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$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.

Radiohead backs .music community bid

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2015, Domain Registries

Ed O’Brien, guitarist with the band Radiohead, has become the latest musician to throw his support behind DotMusic’s community-based application for the new gTLD .music.

In a letter to ICANN today (pdf), O’Brien said that if DotMusic loses its ongoing Community Priority Evaluation, it will “be setting back the world’s chances of a Fair Trade Music Industry by many years”.

“I challenge The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers views that the global music community to which I belong does not exist,” he wrote.

He’s arguably the highest-profile musician to support DotMusic to date. Radiohead have sold over 30 million records and a few years ago O’Brien was ranked by Rolling Stone as the 59th greatest guitarist of all time.

The phrase “Fair Trade Music Industry” appears to have been coined last week at TechCrunch Disrupt by Grammy-nominated musician Imogen Heap, another one of DotMusic’s celebrity supporters.

It refers to the notion that artists should be fairly compensated for their work, opposing services such as Spotify, which reportedly pays artists less than a tenth of a cent every time one of their songs is played.

Both Heap and Radiohead are noted for their innovative uses of technology in their music (for example, listen to Radiohead’s incredible 1997 album OK Computer, bootlegs of which are available to stream for free on YouTube).

Radiohead is also known for its love-hate relationship with internet-based music business models.

In 2007, Radiohead released a new album for free on its web site, allowing fans to set their own price. But in 2013, it pulled its back catalog from Spotify, with lead singer Thom Yorke calling the service “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.

Its music is back on Spotify now.

But you can see why the band would support DotMusic’s application for .music, which proposes a number of novel rights protection mechanisms covering not just trademarks, but also copyright.

One interesting proposal is to ban any domain name from .music if a matching domain in another TLD has received over 10,000 copyright infringement notices from a big music industry body. This is to prevent TLD “hopping” affecting .music.

So, for example, if had received 10,000 notices, would be permanently blocked from registration.

The company is proposing a somewhat restricted namespace too, where only “community members” are allowed to register domains.

But prospective registrants merely need to self-identify as a member of one of the community’s dozens of subsets — which includes “fans” and “bloggers” — in order to register.

Parking will be prohibited, however, which would cut down on domain investor speculation.

Quite how .music will enhance the move for “fair trade” for artists is not entirely clear from O’Brien’s letter. After .music launches, there will still be hundreds of other TLDs that do not have DotMusic’s rules in place.

It’s also unlikely that the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is currently handling the CPE, will even see O’Brien’s letter.

ICANN told DotMusic (pdf) recently that the EIU “may not consider” any support letters received after October 13, which was two months after the official deadline for letters to be submitted.

DotMusic has letters of support — mostly the same letter with a different signature — from literally hundreds of musicians, trade groups, producers and publishers.

CEO Constantine Roussos told DI last week that it has more support letters than all the other “Community” gTLD applicants combined.

He said he’s confident that DotMusic’s CPE will be successful, citing positive precedent set by EIU panels in .osaka, .hotel and .radio CPE cases.

But the closest precedent we have so far is the Far Further application for .music, which comprehensively lost its CPE a year ago, scoring just three points out of the available 16, well short of the 14-point passing score.

There are differences between the applications, but Far Further’s CPE panel told it that there was no such thing as “the music community”, which sets a pretty high bar for DotMusic to leap.

If DotMusic wins its CPE, the remaining seven competing applications for the string get kicked out of the program. If it loses, it goes to an auction it has little chance of winning.

.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.

.gay flunks community review for second time

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2015, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC has failed in its bid to eliminate its competitors for the new gTLD .gay for the second time.

After an unprecedented re-run of its Community Priority Evaluation, the applicant scored just 10 out of the 16 available points.

That’s exactly the same as it scored the first time around, exactly one year ago, still four points short of success.

For the second time, dotgay scored zero from a possible four points on the “Nexus” criteria — the link between the string “gay” and the community dotgay wants to serve.

The CPE panel decision reads:

The Panel has determined that more than a small part of the applicant’s defined community is not identified by the applied-for string, as described below, and that it therefore does not meet the requirements for Nexus.

The Panel has 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

As I explained a year ago, when the first CPE panel flunked the applicant for exactly the same reason, dotgay’s proposed community included lots of people who would not necessarily describe themselves as “gay”.

You, possibly, for example.

If you’re an “ally” of gay people, by for example supporting equal rights, then you would qualify as “gay” under dotgay’s definition.

If you’re transgender or intersex, you would similarly captured by this definition. The panel said:

Despite the applicant’s assertions to the contrary, its own evidence here shows that “gay” is most commonly used to refer to both men and women who identify as homosexual, and not necessarily to others. The applicant’s “umbrella term” argument does not accurately describe, for example, the many similar transgender stories in the mass media where “gay” is not used to identify the subject. In these cases, “transgender” is used because “gay” does not identify those individuals.

The panel concluded that .gay “does not identify or match” the target community, and scored it zero.

dotgay had a second roll of the dice because the first CPE panel was found to have committed a process error by not sufficiently verifying the company’s many dozens of letters of support from gay advocacy organizations.

However, this error did not relate to the Nexus criteria, so a victory was always going to be a long shot.

The .gay gTLD is now heading to auction, where Minds + Machines, Rightside and Top Level Design are the other bidders.

You can read the new decision in PDF format here.