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dotgay has a third crack at .gay appeal

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2016, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC has filed another appeal with ICANN, hoping to get its community-based .gay application back in the race.

It submitted a third Request for Reconsideration (pdf) this week, arguing on a technicality that its bid should have another Community Priority Evaluation.

The company has already lost two CPEs based on the Economist Intelligence Unit CPE panel’s belief that its definition of “gay” is too broad because it includes straight people.

It’s also lost two RfRs, which are adjudicated by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee.

The newest RfR addresses not the core “not gay enough” issue, but a procedural error at the EIU it believes it has identified.

According to the filing, dotgay is in possession of emails from an EIU employee who was responsible for verifying some of the dozens of support letters it had received from dotgay’s backers (generally equal rights campaign groups).

The company argues, citing the BGC’s own words, that this employee was not one of the official CPE “evaluators”, which means the EIU broke its own rules of procedure:

considering the fact that the CPE Process Document – which is considered by the BGC to be “consistent with” and “strictly adheres to the Guidebook’s criteria and requirements”, it is clear that the verification of the letters should have been performed by an independent evaluator… and not by someone “responsible for communicating with the authors of support and opposition letters regarding verification in the ordinary course of his work for the EIU”.

It wants the CPE to be conducted again, saying “it is obvious that the outcome of a process is often, if not always, determined by the fact whether the correct process has been followed”.

It’s difficult to see how the outcome of a third CPE, should one be undertaken, could be any different to the first two. Who verifies the support letters doesn’t seem to speak to the reason dotgay hasn’t scored enough points on its other two attempts.

But the alternative for the company is an expensive auction with the other .gay applicants.

Another CPE would at least buy it time to pile more political pressure on ICANN and the EIU.

DotMusic fails the “not gay enough” community test

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2016, Domain Policy

DotMusic’s Community Priority Evaluation for the .music gTLD has failed, after the CPE panel decided the company was just trying to exploit ICANN rules to get its hands on a valuable string.

In a decision (pdf) published last night, the company score 10 of the available 16 points, four points shy of a passing score. The panel wrote:

The Panel determined that this application refers to a proposed community construed to obtain a sought-after generic word as a gTLD. As previously stated, the community as defined in the application does not have awareness and recognition among its members. Failing this kind of “cohesion,” the community defined by the application does not meet the [Applicant Guidebook’s] standards for a community.

The CPE fell apart at the first hurdle, with the panel awarding 0 out of 4 points on the “community establishment”.

It essentially ruled that the “music community” does not exist, despite frequent statements to the contrary from DotMusic and its legion of supporters.

DotMusic appears to have been condemned for the same reason as dotgay, the failed .gay community applicant.

While DotMusic and dotgay lost points on different criteria, their undoing in both cases was attempting to define a community that their respective panels judged overly broad.

DotMusic’s application included a list of 40 or more North American Industry Classification System categories of industry that it said were within its music community.

However, where it said “music lawyers” or “music accountants”, it referred to the NAICS codes for just “lawyers” and “accountants”, the panel noted.

This seems to have been responsible to a large extent for it losing its points on the “community establishment” criteria.

The CPE panel could said that while its proposed community members exhibited a “commonality of interest” there was no evidence of “cohesion” among them.

Further, no one preexisting organization could be said to cover the interests of the over-broad community as defined. The panel wrote:

There should, therefore, be at least one entity that encompasses and organizes individuals and organizations in all of the more than 40 member categories included by the application. Based on information provided in the application materials and the Panel’s research, there is no entity that organizes the community defined in the application in all the breadth of categories explicitly defined.

A knock-on effect of this was that DotMusic also dropped a point on the “community endorsement” criteria, despite having hundreds of letters of support from members of the music industry.

It dropped a further point because the string “music” only “identifies” but does not “match” its proposed community.

DotMusic will perhaps not take comfort from the fact that its losing score of 10 comprehensively beat rival community applicant Far Further by seven points.

With both community applications ruled invalid, .music should now head to auction, where there are eight applicants in total.

But .music is a bit of a passion project for DotMusic CEO Constantine Roussos — one of the few applicants who publicly announced his intention to apply long before it was possible to do so — so I think an appeal through the ICANN process is inevitable.

While DotMusic has support from powerful music industry figures, I don’t think that support extends to the kind of financial backing that will let it win a seven-to-eight-figure auction.

Don’t expect to see .music in your registrar storefront any time soon.

$41m auction loser tries to slam brakes on .shop

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2016, Domain Registries

Lawyer-happy gTLD applicant Commercial Connect has put GMO Registry’s $41 million purchase of the new gTLD .shop in jeopardy by filing an appeal with ICANN.

On January 26 — the day before the .shop auction — the Connecticut-based company filed an Independent Review Process complaint with ICANN, asking a panel of judges to enjoin ICANN from delegating .shop or even signing a registry contract with GMO.

It’s applied for “emergency” relief. Its full IRP complaint has yet to be filed.

GMO won a seven-way ICANN auction for .shop last week, agreeing to pay $41.5 million into ICANN coffers.

The IRP news will not be particularly surprising for anyone who has followed the .shop contention set closely.

Commercial Connect has deployed pretty much every legal avenue available to it in order to win .shop, which had eight competing applications.

It applied as a “community” applicant, but unsurprisingly failed to meet the stringent criteria that a Community Priority Evaluation requires.

It scored a measly 5 out of the 16 available CPE points, missing the 14-point target.

The company also spunked goodness knows how much cash filing 21 formal objections against other gTLD applicants — ridiculous complaints that “.supply” or “.セール” or “.services” were “confusingly similar” to .shop.

It actually managed to win two of its string similarity challenges, when panelists apparently decided to write their judgments before their morning coffee had kicked in.

It was probable that .shopping and .通販 would be confused with .shop in the mind of the average internet user, these panelists decided.

The .通販 decision was thrown out when sanity prevailed, but the .shopping decision stood. Only a recent back-room deal between Uniregistry and Donuts prevented the .shop auction being a head-explodingly confusing mess.

Now, with its IRP, Commercial Connect is claiming that the whole CPE system goes against ICANN rules.

According to its initial complaint, the fact that the CPE adjudicator, the Economist Intelligence Unit, came up with its own supplemental “CPE Guidelines” means that the the CPE system is not “ICANN policy” and should therefore be disregarded.

At first glance, it seems weak. But I said the same about the DotConnectAfrica IRP case, which DCA won.

IRP panels have been known to be somewhat “activist” (not necessarily a bad thing) recently, so it’s hard to call which way they will swing in any specific case.

But it does seem quite possible that the emergency relief that Commercial Connect requests — that is, no .shop contract until the IRP is over — will be granted.

For GMO, that means it’s just spent $41.5 million on a gTLD it probably won’t be able to launch for well over a year.

It’s perhaps interesting that Commercial Connect doesn’t seem to make any reference in its IRP to its original 2000-round application for .shop.

If that comes up in future filings, it could open up an entirely new can of worms.

UN group supports community .gay bid

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2016, Domain Registries

An organization representing staff members of the United Nations has come out in support of dotgay LLC’s struggling community application for the .gay gTLD.

UN-GLOBE comprises UN employees who identify as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and inter-sex”. Its primary goals are pushing for equal rights for these groups within the UN system.

In a letter to ICANN (pdf) earlier this month, the organization said it supports dotgay’s application, despite its Community Priority Evaluation being rejected twice.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s judging panel has kicked out both of dotgay’s CPEs on the grounds that the applicant’s definition of “gay” includes straight people, and straight people aren’t gay.

But UN-GLOBE, echoing dotgay’s own view, wrote:

We also express our disagreement over the results of the Community Priority Evaluation of October 8, 2015 that rejected dotgay LCC’s community application based on its narrow analysis of the term gay. The term gay should be understood globally instead, as it is generally understood by the internationally diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and ally (LGBTQIA) community represented in dotgay LLC’s application.

It might be worth noting that UN-GLOBE makes no mention of its own membership including “allies” — that is, people who are not LGBTQI but nevertheless support equal rights — in its letter or on its web site.

dotgay currently has an outstanding Request for Reconsideration against its latest CPE loss, which is expected to be decided by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee on Monday.

If ICANN closes the door on more appeals, the .gay contention set will go to auction where its rivals are Rightside, Top Level Design and Minds + Machines.

One way or another, there will be a .gay gTLD, the only question is whether it will be restricted to approved “gay community” members or open to all.

.gay applicant appeals community loss, again

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC has appealed its Community Priority Evaluation defeat again, filing a new Request for Reconsideration with ICANN this week.

It’s an unprecedented second use of the RfR process to appeal its CPE loss, in which the Economist Intelligence Unit panel decided the applicant’s definition of “gay” was far too broad to award dotgay enough points to pass the evaluation.

But dotgay wants ICANN to initiate a third CPE, to be carried out by anyone other than the EIU.

The EIU panel said earlier this month that it had “determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals”.

Basically, EIU was pointing out, for the second time, that transgender people and straight “allies” aren’t “gay”.

It awarded dotgay 0 out of the possible 4 points available on “Nexus” criteria, meaning the applicant failed to hit the 14 points required to win.

While the RfR dodges the transgender issue altogether, dotgay has some interesting arguments in response to the “ally” question.

It’s now claiming that “ally” refers to companies and organizations that support the equal rights cause (because non-human legal entities don’t have a gender identity or sexual preference) and to proxy registrars:

Now, since an organization or company in itself can impossibly be “lesbian” or “gay”, Requester has been seeking for a way to also position these companies and organizations in this community definition. For this reason, Requester has referred to these organizations as “allies” in the context of the LGBTQIA definition.

Furthermore, as stated in the Application, LGBTQIAs are a vulnerable group in many countries and societies, and too often still the subject of prosecution for who they are. In order to put in place safeguards for those gay community members who do not wish to be directly associated with a domain name registration, organizations and companies who in essence cannot be “non-heterosexual” should have the possibility to act as a proxy service, which is common practice in the domain name industry.

In any case, any such “ally” must be approved by an Authentication Partner in order to be able to register a domain name in its own name or in the name or on behalf of a third party who meets the LGBTQI requirements.

It’s an interesting argument, but I can’t see anything in its original application that would support such a position.

dotgay may be on stronger ground with its claim that it unfairly lost one point on the “Opposition” criteria of the CPE.

Two points were available there. Applicants could lose one point immediately if there was a single letter of opposition from a relevant, non-negligible organization.

The EIU seems to have been in possession of such a letter, though its CPE ruling does not name the opponent.

dotgay thinks the opponent was the Q Center, a community center in Portland, Oregon, which opposed dotgay in writing in 2014 but, following a change in its board of directors, retracted that opposition (pdf).

So it may be the case that dotgay unfairly lost a point.

Regaining that point would not be enough to give the company a winning CPE score, but if the EIU screwed up that may be grounds for ICANN to initiate another rerun of the CPE.

However, it’s quite rare for ICANN’s board of directors to approve an RfR.

If dotgay loses, it will either have to go to auction against its rival applicants or file an Independent Review Process complaint, its final avenue of appeal.

Read its RfR here.