Twelve new gTLD applicants, representing many dozens of applications, have called on ICANN to create an appeals process for when Community Objections have debatable outcomes.
Writing to ICANN and the International Chamber of Commerce this week, the applicants focus on the recent decision in the .sport case, which they said proves that ICC panelists don’t fully understand the Community Objection policy as laid out in ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.
The signatories — which include Radix, United TLD, Donuts, Famous Four, TLDH and others — say that the ICC panelist simply assumed SportAccord represented the “sport” community and failed to pinpoint any “likelihood of material detriment” that would be caused by Famous Four’s .sport going ahead.
It seems to me that the latter arguments are much more well-founded.
While the letter tries to pick holes in the panelist’s finding that SportAccord represents enough of the “sport” community to be able to win the objection, the arguments are pretty tenuous.
The applicants use an definition of “community” found elsewhere in the Guidebook, for example, to attempt to show that the panelist failed to follow the guidelines for establishing a community in a Community Objection.
The panelist’s actual ruling uses the definition of “community” from the relevant part of the Guidebook and seems to follow it fairly closely. The applicants make a poor job of questioning his logic.
However, on “detriment”, the letter seems to be on much firmer ground.
It argues that the panelist deliberately lowered the bar from “likelihood of material detriment” to “possibility of material detriment” in order to hand SportAccord a victory.
The letter states:
If the Expert’s current logic is followed, every application, including the Objector’s own application, creates “possible” damage. In this case, an allegation of material detriment against any application would be upheld because there is future “possible” damage.
It also makes reference to the fact that the panelist appears to in many cases have been weighing the Famous Four application against SportAccord’s, which was not his job.
It reads in part: “The Expert did not identify a single objectionable or lacking aspect in the application that creates a likelihood of material detriment.”
The applicants call on ICANN to immediately create an appeals mechanism for Community Objections, and to ensure that ICC panelists are given training before making any more decisions.
Here’s the full list of signatories: Radix, United TLD, DotClub Domains, Top Level Design, Donuts, Top Level Domain Holdings, Priver Nivel, Fegistry, Employ Media, Famous Four Media, Merchant Law Group, DotStrategy.
Famous Four Media has promised to pursue “all available legal avenues” after losing a Community Objection over the .sport gTLD to its Olympic-backed rival.
The portfolio applicant lost out to SportAccord in an October 23 decision by International Chamber of Commerce panelist Guido Santiago Tawil, meaning its .sport application should be rejected by ICANN.
But Famous Four says it’s not over yet. In a statement today, the company said:
Famous Four Media shall pursue rigorously all available legal avenues available to it to have the decision independently reviewed by ICANN and/or others as the case may be, and reversed.
The logical first step of such a threat would be a Reconsideration Request, a relatively cheap way to challenge an ICANN decision with a virtually zero chance of succeeding.
That could be followed by a demand for an Independent Review Panel procedure, which would take much longer and cost significantly more. When ICM Registry won an IRP, the bill ran to millions.
Or Famous Four could try its luck in the courtroom, which could be flustered by the fact that all new gTLD applicants had to sign fairly one-sided legal waivers when they applied.
So what’s the company so worked up about?
It’s lost the chance to run .sport, because the ICC panelist ruled that SportAccord, which is backed by the International Olympic Committee and dozens of official sporting associations, represents the “sport” community and would be harmed if Famous Four were to run the TLD.
Famous Four had argued in its defense that SportAccord can only purport to represent a “subset” of this community — its sporting organization members — rather than everyone who has an interest in sport.
Rather amusingly, in its statement today, FFM linked to the IOC’s own marketing, which bears the slogan “Sport Belongs to All”, to prove its point:
it is Famous Four Media’s unshakable belief that this statement is true and just and that is why Famous Four Media applied for an open TLD – a top level domain that is open to everyone and offered to everyone on a level and equitable basis. Trying to claim ownership and representation of sport is akin to claiming representation for the human race.
An alternative reading would be to state that the IOC’s marketing slogan is, like all marketing slogans, bullshit.
But it actually cuts to the heart of the case itself, which Guido Santiago Tawil found in favor of SportAccord, writing:
The ICANN Guidebook does not require that an “entire” community agree on an objection to an application. In fact, it would be almost impossible for an institution to represent any community as a whole. If such was the requirement, there would be no reason to provide for the possibility of community objections.
It is difficult to imagine which other association may claim representation of the Sport Community besides an institution that represents, as Objector does, more than a hundred well-known sports federations and institutions related to sports.
Another key, and related, factor Community Objection panelists have to consider is whether a community is “clearly delineated”.
It’s here where the arguments that an applicant can use to win a Legal Rights Objection seem to fail under Community Objection scrutiny.
Famous Four said that “sport” is not clearly delineated along the lines defined by SportAccord — ie, members of its federations — because it doesn’t allow, say, hobbyists or the media to get involved.
Similar arguments were made in LROs.
Applicants regularly defended themselves against LROs — where the objector owns a trademark rather than purporting to represent a community — by pointing out all the non-infringing uses of the string.
That defense apparently doesn’t work in Community Objections, with the .sport ICC panelist ruling:
The fact that the media (which may constitute a different community) or viewers are unable to be part of this association is irrelevant to consider Objector as a delineated community. Otherwise, no community could be recognized under the ICANN gTLD proceedings since it would be easy for any Applicant to find secondary or not closed-related members outside of it.
In its response to the ruling today, FFM called this a “non sequitur”, adding:
It is not difficult to conceive of communities which are exclusive, and in all cases these do not consist of generic words like “sport.” One example already given by other commentators might be “.yorkuniversity.”
Another key pivot point in the .sport decision is “detriment”.
Objectors have to prove the “likelihood of material detriment to the rights or legitimate interests of a significant portion of the community to which the string may be explicitly or implicitly targeted.”
The panelist in this case chose to interpret this as “future ‘possible’ damage”, which he said was quite a low bar.
His reasoning, in finding that detriment to SportAccord was likely, seems to hinge quite a bit on the fact that SportAccord has also applied for the same gTLD.
While seemingly discarding “hypothetical” arguments about cybersquatting and such in an open-registration .sport gTLD, he said he “shares Objector’s argument that all domain registrations in a community-based ‘.sport’ gTLD will assure sports acceptable use policies.”
That thinking only works, I think, if you also have a community-based .sport application on the table.
As FFM characterized it today: “What he is in effect saying is that the .SPORT gTLD should be delegated: just not to dot Sport Limited. This was not his decision to make.”
This week at the newdomains.org conference in Munich I spoke to several people who believe some of the highly contested, super-premium new gTLDs will take years to resolve.
It seems that .sport is going to be one of those.
Under the ICANN rules, FFM is supposed to withdrawn its application now. That’s clearly not going to happen.
International Chamber of Commerce panelists have recently rejected three Community Objections against new gTLD applications.
The dismissals include objections to the controversial Turkey-based bids for .islam and .halal, filed by Asia Green IT System, which had raised the ire of the United Arab Emirates’ telecommunications regulator.
The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority — also the operator of its ccTLDs — said it was representing the wider Islamic community under orders from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
But ICC panelist Bernardo Cremades ruled, based on a close reading of the OIC’s letter to the TRA and other member states, that the OIC had not formally backed the objection.
While there were over 100 public comments objecting to .islam and over 70 to .halal, because the TRA merely referred to them rather than submitting copies as evidence, the panelist chose to ignore them completely.
He also noted that only the UAE has chosen to file a formal objection.
So Cremades ruled that there was no “substantial opposition” to the applications, which is one of the things objectors need to prove in order to win an objection.
The TRA also failed to persuade the panelist that there was “a likelihood of any material detriment” to the Muslim community if Asia Green’s gTLDs were to be delegated, writing:
The Objector has certainly not provided any evidence that the Respondent is not acting or does not intend to act in accordance with the interests of the Muslim community.
So the TRA’s objections were dismissed and the applicant can proceed to the next phase of the new gTLD program.
Also dismissed recently was Bundesverband der Deutschen Tourismuswirtschaft’s objection to Donuts’ application for .reisen (“travel” in German).
BTW, a German travel industry association, is associated with a competing bid for .reise. Weirdly, it did not file a String Confusion Objection against Donuts’ .reisen.
It had argued among other things that German speakers would expect .reisen to conform to German and European consumer protection laws, while Donuts is planning an open and unrestricted gTLD.
The ICC panelist didn’t buy that argument, noting that a hotel in Argentina could market itself as German-speaking without having to abide by, say, European data protection law.
He also ruled that BTW showed substantial opposition from the commercial sector of German-language travel agents, but not from other sections of the community such as individual travelers.
Finally, he ruled that Donuts had promised to put enough protection mechanisms in place to mean there was unlikely to be a detriment to the .reisen community.
The objection was dismissed.
Ralph Lauren’s application for the dot-brand .polo is likely at an end, after the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that it would infringe the rights of polo players.
The Community Objection to the gTLD was filed by the US Polo Association, the governing body of the sport in the US, and supported by the Federation of International Polo, along with seven national and 10 regional US-based polo associations.
The FIP letter was crucial in ICC panelist Burkhard Hess’ decision to find against Ralph Lauren, persuading him that there was “substantial opposition” from a “clearly delineated” polo-playing community.
The word “polo” was often used in straw man arguments when the new gTLD program and its objection mechanisms were being designed. Who gets .polo? Ralph Lauren? Volkswagen? Nestle? The sport?
Well, now we know: according to the ICC, the sport will probably trump any dot-brand.
The precedent might be bad news for Donuts and Famous Four Media, which are facing Community Objections from the international governing bodies of rugby and basketball on .rugby and .basketball.
However, none of those applications are for dot-brand spaces.
Under the Community Objection rules, the objector has to show that the gTLD would harm its interests is delegated.
In the case of .polo, the panelist found detriment largely due to the fact that Ralph Lauren’s plan was for a single-registrant space from which the sports associations would be excluded.
With open, unrestricted .basketball and .rugby applications, it’s likely to be much harder for the objectors to prove that the gTLDs would damage the sport.
Almost a quarter of Community Objections against new gTLDs have been terminated without a decision, according to International Chamber of Commerce documentation.
The withdrawals leave the way open for the applied-for gTLDs .insure, .realty, .realestate, .cruises, .careers and .bio to proceed unencumbered by any objections at all.
In total 23 Community Objections, of the original 104 reported by ICANN, have been dropped. Two of the original 23 Limited Public Interest Objections have also been terminated, according to the ICC.
The terminated Community Objections seem to fall into a few categories.
Objections against applications for .autoinsurance, .carinsurance, .health, .mail and .patagonia appear to have been stopped because the applications themselves were withdrawn.
The Independent Objector, Alain Pellet, has withdrawn one Limited Public Interest — .health — and three Community objections — .patagonia, .indians, .hospital.
These seem to have been yanked due to either application withdrawals, matching objections filed by third parties, or by Governmental Advisory Committee advice.
Applications facing one fewer objection — but not zero objections — include those for .insurance, .broker, .hoteis, .hoteles, .health, and .kid.
GAC advice remains a concern for many of the affected applicants, even those that no longer face the uncertainty and expense of the objection process.
Donuts seems to have fared best from the terminations. Its .careers and .cruise bids seem to be the only ones to have emerged uncontested and with no outstanding objections or GAC advice.
The terminations were revealed in an updated list of objections published by the ICC on Monday.
The updated data is now indexed and searchable on the all-new, super-duper DI PRO Application Tracker.