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ICANN gives the nod to Donuts-Rightside merger

ICANN has given its consent to the acquisition of Rightside by rival new gTLD registry Donuts, according to the companies.

The nod means that one barrier to the $213 million deal has been lifted.

Rightside, which is listed on Nasdaq, still needs the majority of its shareholders to agree to the deal and to satisfy other customary closing conditions.

ICANN approval does not mean the organization has passed any judgment about whether the deal is pro-competition or anything like that, it just means it’s checked that the buyer has the funds and the nous to run the TLDs in question and is compliant with various policies.

All new gTLD Registry Agreements given ICANN the right to consent — or not — to the contract being assigned to a third party.

The acquisition was announced last month at the end of a turbulent year or so for Rightside.

Donuts to pay $213 million for Rightside

Donuts is to acquire Rightside for $213 million, the companies have just announced.

The $10.60 per share cash offer represents a 12% premium over Rightside’s average closing share price over the last 30 days. Rightside’s 52-week high is over $12.

Just one year ago, Donuts offered $70 million for Rightside’s portfolio of gTLDs, but was shot down.

Rightside also turned down a $5 million offer for four gTLDs from XYZ.com in April 2016.

The $213 million offer is funded at least partly by Silicon Valley Bank, which is providing a credit facility to Donuts.

Assuming the deal closes — which will require the holders of more than half its shares to agree to the price — it will make Rightside a private company once more, as a wholly owned Donuts subsidiary.

The two gTLD registries are already partners, with Rightside providing domain registry services for Donuts’ roughly 200 new gTLDs.

There was talk of a split last year, with Donuts apparent endorsement of Google’s Nomulus platform, but the two companies reaffirmed their relationship earlier this year.

Rightside itself has a portfolio of 40 gTLDs, but it’s faced criticism from shareholders over the last year or so over their relatively poor performance.

Activist investor J Carlo Cannell, who owns almost 9% of Rightside, has been pressuring the company’s board to take radical action for the last 15 months.

Earlier this year, Rightside got out of the once-core wholesale registrar game by selling eNom to rival Tucows for $83.5 million.

More change at the top at Donuts as Tindal steps down

Donuts has lost co-founder and COO Richard Tindal, who has announced his retirement.

Tindal was one of the four domain industry executives who founded Donuts in order to take advantage of ICANN’s new gTLD program about seven years ago.

No reason was given for his departure, which was announced in a blog post, beyond “retirement”.

Co-founders Paul Stahura, Jon Nevett and Dan Schindler are all still with the company, but founding CEO Stahura recently stepped into the chairman’s role to give venture capitalist Bruce Jaffe the corner office.

Tindal had previously worked in senior roles for Verisign, Neustar and Demand Media (now Rightside).

China approves more Donuts, Afilias gTLDs

Donuts and Afilias have had two batches of new gTLDs approved for use in China.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology approved five Afilias TLDs and six Donuts TLDs last month. This means customers of Chinese registrars will now be able to legally use those names in China.

Afilias was approved for .info, .mobi and .pro, which were delegated following the 2000 and 2003 new gTLD application rounds and .kim and .red from the 2012 round.

Donuts simultaneously was cleared for .ltd, .group, .游戏 (“game”), .企业 (“business”), .娱乐 (“entertainment) and .商店 (“store”).

The approvals more than double the number of new gTLDs in Latin script to get the nod from MIIT, in what now appears to be a monthly occurrence.

In February, .ink and four Chinese-script TLDs passed the regulatory process, following .site and .shop in January and .vip, .club and .xyz in December.

MIIT approval means the chance of usage by Chinese registrants should go up, but it also ties these Western registries to relatively Draconian government policies when it comes to Chinese registrations.

Donuts took down 11 domains for Hollywood last year

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2017, Domain Policy

Donuts caused 11 domain names in its new gTLD portfolio to be taken down in the first 12 months of its deal with the US movie industry.

The company disclosed yesterday that the Motion Picture Association of America requested the suspension of 12 domains under their bilateral “Trusted Notifier” agreement, which came into effect last February.

The news follows the decisions by Public Interest Registry and the Domain Name Association not to pursue a “Copyright ADRP” process that would have made such Trusted Notifier systems unnecessary.

Of the 12 alleged piracy domains, seven were suspended by the sponsoring registrar, one was addressed by the hosting provider, and Donuts terminated three at the registry level.

For the remaining domain, “questions arose about the nexus between the site’s operators and the content that warranted further investigation”, Donuts said.

“In the end, after consultation with the registrar and the registrant, we elected against further action,” it said.

Trusted Notifier is supposed to address only clear-cut cases of copyright infringement, where domains are being using solely to commit mass piracy. Donuts said:

Of the eleven on which action was taken, each represented a clear violation of law—the key tenet of a referral. In some cases, sites simply were mirrors of other sites that were subject to US legal action. All were clearly and solely dedicated to pervasive illegal streaming of television and movie content. In a reflection of the further damage these types of sites can impart on Internet users, malware was detected on one of the sites.

Donuts also dismissed claims that Trusted Notifier mechanisms represent a slippery slope that will ultimately grant censorship powers to Big Content.

The company said “a mere handful of names have been impacted, and only those that clearly were devoted to illegal activity. And to Donuts’ knowledge, in no case did the registrant contest the suspension or seek reinstatement of the domain.”

It is of course impossible to verify these statements, because Donuts does not publish the names of the domains affected by the program.

Trusted Notifier, which is also in place at competing portfolio registry Radix, was this week criticized in an academic paper from professor Annemarie Bridy of the University of Idaho College of Law and Stanford University.

The paper, “Notice and Takedown in the Domain Name System: ICANN’s Ambivalent Drift into Online Content Regulation”, she argues that while Trusted Notifier may not by an ICANN policy, the organization has nevertheless “abetted the development and implementation of a potentially large-scale program of privately ordered online content regulation”.