Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Freenom suspended for cybersquatting rival registrars

Freenom, the company behind .tk and other freebie ccTLDs, has had its ICANN registrar accreditation suspended for cybersquatting competing registrars including Go Daddy and Key-Systems.

OpenTLD, its registrar business, has been told it cannot accept new registrations or inbound transfers from July 8 to October 6 or until it provides ICANN with a full list of the names it squatted.

I believe it’s the first time ICANN has suspended a registrar for this reason.

The suspension notice states:

ICANN has found that OpenTLD has engaged in a pattern and practice of trafficking in or use of domain names identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark of a third party in which the Registered Name Holder has no rights or legitimate interest

That’s a long-winded way of saying “massive cybersquatting”.

ICANN is basing its claims on two UDRP cases that Freenom and its CEO, Joost Zuurbier, lost.

According to WIPO panelists in Key-Systems GmbH v. Joost Zuurbier, OpenTLD B.V. and NetEarth Group, Inc. v. Stichting OpenTLD WHOIS Proxy, the company squatted at least seven of its rivals’ trademarks.

The domains were netearthone.biz, rrpproxy.me, key-systems.cc, resellerclub.tk, resellbiz.biz, godaddy.cf and resello.ws.

According to the UDRP decisions, Freenom used the domains to try to entice resellers of the other registrars over to OpenTLD.

It bought the competing registrars’ trademarks as search keywords on Google’s advertising platform, a WIPO panelist found. If you searched Google for Key-Systems trademark “RRPproxy”, for example, you’d get an ad linking to rrpproxy.me.

In some cases the names were registered behind Freenom’s in-house privacy service. In others, Zuurbier and OpenTLD were listed plainly as the registrants.

The WIPO panelists also found that Freenon shirked its duties under the UDRP as registrar, deleting the squatted domains rather than locking them, which essentially amounted to “cyberflight”.

It all looks pretty bad for Freenom, which only gained its accreditation two years ago.

To avoid termination, it has to provide ICANN with a list of all of its trademark infringing names, agree to transfer them to the mark owners or delete them, and bunch of other stuff.

Here’s the letter.

Barclays probably not breaching contract, says ICANN compliance chief

Barclays doesn’t seem to have violated its new gTLD registry agreements, despite admitting to criminal charges related to currency manipulation, according to ICANN’s top compliance executive.

Allen Grogan, chief contract compliance officer, told DI today that a “literal” reading of the Registry Agreements for .barclays and .barclaycard would not see the bank in breach.

“As far as I know we haven’t received a formal compliance complaint about it. If we received a complaint we would investigate it,” Grogan said.

“At first blush I wouldn’t see a clear-cut violation of the literal language of the agreement,” he said.

Barclays’ suitability to be a new gTLD registry has come under the spotlight in CircleID blog posts recently, first by domainer George Kirikos and then Internet Commerce Association counsel Phil Corwin.

All RAs contain a provision that allows ICANN to terminate the contract if any officer or director of the registry is convicted of a financially-related misdemeanor or any felony.

Barclays was one of five banks that recently fessed up to felony currency market fixing charges in the US, paying a combined $2.5 billion fine.

However, as Kirikos, Corwin and now Grogan have pointed out, the RA only talks about crimes committed by officers and directors, not the companies themselves.

Grogran pointed out that to hold a corporation accountable for its crimes long after the fact might be a bit excessive.

Criminal employees and directors can be fired, but a company cannot fire itself.

“Does that means for the next hundred years ICANN or no other corporation should do business with them?” he said.

ICANN Compliance probing Hunger Games domain

ICANN’s Compliance department is looking into whether Donuts broke the rules by activating a domain name for the forthcoming The Hunger Games movie.

Following up from the story we posted earlier today, ICANN sent DI the following statement:

We are well aware of this issue and are addressing it through our normal compliance resolution process. We attempt to resolve compliance matters through a collaborative informal resolution process, and we do not comment on what happens during the informal resolution phase.

At issue is whether Donuts allowed the movie’s marketers to launch thehungergames.movie before the new gTLD’s mandatory 90-day “controlled interruption” phase was over.

Under a strict reading of the CI rules, there’s something like 10 to 12 days left before Donuts is supposed to be allowed to activate any .movie domain except nic.movie.

Donuts provided the following statement:

This is a significant step forward in the mainstream usage of new domains. One of the core values of the new gTLD program is the promotion of consumer choice and competition, and Donuts welcomes this contribution to the program’s success, and to the promotion of the film. We don’t publicly discuss specific matters related to ICANN compliance.

I imagine what happened here is that Donuts got an opportunity to score an anchor tenant with huge visibility and decided to grasp it with both hands, even though distributor Lion’s Gate Entertainment’s (likely immovable) launch campaign schedule did not exactly chime with its own.

It may be a technical breach of the ICANN rules on name collisions — which many regard as over-cautious and largely unnecessary — but it’s not a security or stability risk.

Of course, some would say it also sets a precedent for other registries to bend the rules if they score big-brand backing in future.

Is The Hunger Games’ new .movie domain illegal?

Donuts may have launched its best new gTLD anchor tenant in violation of ICANN rules.

The company revealed earlier this week that The Hunger Games movies are using thehungergames.movie to promote the fourth and final installment of the wildly successful “trilogy”.

The domain name even features in the trailer for the film, which currently has over 1.7 million YouTube views.

But it has been claimed that Donuts activated the domain in the DNS two weeks before it was allowed to under its ICANN registry contract.

It boils down to “controlled interruption”, the controversial mechanism by which registries mitigate the risk of potentially harmful name collisions in the DNS.

Under ICANN’s rules for CI, for 90 days registries have to implement a wildcard in their zone file that redirects all domains other than nic.[tld] to 127.0.53.53 and your-dns-needs-immediate-attention.[tld].

“The Registry Operator must not activate any other names under the TLD until after the 90-day controlled interruption period has been completed,” the rules say, in bold text.

Donuts’ .movie was delegated on or around March 26, which means when thehungergames.movie was activated there were still about two weeks left on the .movie CI clock.

As far as I can tell from reading ICANN documentation on CI, there are no carve-outs for anchor tenants.

The .movie zone file has five other domains related to The Hunger Games in it — the only names other than nic.movie — but they don’t seem to resolve.

There’s no actual security or stability risk here, of course.

If .movie had used the old method of blocking a predefined list of identified name collisions, thehungergames.movie would not have even been affected — it’s not on .movie’s list of collisions.

However, if ICANN decides rules have been broken and Donuts is forced to deactivate the domain, it would be a painfully embarrassing moment for the new gTLD industry.

It can perhaps be hoped that ICANN’s process of investigating such things takes about two weeks to carry out.

I’ve contacted Donuts for comment and will provide an update if and when I receive any additional information.

NameVault terminated by ICANN

NameVault, a registrar that once had over 75,000 domains under management, has been terminated by ICANN over multiple alleged contract breaches.

ICANN told (pdf) the Canadian company this week that its right to sell gTLD domain names will come to an end June 17.

The breaches primarily relate to its failure to provide records relating to the domain stronglikebull.com and its failure to provide ICANN with a working phone number.

NameVault belonged to domain investor Adam Matuzich, but I hear he may have sold it off to an Indian outfit several months ago (that may have been a surprise to ICANN too).

Back in 2011, it had over 75,000 names on its books. Today, it has fewer than 1,000.

The decline seems to be largely due to the departure of fellow domain investor Mike Berkens, who started taking his portfolio to Hexonet a few years ago.

ICANN will now ask other registrars if they want to take over NameVault’s domains.

It’s the fourth registrar to lose its accreditation this year.