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L’Oreal is using “closed generic” .makeup in an interesting way

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2017, Domain Registries

What do you call a registry that defensively registers names on behalf of the very people that would be its most likely customers if the TLD weren’t so hideously overpriced?

L’Oreal, apparently.

About half of its .makeup new gTLD comprises the names or nicknames of social media “influencers” in the make-up scene, and they all seem to belong to the registry.

Ironically, these are precisely the kind of people you’d expect to actually go out and register .makeup domains, if they didn’t cost close to $7,000 a pop.

L’Oreal put a $5,500 wholesale price-tag on .makeup domains, evidently as a Plan B to avoid actually having to sell names to people, after its original plan to keep the string as a “closed generic” failed due to ICANN politicking.

As you might expect, uptake has been minimal. The zone file currently has about 266 domains in it.

Beyond L’Oreal itself, there are defensive registrations by companies not remotely related to the make-up industry, such as BMW and Intuit, and registrations by competing companies in the cosmetics industry, such as Christian Dior and Estee Lauder.

But there are also something like 150 .makeup domains that were all registered at the same time, this April, representing the names and social media handles of young women who post YouTube videos about makeup for their often thousands of subscribers.

It turns out these women are all participants (willing, it seems) in WeLove.Makeup, a web site created by L’Oreal to promote its products.

The site is basically a social media aggregator. Each “influencer” has their own page, populated by their posts from YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and such. It’s maintained by Findie, which specializes in that kind of thing.

The domains matching the participants names do not resolve to the site, however. They’re all registered to L’Oreal’s registry management partner Fairwinds and resolve to ad-free registrar parking pages.

The names were registered via 101Domain, which prices .makeup names at $6,999, but I’ve no idea what payment arrangement Fairwinds/L’Oreal has for this kind of thing.

This is what a wannabe closed generic can look like, it seems — the registry pricing its customers out of the market then registering their names on their behalf anyway.

Is this “innovation”?

.food goes live, and it’s a closed generic

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .food went live in the DNS on Friday, but nobody except the registry will be able to register domains there.

In what I would argue is one of the new gTLD program’s biggest failures, .food will be a dot-brand, closed to all except the “brand” owner.

The registry is Lifestyle Domain Holdings, a subsidiary of US media company Scripps Networks.

Scripps runs the Food Network TV station in the States and the site Food.com. It has a trademark on the word “Food”.

Its registry agreement for .food, signed back in April, includes Specification 13, which allows registries to restrict all the second-level domains to themselves and their affiliates.

So food producers, restaurants, chefs and the like will never be able to use .food for their web sites.

ICANN signed the contract with Scripps despite objections from several entities including the Australian government, which warned “restricting common generic strings, such as .food, for the exclusive use of a single entity could have a negative impact on competition”.

Under ICANN rules hastily cobbled together after outrage over so-called “closed generics”, a registry cannot run as a dot-brand a gTLD that is:

a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.

Almost all applications flagged as closed generics were subsequently amended to make them restricted but not brand-exclusive. Scripps was the major hold-out.

The loophole that allowed .food to stay in exclusive hands appears to be that Scripps’ trademark on “Food” covers television, rather than food.

If .food winds up publishing content about food, such as recipes and healthy eating advice, I’d argue that it would go against the spirit of the rules on closed generics.

It would be a bit like Apple getting .apple as a Spec 13 dot-brand and then using the gTLD to publish content about the fruit rather than computers.

No sites are currently live in .food.

Registrars say Amazon is “closing” open gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2016, Domain Registries

A group comprising some of the largest domain registrars has claimed Amazon is attempting to close off a new gTLD that it previously indicated would be unrestricted.

The 12-strong group, which includes Go Daddy, Network Solutions and Tucows, also claims that the company’s proposal for a “Registration Authentication Platform” is anti-competitive.

The complaints follow Amazon’s filing of a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN in March.

The RSEP speaks in broad terms about rejigging the conventional domain registration path so that all .moi sales are funneled through Amazon’s registry site, where registrants will have their eligibility verified and then be offered a set of add-on “technology tools” before being bounced back to their chosen registrar.

Amazon hasn’t said who will be eligible to register .moi domains, nor has it explained what technology tools it plans to offer. I expect the tools will include things such as hosting and security, where many registrars currently make money.

Unsurprisingly, many registrars are not happy about these vague proposals.

In a comment (pdf) to the RSEP filed yesterday, they said:

Ultimately, the use of pre-registration verification and “optional” value added services will negatively impact competition. By tying both practices in a TLD, a TLD Operator can create a “captive audience” via the pre-registration verification and then offering optional services. This will effectively bypass the existing registration and purchase process, putting TLD Operator in a privileged position. The TLD is set up to capture customers earned via the Registrars marketing efforts to promote its own tools and services.

It’s not unusual for “sponsored” or “restricted” gTLDs to implement registry-side verification, they admitted, but said that .moi is meant to be “open”.

They wrote:

While this practice is not explicitly prohibited under gTLDs, we believe that post-delegation inclusion of these practices should only be allowed in compelling circumstances because they are, in effect, retroactively “closing” what was applied for and approved to be operated as an open, generic TLD.

Amazon’s application for .moi, like all of its new gTLD applications, is not entirely clear on what the company’s plans are. There’s vague talk about eligibility, but no details and nothing substantial to suggest a tightly restricted zone.

The signatories to the registrar comment represent the majority of registered domain names. They are: Astutium, Blacknight Internet Solutions, Domain.com, EuroDNS, GoDaddy.com, OpenproviderNetEarth One, Key-Systems, Netistrar, Network Solutions, Nordreg, Realtime Register, Tucows Domains.

One registrar, Com Laude, whose sister company Valideus handles Amazon’s gTLD applications, wrote a comment (pdf) expressing the opposite view.

Com Laude says that it’s not unusual for registries to require registry-side verification. It points to .bank, .pharmacy and .travel as examples.

The company also claims that the 12 registrars are in essence complaining about the idea of vertical integration — where registries and registrars are under common ownership — which is already in place at companies such as Uniregistry and Rightside.

Com Laude’s Jeff Neuman wrote:

We do not believe that it is unacceptable for a company like Amazon to do what these other companies have been doing for some time. To apply different standards to Amazon Registry than it does for each of the other vertically integrated entities would single them out for disparate treatment – especially when there is no factual basis to believe that Amazon Registry has not adhered to its vertical integration-related obligations under the Registry Agreement.

What’s going on here, I suspect, is a bit of a proxy war.

Neither Amazon nor the registrars care a great deal about .moi, I think. The gTLD is merely a canary for Amazon’s 30-odd yet-to-be-launched gTLDs. The company has the rights to potentially more attractive strings, including .book, .song and .tunes.

Amazon originally wanted to make these strings “closed generics”, or what ICANN calls “exclusive access” gTLDs, where only Amazon could register names.

It has since disavowed such plans, but still hasn’t said who will be able to register names in its portfolio or how they will prove eligibility.

.moi was not originally identified as a closed generic by ICANN, but it could represent a model for what Amazon plans to do with the rest of its stable.

.phone will be restricted after Dish gTLD auction win

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .phone is going to be tightly restricted, after Dish DBS won the contested string at auction.

The American satellite communications firm beat Donuts to the gTLD, judging by Donuts’ withdrawal from the two-horse on Friday.

This means that if you’re not a licensed telecoms or voice-over-IP service provider, you won’t be able to register a .phone domain, at least at first.

Dish originally applied for .phone as what became known as a “closed generic” — a non-trademark, dictionary word that would nevertheless be operated as a dot-brand, with a single eligible registrant.

Due to Governmental Advisory Committee advice against such business models, Dish changed its application this September to describe .phone instead as a “controlled” gTLD.

Its application states that only Dish, its affiliates and “Qualified Applicants” will at first be able to register .phone domains.

“Qualified Applicants” basically means any company licensed to run a telecommunications service anywhere in the world. The eligibility gate appears to be the “license”.

The application says Dish will reserve the right to open up the gTLD to further classes of registrants at a later date.

While it also says that Dish will not give itself or friendly registrars any “undue preference”, the telecoms industry is suspicious.

USTelecom, the industry body representing large and small US-based telecoms companies, wrote to ICANN in November to say Dish’s volte face was “unconvincing” and its proposals “simply fail to satisfy” ICANN’s rules banning closed generics.

It said in its letter (pdf):

While Dish purports in its amended application that the .phone gTLD will be operated as a “controlled gTLD,” it is in reality an exclusive generic TLD, prone to discriminatory and subjective determinations on which entities are “Qualified Applicants,” and a discretionary reservation “to open this TLD to additional classes of registrants in the future,” who “will not be considered members.”

USTelecom says it negotiated with Dish, in an attempt to resolve its earlier formal objection against the bid, to have Dish include some reassuring Public Interest Commitments in its application, but Dish refused.

ICANN, responding to USTelecom, said that any Registry Agreement Dish signs for .phone will include the clauses that prevent it operating as a closed generic.

Now that the contention set has been settled, Dish’s next step is to proceed to contract negotiations with ICANN.

Foot-dragging Amazon has bumper crop of new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2015, Domain Registries

Amazon Registry Services took possession of 17 new gTLDs at the weekend.

The would-be portfolio registry had .author, .book, .bot, .buy, .call, .circle, .fast, .got, .jot, .joy, .like, .pin, .read, .room, .safe, .smile and .zero delegated to the DNS root zone.

Amazon seems to have waited until the last possible moment to have the strings delegated.

It signed its registry agreements — which state the TLDs must be delegated with a year — in mid-December 2014.

Don’t plan on being able to register domains in any of these gTLDs. You may be disappointed.

All of the strings were originally applied for as what became known as “closed generics”, in which Amazon would have been the only permitted registrant.

It recanted this proposed policy in early 2014, formally amending its applications to avoid the Governmental Advisory Committee’s anti-closed-generic advice.

Its registry contracts do not have the standard dot-brand carve-outs.

However, the latest versions of its applications strongly suggest that registrant eligibility is going to be pretty tightly controlled.

The applications state: “The mission of the <.TLD> registry is: To provide a unique and dedicated platform while simultaneously protecting the integrity of Amazon’s brand and reputation.”

They go on to say:

Amazon intends to initially provision a relatively small number of domains in the .CIRCLE registry to support the goals of the TLD… Applications from eligible requestors for domains in the .CIRCLE registry will be considered by Amazon’s Intellectual Property group on a first come first served basis and allocated in line with the goals of the TLD.

They state “domains in our registry will be registered by Amazon and eligible trusted third parties”.

Amazon has not yet published its TLD start-up information, which may provide more clarity on how the company intends to handle these strings.

I suspect we’ll be looking at a policy that amounts to a workaround of the closed-generic ban.

The registry seems to be planning to run its registry from AmazonRegistry.com.