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ICANN: we won’t force registrars to suspend domains

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2015, Domain Registrars

In one of the ongoing battles between registrars and the intellectual property lobby, ICANN’s compliance department seems to have sided with the registrars, for now.

Registrars will not be forced to suspend domain names when people complain about abusive or illegal behavior on the associated web sites, according to chief contract compliance office Allen Grogan.

The decision will please registrars but will come as a blow to the likes of music and movie studios and those who fight to shut down dodgy internet pharmacies.

Grogan yesterday published his interpretation of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, specifically the section (3.18) that obliges registrars to “investigate and respond appropriately” abuse reports.

The IP crowd take this to mean that if they submit an abuse report claiming, for example, that a web site sells medicines across borders without an appropriate license, the registrar should check out the site then turn off the domain.

Registrars, on the other hand, claim they’re in no position to make a judgment call about the legality of a site unless presented with a proper court order.

Grogan appears to have taken this view also, though he indicated that his work is not yet done. He wrote:

Sometimes a complaining party takes the position that that there is only one appropriate response to a report of abuse or illegal activity, namely to suspend or terminate the domain name registration. In the same circumstances, a registrar may take the position that it is not qualified to make a determination regarding whether the activity in question is illegal and that the registrar is unwilling to suspend or terminate the domain name registration absent an order from a court of competent jurisdiction. I am continuing to work toward finding ways to bridge these gaps.

It’s a testament to how little agreement there is on this issue that, when we asked Grogan back in June how long it would take to provide clarity, he estimated it would take “a few weeks”. Yet it’s still not fully resolved.

His blog post last night contains a seven-point checklist that abuse reporters must conform to in order to give registrars enough detail to with with.

They must, for example, be specific about who they are, where the allegedly abusive content can be found, whose rights are being infringed, and which laws are being broken in which jurisdiction.

It also contains a six-point checklist for how registrars must respond.

Registrars are only obliged to investigate the URL in question (unless they fear exposure to malware or child abuse material), inform the registrant about the complaint, and inform the reporter what, if anything, they’ve done to remediate the situation.

There’s no obligation to suspend domains, and registrars seem to have great leeway in how they treat the report.

In short, Grogan has interpreted RAA 3.18 in a way that does not seem to place any substantial additional burden on registrars.

He’s convening a roundtable discussion for the forthcoming ICANN meeting in Dublin with a view to getting registrars to agree to some non-binding “voluntary self-regulatory” best practices.

OpenTLD suspension reinstated

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registrars

ICANN has suspended OpenTLD’s ability to sell gTLD domain names for the second time, following an arbitration ruling yesterday.

OpenTLD, part of the Freenom group, will not be able to sell gTLD names or accept inbound transfers from tomorrow — about two hours from now — to November 24, according to ICANN’s web site.

That doesn’t give the company much time to make the required changes to its web site and registrar systems.

As reported earlier today, OpenTLD lost its battle to have the suspension frozen in arbitration with ICANN.

The arbitrator agreed with ICANN Compliance that the registrar cybersquatted its competitors and has not yet done enough to ensure that it does not do the same again in future.

Yes, you are dangerous, arbitrator tells “cybersquatter” OpenTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registrars

Free domains provider OpenTLD has been dealt a crushing blow in its fight against the suspension of its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

ICANN is now free to suspend OpenTLD’s RAA, due to the company’s “pattern of cybersquatting”, following a decision by an independent arbitrator.

The arbitrator ruled yesterday that OpenTLD’s suspension should go ahead, because “OpenTLD’s continued operation could potentially harm consumers and the public interest.”

The 90-day suspension was imposed by ICANN Compliance in June, after it became aware that OpenTLD had lost two UDRP cases filed by competing registrars.

WIPO panelists found in both cases that the company had infringed its competitors’ trademarks in order to entice resellers over to its platform.

The suspension was put on hold voluntarily by ICANN, pending the arbitrator’s ruling on OpenTLD’s request for emergency stay. That request was conclusively rejected yesterday.

The arbitrator wrote:

the Arbitrator has little doubt that the multiple abusive name registrations made by OpenTLD, each of which included the registered mark of a competing domain name registrar and OpenTLD’s subsequent use of those domains… formed part of a broad concerted effort by OpenTLD calculated to deliberately divert name registration business, otherwise destined for competing domain name registrars… away from those registrars to OpenTLD instead.

He wrote that OpenTLD needs to put a process in place to prevent similarly cybersquatty behavior in future, rather than just making a commitment to changing its ways.

It’s pretty harsh stuff.

OpenTLD said recently that a suspension would “devastate” and “decimate” its business, due to the intertwining of its massive ccTLD business and rather smaller gTLD platform, but the arbitrator thought a technology workaround would be rather simple to implement.

No RAA means no gTLD sales and no inbound transfers.

OpenTLD is part of Freenom, which runs .tk and other free-to-register ccTLDs.

The company’s only ray of sunlight in the ruling is that the arbitrator said the costs of the proceeding should be split equally, not all falling on OpenTLD’s shoulders.

ICANN has not yet re-instituted the suspension, but it could come soon.

The full ruling can be read here.

OpenTLD says suspension would “devastate” its business

Kevin Murphy, August 14, 2015, Domain Registrars

OpenTLD has fired off its newest salvo in its ongoing cybersquatting dispute with ICANN, saying the ICANN-imposed suspension would “devastate” its business.

The company has also addressed many of ICANN’s cybersquatting allegations, while failing to deny it squatted on two competitors’ trademarks.

In its latest arbitration filing (pdf), OpenTLD said: “Quite simply, the suspension of OpenTLD’s ability to offer gTLD registrations and inbound transfers would decimate its unique business model.”

ICANN had argued that the suspension of its registrar accreditation was no big deal because its gTLD domain base is measured in the low thousands, whereas the total domains under management of parent Freenom, which offers free domains in .tk and other ccTLDS, is in excess of 25 million.

But OpenTLD said the two businesses as “deeply intertwined” and separating the two would impair its ability to do business.

ICANN is pushing for the suspension because OpenTLD lost two UDRP cases earlier this year. Both were filed by competitors — Key-Systems and NetEarth — who accused the registrar of attempting to lure resellers to its platform by infringing rivals’ trademarks.

ICANN has since followed up by accusing OpenTLD of continuing to cybersquat famous brands, including Google and Facebook, even after the suspension notice was issued. These claims, as I noted last week, are very dubious, however.

In its latest filing, OpenTLD denies that any of those domains — all of which use its privacy service — were registered by itself. It goes so far as to name the actual registrants.

But it fails to deny that it was the true registrant of the Key-Systems and NetEarth domains lost in the UDRP cases.

Rather, it focuses on ICANN’s claims that it committed “cyberflight” by deleting the UDRP’d domains rather than allowing them to be transferred to the trademark owners.

It admits that the domains were deleted but said this was “inadvertent” and that it attempted to transfer them to its competitors later.

OpenTLD wants the threatened suspension stayed.

The case continues. A decision by the arbitration panel is expected August 24.

OpenTLD cybersquatting fight escalates

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2015, Domain Registrars

ICANN has accused OpenTLD, the registrar arm of Freenom, of cybersquatting famous brands even after it was threatened with suspension.

The claims may be worrying for some registrars as ICANN may in fact be holding the registrar responsible for the actions of its proxy service customers.

OpenTLD was suspended by ICANN in early July, after two UDRP rulings found the company had cybersquatted rival registrars’ brands in order to poach customers.

The suspension was lifted after just a few hours when OpenTLD took ICANN to arbitration under the terms of its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

In ICANN’s latest arbitration filing, the organization’s lawyers argue that the suspension should not be stayed, because OpenTLD has been shown to engage in a pattern of cybersquatting.

Like the original suspension notice, the filing cites the two UDRP losses, along with footnotes indicating that as many as seven competing brands had been cybersquatted.

But ICANN has now also escalated its allegations to bring in non-registrar brands where it’s far from clear that OpenTLD is the actual registrant.

ICANN’s filing states:

even a brief review of the domain names in OpenTLD’s portfolio demonstrates that OpenTLD appears to be continuing to engage in bad faith and abusive registration practices. As of 3 August 2015, there were at least 73 gTLD domains registered to Stichting OpenTLD WHOIS Proxy (which is OpenTLD’s proxy service) that are identical to or contain the registered trademarks or trade names of third parties, including, by way of small example, the domain names barnesandnoble.link, sephora.bargains, at-facebook.com, ebaybh.com, googlefreeporn.com, global-paypal.com, hotmailtechnicalsupport.com, and secure-apple.com. ICANN is not aware of any legitimate interest or right that OpenTLD has to use these third-party trademarks and trade names.

Even more concerning is the fact that at least 14 gTLD domain names that contain the registered trademarks or trade names of third parties were registered by OpenTLD’s proxy service after the 23 June 2015 Suspension Notice was issued to OpenTLD, further demonstrating that OpenTLD’s overtures of “cooperation” ring hollow.

To be clear, that’s ICANN accusing OpenTLD of cybersquatting because some of the domains registered via its privacy service appear to be trademark infringements.

It’s basically equating infringing use of OpenTLD’s proxy service (such the registration of barnesandnoble.link) with the infringing behavior of OpenTLD itself (such as the registration of godaddy.cf, a February 2015 screenshot of which can be seen below.)

This may just be legal posturing, but I imagine many other registrars would be worried to know that they could have their accreditation suspended for cybersquatting simply because some of their privacy customers are cybersquatters.

I’d wager that every proxy/privacy service available has been used by blatant cybersquatters at one time or another.

Filings in the arbitration case can be found here.

OpenTLD suspension stayed in unprecedented arbitration case

“Cybersquatting” registrar OpenTLD, part of the Freenom group, has had its accreditation un-suspended by ICANN while the two parties slug it out in arbitration.

Filed three weeks ago by OpenTLD, it’s the first complaint to head to arbitration about under the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

ICANN suspended the registrar for 90 days in late June, claiming that it “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”.

But OpenTLD filed its arbitration claim day before the suspension was due to come in to effect, demanding a stay.

ICANN — voluntarily, it seems — put the suspension on hold pending the outcome of the case.

The suspension came about due to OpenTLD being found guilty of cybersquatting its competitors in two UDRP cases.

In both cases, the UDRP panel found that the company had cybersquatted the trademarks of rival registrars in an attempt to entice their resellers over to its platform.

But OpenTLD claims that ICANN rushed to suspend it without giving it a chance to put forward its side of the story and without informing it of the breach.

It further claims that the suspension is “disproportionate and unprecedented” and that the public interest would not be served for the suspension to be upheld.

This is not an Independent Review Process proceeding, so things are expected to move forward relatively quickly.

The arbitration panel expects to hear arguments by phone August 14 and rule one way or the other by August 24.

Read the OpenTLD complaint here.

Chinese registrar goes AWOL, gets terminated

Chinese registrar name2host.com has had its accreditation terminated by ICANN for failing to comply with an audit.

According to the compliance notice (pdf), ICANN has been chasing the company since March but has encountered only disconnected phones and unanswered emails.

It seems name2host.com’s principals were all using Hotmail or Yahoo email accounts; not exactly the kind of thing you want to see from a domain name registrar.

The registrar had fewer than 5,000 gTLD domains on its books in March, all in .com and .net.

ICANN will initiate a bulk transfer to a new registrar using its usual process.

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.