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URS fight brewing at ICANN 53

Should the Uniform Rapid Suspension process spread from new gTLDs to incumbent gTLDs, possibly including .com?

That’s been the subject of some strong disagreements during the opening weekend of ICANN 53, which formally kicks off in Buenos Aires today.

During sessions of the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the ICANN board and staff, ICANN was accused of trying to circumvent policy-making processes by forcing URS into the .travel, .pro and .cat registry agreements, which are up for renewal.

ICANN executives denied doing any such thing, saying the three registries volunteered to have URS included in their new contracts, which are modeled on the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement.

“It’s just something we’ve suggested and they’ve taken up,” said Cyrus Namazi, ICANN’s vice president of domain name services.

If a registry wants to increase the number of rights protection mechanisms in its gTLD, why not let them, ICANN execs asked, pointing out that loads of new gTLDs have implemented extra RPMs voluntarily.

ICANN admits that it stands to benefit from operational efficiencies when its registry agreements are more uniform.

Opponents pointed out that there’s a difference between Donuts, say, having its bespoke, voluntary Domain Protected Marks List, and bilaterally putting the URS into an enforceable ICANN contract.

URS is not a formal Consensus Policy, they say, unlike UDRP. Consensus Policies apply to all gTLDs, whereas URS was created by ICANN for new gTLDs alone.

Arguably leading the fight against URS osmosis is Phil Corwin, counsel for Internet Commerce Association, which doesn’t want its clients’ vast portfolios of .com domains subject to URS.

He maintained over the weekend that his beef was with the process through which URS was making its way into proposed legacy gTLD contracts.

It shouldn’t be forced upon legacy gTLDs without a Consensus Policy, he said.

While the GNSO, ICANN staff and board spent about an hour talking about “process” over the weekend, it was left to director Chris Disspain to point out that that was basically a smokescreen for an argument about whether the URS should be used in other gTLDs.

He’s right, but the GNSO is split on this issue in unusual ways.

Corwin enjoys the support of the Business Constituency, of which he is a member, in terms of his process criticisms if not his criticisms of RPMs more generally.

ICA does also have backing from some registrars (which bear the support costs of dealing with customers affected by URS), from the pro-registrant Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, and from groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Intellectual Property Constituency thinks that the process is just fine — .travel et al can sign up to URS if they want to.

While the registries have not yet put forward a joint position, the IPC’s view has been more or less echoed by Donuts, which owns the largest portfolio of new gTLDs.

The public comment period for the .travel contract ended yesterday. Comments can be read here. Comment periods on .cat and .pro close July 7.

Two more legacy gTLDs agree to use URS

The registries behind .pro and .cat have agreed to new ICANN contracts with changes that, among other things, would bring the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy to the two gTLDs.

Both gTLD Registry Agreements expire this year. Proposed replacement contracts, based heavily on the base New gTLD Registry Agreement, have been published by ICANN for public comment.

They’re the second and third pre-2012 gTLDs to agree to use URS, which gives trademark owners a simpler, cheaper way to have infringing domains yanked.

Two weeks ago, .travel agreed to the same changes, which drew criticisms from the organization that represents big domain investors.

Phil Corwin of the Internet Commerce Association is worried that ICANN is trying to make URS a de facto consensus policy and thereby bring it to .com, which is still where most domainers have most of their assets.

Following DI’s report about .travel, Corwin wrote last week:

this proposed Registry Agreement (RA) contains a provision through which staff is trying to preempt community discussion and decide a major policy issue through a contract with a private party. And that very big issue is whether Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) should be a consensus policy applicable to all gTLDs, including incumbents like .Com and .Net.

ICANN needs to hear from the global Internet community, in significant volume, that imposing the URS on an incumbent gTLD is unacceptable because it would mean that ICANN staff, not the community, is determining that URS should be a consensus policy and thereby undermining the entire bottom-up policy process. Domain suspensions are serious business – in fact they were at the heart of the SOPA proposal that inspired millions of emails to the US Congress in opposition.

The concern about .com may be a bit over-stated.

Verisign’s current .com contract is presumptively renewed November 2018 provided that it adopts terms similar to those in place at the five next-largest gTLDs.

Given that .net is the second-largest gTLD, and that .net does not have URS, we’d have to either see .net’s volume plummet or at least five new gTLDs break through the 15 million domains mark in the next three years, both of which seem extraordinarily unlikely, for .com to be forced to adopt URS.

However, if URS has become an industry standard by then, political pressure could be brought to bear regardless.

Other changes to .pro and .cat contracts include a change in ICANN fees.

While .pro appears to have been on the standard new gTLD fee scheme since 2012, .cat is currently paying ICANN $1 per transaction.

Under the new contract, .cat would pay $0.25 per transaction instead, but its annual fixed fee would increase from $10,000 to $25,000.

PuntCAT cross-ownership ban lifted

PuntCAT has become the first gTLD registry operator to have a ban on owning an affiliated registrar lifted.

The change means the company will be able to directly market its .cat domain names to registrants via a registrar that it owns.

An amendment to its ICANN contract posted yesterday deletes the clause that prevents the company owning more than 15% of an ICANN-accredited registrar. The change follows a December request.

PuntCAT is the first to take advantage of ICANN’s liberalization of rules on registry-registrar cross ownership.

Afilias and Neustar will benefit from the same changes, but their respective .info and .biz registry agreements are currently in public comment periods and not yet signed.

Uncontested .catalonia drops out of gTLD race

The regional Government of Catalonia has withdrawn its application for .catalonia.

This is a bit of a weird one.

The application was designated officially “geographic”, but also presented as a single-registrant “dot-brand”, exclusively for the government’s use in promoting tourism.

It wasn’t contested, had no objections and was not covered by Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

Residents of Catalonia, a region of Spain, are of course already served by the .cat TLD, which served as the model for a multitude of regional and cultural gTLD applications.

.cat wants to ditch registrar ban

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2012, Domain Registries

PuntCAT, the .cat registry, has become the first gTLD operator to apply to ICANN for the right to dump the registrar ownership ban in its contract.

If the request is approved by ICANN, the company will be able to own an ICANN-accredited registrar and start selling .cat domain names more or less directly to registrants.

The company has proposed several amendments to its existing contract that would allow it to become an “affiliate” of — ie own — a registrar with respect to its own gTLD.

ICANN believes the request, which is open for public comment until February 13, will not create any competition problems.

ICANN approved the rules for enabling cross-ownership in October, after competition concerns from the European Commission and US Department of Commerce appeared to disappear.

The .cat request was handled via the Process for Handling Requests for Removal of Cross-Ownership Restrictions on Operators of Existing gTLDs, which absolutely nobody is calling PFHRFROCOROOOEG.

Under the rules, the alternative to amending an existing contract is adopting the standard new gTLDs registry agreement wholesale, but I’m not expecting any incumbent registries to do that.

PuntCAT is pretty much unique among “sponsored” gTLD operators in that it’s experienced steady growth, not subject to the same degree of speculation-related spikes as others, since launching in 2006.

It currently has roughly 60,000 domains under management, growing at about 10,000 names a year. Three Spanish registrars hold over half of the market between them, led by Nominalia.

But the gTLD faces an uncertain future.

The Catalonia region of Spain, which .cat represents, is set for an independence referendum in 2014. If it were to split off into a new country, it would get its own potentially competing ccTLD.

Sales could benefit from the imminent delegation of .dog, which three companies have applied for as a gTLD, but PuntCAT’s rules state that all .cat sites must have Catalan-language content.