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Donuts dismisses “meritless” cybersquatting claims

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2012, Domain Registries

Donuts, the company applying to ICANN for more new gTLDs than any other, has responded to claims that it should be banned from the new gTLD program on cybersquatting grounds.

As reported earlier today, a mysterious demand has emerged for Donuts and its registry back-end, Demand Media, to be banned from running new gTLDs due to Demand’s history of losing cybersquatting cases.

A letter sent to ICANN’s top brass by a Boston law firm claims that Donuts is little more than a front organization for Demand, and should fail ICANN’s background checks accordingly.

But in a statement provided to DI this evening, Donuts said:

The letter — generated by a law firm representing an anonymous client — is rife with factual inaccuracies and meritless allegations. Demand Media is a commercial partner and is neither an investor in nor part of a joint venture with Donuts. We look forward to engaging in the ICANN review process and its thorough background checks, and are confident that we meet all requirements to operate a Top Level Domain registry.

We’re yet to hear from Demand or to receive clarification from McCarter & English, the law firm responsible for the original letter.

Lawyer tries to nuke Donuts and Demand Media’s gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2012, Domain Registries

A lawyer has called for new gTLD uber-applicants Demand Media and Donuts to be banned from running gTLD registries due to Demand’s history of cybersquatting.

Jeffrey Stoler of Boston law firm McCarter & English has written to ICANN’s leadership, along with the chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee, to allege that Demand Media, Donuts and their key executives:

are, by ICANN’s established eligibility guidelines, unsuited and ineligible to participate in the new gTLD program.

It goes on to state that:

ICANN can and should reject the applications from Donuts and its subsidiaries, Demand Media and its subsidiaries, and their respective affiliated companies.

The two companies have, combined, applied for 333 new gTLDs. Donuts, which was founded by former Demand executives, also plans to use Demand as its back-end registry provider.

Demand Media subsidiaries, however, have a rotten record of losing cybersquatting cases filed under the UDRP, as Stoler’s generally well-researched 24-page letter spells out in some detail.

This, Stoler argues, should cause both companies to fail ICANN’s background checks, which are specified in the Applicant Guidebook.

Companies that have “been involved in a pattern of adverse, final decisions” under the UDRP, defined as more than three losses in the last four years, are supposed to fail the background check.

Demand Media seems to fit that definition, and then some, assuming you include UDRP losses incurred by its subsidiaries.

Donuts, as a brand new company, does not have the same track record, but Stoler reckons there is “strong evidence that Donuts is merely an alter ego of, and working in concert with, Demand Media”.

The letter states:

In June 2009, when ICANN’s rules went into effect and it was widely thought that implementation of the new gTLD program was imminent, the executives of Demand Media Group realized that Demand Media’s sordid history would clearly block its ability to successfully apply for the new gTLDs.

As an initial gambit, Demand Media petitioned ICANN to revise the rules.

When ICANN rejected those revisions, the undersigned believes Demand Media decided it would be necessary to create a new entity to participate in the new gTLD program. As a result, Donuts was formed by Messrs. Stahura and Tindal.

It would make a mockery of ICANN rules, however, if Demand Media Group and its executives could absolve themselves of their record of adverse UDRP decisions merely by forming a new entity.

Donuts founders Paul Stahura and Richard Tindal were both with Demand when it lost a bunch of UDRP cases.

Stoler alleges that they left to form Donuts mainly because they didn’t think Demand would pass ICANN’s background checks.

While Donuts has made no secret of the fact that it’s behind 307 applications — and ICANN’s leadership is certainly already aware of this — each application has been filed by a different shell company.

The trail to Donuts is at least two companies deep in many cases, and it’s not entirely clear how its applications with Demand Media are structured, from a corporate point of view.

Ironically, Stoler’s letter does not disclose his affiliations — which clients he’s working for — either.

The smart money is probably on big trademark interests, but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, I suppose, that he could be on the payroll of rival new gTLD applicants.

I’ve reached out to Stoler, Donuts and Demand Media for comment and will provide updates later as appropriate.

Here’s the Stoler letter (pdf)

ICANN beefs up new TLD fraudster checks

Kevin Murphy, May 31, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has broadened the background checks in its new top-level domains program to ban companies with a history of consumer fraud from applying for a new gTLD.

The new check in the Applicant Guidebook reads as follows:

a final and legally binding decision obtained by a national law enforcement or consumer protection authority finding that the applicant was engaged in fraudulent and deceptive commercial practices as defined in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Protecting Consumers from Fraudulent and Deceptive Commercial Practices Across Borders may cause an application to be rejected. ICANN may also contact the applicant with additional questions based on information obtained in the background screening process.

The OECD guidelines, which define deceptive practices, were suggested by ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee as a way to keep out the fraudsters.

I speculated last week that implementation of such rules could capture Network Solutions and/or VeriSign, due to their dodgy dealings almost a decade ago.

But it appears that the two companies are safe – the wording is such that it likely does not apply to the settlement NetSol made with the Federal Trade Commission which, while legally binding, was explicitly not a “finding” of fact or law.

The Guidebook also now asks applicants to disclose if they have been “disciplined by any government or industry regulatory body for conduct involving dishonesty or misuse of funds of others”. The “industry regulatory body” text is a new insertion.