from chair

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2019, Domain Policy

Domain consultant and former registry boss Ron Andruff has asked ICANN’s board of directors to ban Chris Disspain from becoming chair at the end of the year.

Writing on CircleID today, Andruff’s anti-Disspain message is veiled, but only thinly.

While not naming Disspain directly, Andruff wrote: “I call on the Chair and ICANN Board to ensure that no candidate who may be standing under a cloud of any type be considered for the highest position and authority within ICANN.”

Current chair Cherine Chalaby is out in October, when his nine-year term on the board comes to its bylaws-mandated end.

Disspain, who is currently vice chair and has always struck me as an obvious choice for the top job, has another year left on his term.

The “cloud” Andruff believes Disspain is standing under relates to longstanding allegations of “financial irregularities” at Australian ccTLD registry auDA, during the period Disspain was CEO.

It’s known that an unpublished audit of auDA by PPB Advisory in 2016 makes claims about some sloppy financial management, but there have never been any published allegations of wrongdoing by Disspain himself.

Andruff has been fighting for years with the Australian Information Commissioner to get this report, and other documents he believes might cast Disspain in a bad light, released under Aussie freedom of information law.

He was initially rebuffed, in November 2017, but appealed. After much back-and-forth, he was told two weeks ago that the Department of Communications and the Arts’ refusal to hand over the documents was in part “incorrect”. The Department is due to respond to that finding tomorrow.

It’s not at all clear what information, if any, the Department is going to release.

Andruff also notes that there’s an “ongoing police investigation” into the same “irregularities”.

The only such investigation I’m aware of involved “several” former auDA directors being referred to Victoria Police by auDA’s new management last April. There were 48 former directors at the time, and the names of those referred were not released.

Andruff is known to have beef with Disspain, who he holds responsible for his being passed over for the job as chair of the Nominating Committee in 2015.

ICANN typically does not name its new chairs until much later in the year, so it’s quite possible this is a storm that will have blown over by the time the board comes to picking Chalaby’s replacement.

Is auDA’s new marketing windfall working?

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2018, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD .au appears to be growing at a faster rate after registry auDA cut its wholesale prices and devoted millions of dollars to marketing.

While the numbers are by no means conclusive, in the three months after the new business model came into effect .au grew almost twice as much as in the comparable year-ago period.

At the end of June, auDA switch its back-end registry from Neustar to Afilias.

It cut its wholesale price by 10% and said it would invest AUD 8 million ($5.7 million) over four years into a marketing and innovation fund.

The fund offers financial incentives to registrars and resellers that promote .au domains.

Growing .au’s market share is one of the defined objectives of the program, and stats collected by DI show it might be working.

In the three months between June 28 (two days before the transition to Afilias) and September 28, the number of reported .au domains went up from 3,153,432 to 3,163,998, an increase of 10,566 domains.

In the immediately prior three months, registered domains actually declined by 1,150.

In the same period June-September period of 2017, domains were up by 5,734, about half the level of this year.

So is the new regime succeeding in growing numbers more rapidly? Maybe. It’s probably too early to tell for sure.

Any increase in DUM could be offset by declines from domain investors, if a proposed policy change about who is allowed to register domains comes into effect.

The numbers above have two caveats: 1) they’re based on the running total published more or less live on auDA’s web site, so should be considered ball-park as they may have been collected at different times during the day, and 2) it’s possible that Afilias and Neustar report numbers from their back-ends differently, which might mean comparisons of numbers reported before and after the transition are unfair.