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“UDRP-proof” .feedback gTLD loses first UDRP

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2016, Domain Registries

The first cybersquatting complaint against a .feedback domain name has resulted in a transfer, despite registry claims that the gTLD was “UDRP-proof”.

De Beers, the diamond merchant, won a UDRP case against the registrant of debeers.feedback earlier this month.

The registrant, who used a privacy service, registered the name back in January, when .feedback was in its unusual “Free Speech Partner Program” phase.

That took the place of an Early Access Program, but saw domains deeply discounted instead of premium-priced.

Buyers had to agree to point their domain to a registry-hosted social media platform and there was a $5,000 fee if they later decided to change name servers.

The registrant of debeers.feedback lost the UDRP largely because there wasn’t much actual feedback on the site until De Beers sent him a nastygram.

On March 24, the site only contained a single two-word post. Five more were added with apparently false earlier dates at a later time, the panelist found.

He wrote:

If the website were genuinely operating as a feedback forum, one would ordinarily expect the reviews to have appeared at or close to their respective dates. That they were not on the website on March 24 and did not appear until after the letter of demand was sent calls for explanation.

The panelist doesn’t mention it, but the reviews all seem to have been copied directly from Yelp!.

Basically, the registrant lost his domain for filling the site with bogosity rather than genuine free-speech griping.

It’s not a terribly surprising or worrying result, perhaps, but it does run counter to what Jay Westerdal, CEO of registry Top Level Spectrum, told us back in January.

“It is a great opportunity for domainers to register domains that will be UDRP proof,” he said at the time. “As free speech sites they are going to improve the world and let anyone read reviews on any subject.”

“I think they are UDRP proof,” he added back then, offering the services of his lawyers to registrants who found themselves served with UDRP complaints.

Today, Westerdal qualified his earlier remarks, telling DI: “I don’t think having a privacy service and also having a .feedback domain will hold up in the current UDRP system.”

Privacy services are discouraged by the registry, though explicitly permitted in its terms of service.

Westerdal said that because De Beers obtained the domain via UDRP, the company will not have to pay the $5,000 unlocking fee if it wants to point debeers.feedback’s name servers elsewhere.

Most businesses don’t care about .uk domains

The majority of businesses in the UK don’t care about direct second-level .uk domains, even when the benefits are spelled out for them, according to Nominet research.

The new survey found that only 27% of businesses would “definitely” or “probably” exercise their new right to buy a .uk domain that matches their .co.uk or .org.uk name.

That number only went up to 40% after respondents had seen a brief Nominet marketing pitch, the survey found.

Another 16% said they had no plans to get their .uk, post-pitch, while 44% remained undecided.

This was the value proposition the respondents saw (click to enlarge):

Nominet sales pitch

Under the direct .uk policy, all registrants of third-level domains, such as example.co.uk, have the right of refusal over the matching example.uk.

If they don’t exercise that right by June 10, 2019, the matching SLDs will be unfrozen and released into the available pool.

The new Nominet research also found out that most registrants don’t even know they have this right.

Only 44% of respondents were aware of the right. That went up to 45% for businesses and down to 33% for respondents who only owned .uk domain names (as opposed to gTLD names).

A quarter of respondents, which all already own 3LD .uk domains, didn’t even know second-level regs were possible.

Of those who had already bought their .uk names, over two thirds were either parking or redirecting. Individuals were much more likely to actually use their names for emails or personal sites.

The numbers are not terribly encouraging for the direct .uk initiative as it enters into its third year.

They suggest that if something is not done to raise awareness in the next few years, a lot of .co.uk businesses could find their matching SLDs in the hands of cybersquatters or domainers.

Nominet members (registrars and domainers primarily) were quizzed about possible ways to increase adoption during a company webinar today.

Suggestions such as making the domains free (they currently cost £2.50 a year, the same as a 3LD) or bribing a big anchor tenant such as the BBC to switch were suggested.

There’s a lot of dissatisfaction among the membership about the fact that .uk SLDs were allowed in the first place.

The number of second-level .uk names has gone from 96,696 in June 2014 to to 350,088 last year to 593,309 last month, according to Nominet stats.

Over the same periods, third-level regs have been shrinking, from 10.43 million to 10.22 million to 10.08 million, .

UK cybersquatting cases flat, transfers down

The number of cybersquatting cases involving .uk domains was basically flat in 2015, while the number of domains that were transferred was down.

That’s according to Nominet’s wrap-up of last year’s complaints passing through its Dispute Resolution Service.

There were 728 DRS complaints in 2015, the registry said, compared to 726 in the year before.

The number of cases that resulted in the transfer of the domain to the complainant was down to 53%, from 55% in 2014.

That’s quite a bit lower than complainants’ success rates in UDRP. In 2015, more than 70% of UDRP cases resulted in a transfer.

Nominet reckons that the DRS saved £7.74 million ($notasmuchasitusedtobe) in legal fees last year, based on a “conservative” estimate of £15,000 per case, had the complaint gone to court instead.

More stats can be found here.

Facebook, under Chinese court threat, transfers Instagram.com to its new registrar

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2016, Domain Registrars

It’s not quite cyberflight, but Facebook has transferred threatened domain name instagram.com to its newly acquired in-house registrar.

Whois records show that the domain, used for the popular photo-sharing social network, was moved from MarkMonitor to RegistrarSEC yesterday.

It emerged on Friday that Facebook had recently acquired RegistrarSEC.

So why the transfer?

It does not appear that the move is part of a wholesale transfer of domains — facebook.com, whatsapp.com, fb.com and all the other Facebook domains I checked are still with MarkMonitor.

Instead, I would speculate that it’s related to the lawsuit in China in which the family of a deceased cybersquatter are fighting for the return of the domain to their ownership.

Instagram acquired the name for $100,000 from the Guangdong-based Zhou family in January 2011, just a couple of months after Zhou Weiming, the now deceased patriarch, bought it from an American domainer.

According to a lawsuit (pdf) filed against the family in California by Instagram this January, Zhou’s widow and two daughters are suing the third daughter in a Chinese court for selling the domain without the proper authority.

They want the domain returned to them.

By transferring instagram.com to a registrar completely controlled by Facebook, the company has removed one huge risk factor from the Chinese lawsuit.

If MarkMonitor were to be served with a Chinese court order ordering the transfer of the domain to the Zhous, and it were to comply, the Instagram service used by millions could be held hostage by a group of known cybersquatters.

Now that the domain is at RegistrarSEC, Facebook gets the ability to refuse to comply with any such order.

This all begs the question of whether the deep-pocketed social network would go to the trouble of acquiring a registrar (with only 11 names to its accreditation) purely to provide a layer of insurance.

A fresh ICANN accreditation would be cheaper, but would take longer, and transferring to a different third-party registrar wouldn’t really solve the problem.

Instagram is predicted by one analyst to provide Facebook with $5.8 billion in annual revenue by the end of the decade.

Instagram paid Chinese cyberquatter $100,000 for instagram.com, Facebook lawsuit reveals

Kevin Murphy, January 20, 2016, Domain Sales

Facebook has sued a Chinese cybersquatter for trying to renege on a five-year-old deal that saw it buy the domain instagram.com for $100,000.

The lawsuit, filed in California last week, claims that a family of known cybersquatters, based in Guangdong, is trying to have the purchase invalidated by a Chinese court.

The company, which acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, wants the court to rule that the domain deal was legal, preventing the cybersquatters retaking control of the domain.

Photo-sharing app Instagram launched in October 2010 using the domain instagr.am.

At that time, instagram.com was owned by a US-based domain investor, but it was bought by Zhou Weiming about a month later.

Zhou, Facebook says, was the now-dead father of three of the people it is suing, and the husband of the fourth.

When Zhou purchased the domain, Instagram had become wildly popular, well on the way to hitting the million-user mark in December 2010.

Instagram had applied for the US trademark on its name in September 2010, less than a month before its launch.

The company made the decision to pay $100,000 for the domain in January 2011.

The Whois information for instagram.com changed from Zhou Weiming to Zhou Murong, apparently his daughter, around about the same time, though the registrant email address did not change.

The purchase was processed by Sedo, according to a copy of the deal filed as evidence (pdf).

Now, Murong’s mother and sisters are suing her and Instagram in China, claiming she did not have the authority to sell the domain, according to Facebook’s complaint.

Facebook claims the Chinese suit is a “sham” and that the whole Zhou family is acting in concert.

The company wants the California court to declare that the sale was valid, and that registrar MarkMonitor should not be forced to transfer the domain back to the Zhous.

Facebook in 2014 won a 22-domain UDRP case against Murong Zhou, related to typos of its Instagram trademark.

Read the full California complaint as a PDF here.