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Domain “slammer” finally gets suspended by ICANN

The beneficiary of the long-running Domain Registry of America scam is finally at risk of losing its ICANN accreditation.

ICANN has suspended Brandon Gray Internet Services, which does business as NameJuice.com, due to the “deceptive” marketing practices carried out by its “resellers”.

The company won’t be able to register any gTLD names or receive transfers for 90 days.

If NameJuice hasn’t sorted out its act by October 17, it faces the risk of losing its accreditation permanently.

The company, you will recall, is the primary beneficiary of the “slamming” scam, which tricks customers of other registrars into transferring their names with confusing, invoice-style junk mail.

Slammers have been operating under various names including Domain Registry of America, Domain Registry of Europe and Domain Registry of Canada for close to 15 years.

I received one in 2011 from the “Domain Renewal Group”, which I blogged about here.

It was sued by Register.com in 2002 over the practice, was forced into a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission in 2003, and has been involved in tangles with regulators all over the world for the last decade.

But it seems ICANN’s hands were tied until Brandon Gray signed the new 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, which gives ICANN’s compliance department more power over resellers.

ICANN said:

Since at least 2009, ICANN has received numerous complaints from Registered Name Holders, registrars, and various ICANN Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees regarding the business solicitation practices of Brandon Gray’s resellers. Such practices were not specifically prohibited under the 2001 and 2009 RAAs. Section 3.12 of the 2013 RAA, however, requires registrars to ensure its reseller’s actions comply with the RAA, as well as the Registrants’ Benefits and Responsibilities Specification, which protects Registered Name Holders from false or deceptive practices.

ICANN fingered “reseller” Registration Services Inc as the party behind DROA and the other slamming scams.

In order to cure the latest breach, NameJuice has until August 8 to provide a tonne of information about Registration Services, including its certificate of incorporation, samples of its mailshots, and details of how a sample of specific domains came to be transferred.

In order to avoid losing its accreditation by October 10, the company will also have to promise to force its reseller to stop its deceptive marketing and provide ICANN with samples of future mailings.

NameJuice has 13 tasks in total to comply with to avoid termination proceedings; it’s looking promising that ICANN will finally shut down this blight on the industry just a few months from now.

The irony is, of course, if NameJuice loses its accreditation, all of the names that were obtained under false pretenses will not revert naturally to their original registrar. Instead, if ICANN follows its standard practice, they’ll be transferred in bulk to a third registrar.

You can read the breach notice here and the suspension notice here.

Almost half of registrars “deficient” in compliance audit

Almost half of accredited domain name registrars were found “deficient” during a recent ICANN compliance survey.

Results of an audit published today show that 146 of 322 registrars (45%) picked at random for the September 2013 to May 2014 study had to carry out some form of remediation in order to comply with their contracts.

The report comes at the end of the second year of ICANN’s audit program, which aims to bring all accredited registrars and gTLD registries into compliance over three years.

The deficiencies noted at 146 registrars cover areas ranging from compliance with ICANN consensus policies to the availability of Whois services over the web and port 43.

In almost every instance the numbers were down on last year.

For example, ICANN documented 86 registrars who could not initially show compliance with requirements on the retention of registrant data, down from 105 a year ago.

Only 15 registrars of the 322 (4.6%) flunked the audit and will be re-tested. The others were all able to bring their systems into line with ICANN’s requirements during the course of the audit.

Three registrars were terminated as a result of deficiencies identified during this phase of the program.

The full report, along with the list of participating registrars, can be found here.

ICANN smacks new gTLDs for pre-sunrise auctions

Running a premium domain name auction before you’ve finished your new gTLD sunrise period is Officially Not Cool, according to ICANN’s compliance department.

People who won premium new gTLD domains in auctions that took place before sunrise periods now face the possibility of losing their names to trademark owners.

.CLUB Domains, and probably XYZ.com, operators of .club and .xyz, two of the highest-volume new gTLDs to launch so far, appear to be affected by the ICANN decision.

ICANN told .CLUB that its “winter auction“, which took place in late February, may have violated the rules about allocating or “earmarking” domains to registrants before sunrise takes place.

Meanwhile, NameJet has cancelled the auction for deals.xyz, which “sold” for $8,100 late last year, suggesting that .xyz’s pre-sunrise auction is also considered ultra vires.

ICANN told .CLUB that its auction sales “constitute earmarking” in violation of the rule stating that registries “must not allow a domain name to be allocated or registered prior to the Sunrise period”.

.CLUB had told its auction winners that a sunrise period registration would prevent them from getting the domain they wanted and that they would be refunded if a sunrise registrant emerged.

But ICANN evidently told the registry:

Irrespective of whether “[a]llocation was expressly conditioned upon any Sunrise claim,” or whether any Sunrise claim was made, the pre-selection, pre-registration or pre-designation to third parties, in this case via .Club Domains’ “winter auction,” constitutes improper allocation.

I kinda thought this would happen.

Back in November, when XYZ.com ran its first .xyz auction — about six months before its sunrise even started — CEO Daniel Negari told us he believed it was “comfortably within the rules“.

We said the auction “seems to be operating at the edge of what is permissible under the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms, which state that no domains may be allocated prior to Sunrise.”

I’ve not yet been able to definitively confirm that .xyz is affected by this ICANN decision, but .club definitely is.

.CLUB Domains told its auction winners today that the names they won are now subject to a 60-day period during which they could be obtained by trademark owners.

If no trademark owner claims the name, .CLUB said it will give the auction winner a 10% rebate on their purchase price.

The email states:

We are placing the domain on hold for 60 days, during which time a Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) holder will have the opportunity to purchase the domain at Sunrise rates. Although, the domain is not currently in the TMCH, if a trademark holder should file in the TMCH over the next 60 days, the domain will be offered to that registrant. However, if the name is not claimed by filing in the TMCH over the next 60 days, your transaction will move forward as planned.

Although we disagree with ICANN compliance’s position on this matter, the actions we are taking are necessary to ensure that we are not offside with ICANN compliance in any way. We understand that you have been caught in the middle of this issue due to no fault of your own. Given these circumstances, we are offering you two options:

1) Should you decide to complete this transaction, we will issue you a payment of 10% of the purchase price after the transaction closes in 60 days, assuming the name is not registered by a TMCH mark holder because of the delay.

2) At any time during the 60 day period you have the option to rescind the auction bid and not purchasing the domain.

KnujOn scores a win as BizCN gets first breach notice

The Chinese registrar BizCN has received its first breach notice from ICANN’s compliance department, following a sustained campaign by anti-abuse activist KnujOn.

The notice concerns Whois accuracy, specifically for the domain names rapetube.org and onlinepharmacy4.org, and a bunch of other peripheral breaches of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

The “porn” site rapetube.org was the subject of a Washington Post article last December, in which KnujOn’s Garth Bruen said he feared the site might contain footage of actual crimes.

Bruen has been chasing BizCN about Whois inaccuracy, and specifically the rapetube.org domain, since 2011.

He said in a September 2013 CircleID post that he’s filed Whois inaccuracy complaints about the domain with ICANN “multiple times”.

His campaign against ICANN Compliance led to an Ombudsman complaint (which was rejected) last year.

Now Compliance appears to be taking the case more seriously. ICANN, according to the breach notice, has been on BizCN’s case about rapetube.org’s Whois since March 24 this year.

At that time, the name was registered to a Vietnamese name with a French address and phone number and a contact email address at privacy-protect.cn.

According to Bruen’s interview with the Post, this email address bounced and nobody answered the phone number. The privacy-protect.cn domain does not appear to currently resolve.

ICANN evidently has some unspecified “information” that shows the email “does not appear to be a valid functioning email address”.

But BizCN told ICANN April 2 that it had verified the registrant’s contact information with the registrant, and provided ICANN with correspondence it said demonstrated that.

ICANN says the correspondence it provided actually predated KnujOn’s latest complaint by six months.

In addition, when BizCN forwarded a scanned copy of the registrant’s ID card, ICANN suspected it to be a fake. The notice says:

Registrar provided copies of correspondence between the reseller and registrant. The response included the same email address that was still invalid according to information available to ICANN, and included a copy of a government identification card to confirm the registrant’s address. According to information available to ICANN, the identification card did not conform to any current or previous form of government identification for that jurisdiction.

Despite repeated follow-up calls, ICANN said it still has not received an adequate response from BizCN, so its accreditation is now in jeopardy.

BizCN has something like 450,000 gTLD names under management and is in the top 50 registrars by volume.

As for rapetube.org, it’s still registered with BizCN, but its Whois changed to a Russian company “Privat Line LLP”, at privatlinellp.me, on or about April 17.

That change is not going to help BizCN, however, which is being asked to provide evidence that it took “reasonable steps to investigate and reasonable steps to correct the Whois inaccuracy claims”.

It has until May 29 to sort out the breaches or face termination. Read the breach notice here.

NameCheap gets contract breach notice

ICANN has sent a formal breach notice to top ten registrar NameCheap, saying the company failed to comply with a mandatory audit.

ICANN also claims in the notice (pdf) that the company has failed to keep its web site up to date with pricing information required by policies.

NameCheap, which says it has over three million domains under management, may be the largest registrar to get to the formal, published breach notice stage of the ICANN compliance process.

But it should be noted that while the company is accredited and must comply with its Registrar Accreditation Agreement, it does almost all of its business as an eNom reseller.

Just a handful of domain names are registered under NameCheap’s own IANA number.