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“We own your name” government tells Amazon in explosive slapdown

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon suffered a blistering attack from South American governments over its controversial .amazon gTLD applications this weekend.

A Peruvian official today excoriated Amazon’s latest peace offering, telling the tech giant in no uncertain terms that the word “Amazon” is not its property and demanding an apology for the company’s alleged behavior during recent legal proceedings.

“We will be giving you permission to use a certain word, not the other way around,” she said. “We are the owners of the Amazonian region.”

Speaking for almost 10 minutes during a session at the ICANN 60 meeting in Abu Dhabi this afternoon, Peru’s representative to the Governmental Advisory Committee pulled rank and scolded Amazon like a naughty schoolchild.

She claimed that Amazon had been bad-mouthing Peru by saying former GAC reps had “lied to and manipulated” the rest of the GAC in order to get support for its objection. She then demanded an apology from the company for this.

She was speaking in support of the idea that the string “Amazon” belongs to the people of the Amazonas region, which covers as many as eight South American countries, rather than the American company, despite the fact that none of those countries use the English word to describe the region.

Her remarks drew applause from parts of the audience.

Amazon had showed up at the session — described by two GAC reps later as a “lion’s den” — to offer a “strong, agreed-upon compromise that addresses the needs of the governments”.

The proposed deal would see the GAC drop its objections to .amazon in exchange for certain safeguards.

Amazon is promising to reserve geographically and culturally sensitive words at the second level in .amazon.

The domain rainforest.amazon, its associate general counsel Dana Northcott said by way of example, would be never be used by anyone.

Affected governments would get to negotiate a list of such terms before .amazon went live and there’d be an ongoing consultation process for more such terms to be protected in future.

The company has also promised not to object to — and in fact to actively support with hard resources — any future applications for .amazonas or other local-language variants by the people of the region.

But Peru was not impressed, telling the company that not only is the English version of the name of the region not its property but also that it must show more respect to governments.

“No government is going to accept any impositions from you,” she said, before appealing to fellow GAC members that the issue represents a kind of existential threat.

“The core issue here… is our survival as governments in this pseudo-multi-stakeholder space that has been invented,” she said.

“They want us to believe this is a place where we have dignity but that is increasingly obvious that this is not the case,” she said. “We don’t have it. And that is because of companies like yours… Companies that persist in not respecting the governments and the people they represent.”

The Peruvian GAC rep, listed on the GAC web site as María Milagros Castañon Seoane but addressed only as “Peru” during the session, spoke in Spanish; I’ve been quoting the live interpretation provided by ICANN.

Her remarks, in my opinion, were at least partially an attempt to strengthen her side’s negotiating hand after an Independent Review Process panel this July spanked ICANN for giving too much deference to GAC advice.

The IRP panel decided that ICANN had killed the .amazon applications — in breach of its bylaws — due to a GAC objection that appeared on the face of the public record to be based on little more than governmental whim.

The panel essentially highlighted a clash between ICANN’s bylaws commitments to fairness and transparency and the fact that its New gTLD Applicant Guidebook rules gave the GAC a veto over any application for any reason with no obligation to explain itself.

It told ICANN to reopen the applications for consideration and “make an objective and independent judgment regarding whether there are, in fact, well-founded, merits-based public policy reasons for denying Amazon’s applications”.

That was back in July. Earlier today, the ICANN board of directors in response to the IRP passed a resolution calling for the GAC to explain itself before ICANN 61 in March next year, resolving in part:

Resolved (2017.10.29.02), the Board asks the GAC if it has: (i) any information to provide to the Board as it relates to the “merits-based public policy reasons,” regarding the GAC’s advice that the Amazon applications should not proceed; or (ii) any other new or additional information to provide to the Board regarding the GAC’s advice that the Amazon applications should not proceed.

Other governments speaking today expressed doubt about whether the IRP ruling should have any jurisdiction over such GAC advice.

“It is not for any panelist to decided what is public policy, it is for the governments to decide,” Iran’s Kavouss Arasteh said.

During a later session today the GAC, talking among itself, made little progress in deciding how to formally respond to the ICANN board’s resolution.

A session between the GAC and the ICANN board on Tuesday is expected to be the next time the issue raises its increasingly ugly head.

HTC dumps its dot-brand

Mobile phone manufacturer HTC has become the latest dot-brand operator to get out of the new gTLD game.

The $4.3 billion-a-year Taiwanese firm has told ICANN that it no longer wishes to run .htc as a dot-brand registry and ICANN has signaled its intent to terminate the contract.

It becomes the 27th dot-brand, from the hundreds that have entered contracts over the last few years, to change its mind about owning a vanity gTLD.

Most recently, fast food chain McDonalds and kitchen utensils company Pampered Chef both dumped their respective dot-brands.

Like the previous terminations, HTC never actually did anything with .htc; it only had the contractually mandated nic.htc in its zone file.

As .boots self-terminates, ICANN will not redelegate it

The dot-brand .boots may become the first single-dictionary-word gTLD to be taken off the market, as The Boots Company told ICANN it no longer wishes to be a registry.

Boots, the 168-year-old British pharmacy chain, told ICANN in April that it is unilaterally terminating its Registry Agreement for .boots and ICANN opened it up for comment this week.

As with the 22 self-terminating dot-brands before it, .boots was unloved and unused, with just the solitary, ICANN-mandated nic.boots in its zone file.

Boots, as well as being a universally known brand name in the UK and Ireland, is of course a generic dictionary word representing an unrelated class of goods (ie footwear).

It’s the first dying dot-brand to have this kind of dual use, making it potentially modestly attractive as a true generic TLD.

However, because it’s currently a dot-brand with no third-party users, it will not be redelegated to another registry.

Under Specification 13 of the Registry Agreement, which gives dot-brands special rights, ICANN has the ability to redelegate dot-brands, but only if it’s in the public interest to do so. That’s clearly not the case in this instance.

These rules also state that ICANN is not allowed to delegate .boots to any other company for a period of two years after the contract ends.

Given that there’s no chance of ICANN delegating any gTLDs in the next two years, this has no real impact. Perhaps, if the ICANN community settles on a rolling gTLD application process in future, this kind of termination may be of more interest.

Bladel quits as Council chair as GoDaddy ruled “ineligible” for election

Kevin Murphy, June 14, 2017, Domain Policy

GNSO Council Chair James Bladel has resigned, after it emerged that GoDaddy, his employer, is not eligible for office under registrar rules.

He will continue to occupy the post on an interim basis until a new election is held.

Bladel was elected to represent the Registrars Stakeholder Group on the Council back in 2013 and was elected by the Council as chair in late 2015.

However, the RrSG has just discovered that he’s actually ineligible for elected office under its charter because GoDaddy is also a dot-brand registry.

The RrSG charter states that in order to avoid conflicts of interest, a registrar that also has a Specification 9 exemption from the registry Code of Conduct in an ICANN registry conduct may not hold office.

GoDaddy signed its .godaddy registry agreement, which includes the Spec 9 exemption, in July 2015. The gTLD is not currently being used.

GoDaddy is of course the largest registrar in the industry, but it appears its ability to wield power in ICANN’s policy-making bodies now appears to be hamstrung by its foray into new gTLDs.

Bladel’s resignation is not expected to have any significant impact on GNSO Council work.

He’s been reappointed by the RrSG executive committee on an interim basis until elections can be held for a replacement. His term is due to expire in November anyway.

$5 billion e-commerce site to dump .com for dot-brand

The online ticketing arm of the French national railway operator SNCF has revealed plans to migrate away from .com to its dot-brand gTLD, .sncf.

The web site voyages-sncf.com will become oui.sncf in November, the company has confirmed following press reports at the weekend.

The existing site, despite the cumbersome domain, processed €4.3 billion ($4.8 billion) of ticket and other sales in 2015.

That number was reportedly down slightly last year due to the impact of the various terrorist attacks on the continent.

Still, it’s one of France’s most visible online brands, and has been around since 2000. The site is also available in other European languages and via mobile apps.

The new domain, oui.sncf, is already online. It currently redirects to an FAQ about the rebrand, at the .com site

Parent company SNCF is France’s government-owned rail operator, with overall revenue of €32.3 billion ($36 billion).

While ICANN’s new gTLD program produced hundreds of dot-brands, only a handful to date have moved substantially away from their original domains.

Richemont kills off two more dot-brands

Luxury goods maker Richemont has decided to ditch two more of its dot-brand gTLDs.

The company has asked ICANN to terminate its registry contracts for .chloe and .montblanc, according to documents published by ICANN late last week.

Chloe is a fashion brand; Mont Blanc sells pens, jewelery and such.

No reason was given for either termination. Registries are allowed to self-terminate their Registry Agreements for any reason, given 180 days notice.

In both cases, ICANN has already agreed not to transfer the gTLD to a new operator. That’s a special privilege dot-brands get in their RAs.

Neither gTLD ever progressed beyond a single nic.brand placeholder page

Four additional Richemont dot-brands — .piaget, .iwc, .cartier, .panerai — have also been live for two years or more but are in identical states of disuse.

Richemont also runs .watches, .手表 and .珠宝 (Chinese for “watches” and “jewelry” respectively) which have been in the DNS for over 18 months but do not yet have any published launch plans.

The company was a somewhat enthusiastic early adopter of the new gTLD concept, providing speakers to industry events well before the application window opened back in 2012.

It applied for 14 strings in total, 10 of which eventually went live. It dumped two of its dot-brands before contract-signing and lost two auctions for generic strings.

Both .chloe and .montblanc are expected to be removed from the DNS in October.

There are now 22 new gTLDs that have voluntarily terminated their RAs.

India’s biggest bank switches to dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2017, Domain Registries

State Bank of India has announced plans to migrate all of its web sites to its new dot-brand gTLD.

The company has been responsible for .sbi since it was delegated by ICANN last April, but bank.sbi is its first live domain name.

Currently, while bank.sbi is live and resolving, the old domain sbi.co.in appears to still be its primary address.

However, SBI said “all of the bank’s internet presence… shall soon be migrated to the .sbi gTLD”.

There will be a period of crossover while customers get used to the change, it said in a press release.

The bank said: “a gTLD site like .sbi conveys an assurance to the customer that the site is authorised, genuine and is not an inappropriate or phishing site”.

The move is perhaps significant given that SBI is state-owned, and one might expect some level of nationalism when it comes to domain choice.

But SBI, India’s largest bank with $490 billion in assets under management, is not the first bank to say it plans to use its dot-brand as its primary TLD.

BNP Paribas, the world’s biggest non-Chinese bank, uses .bnpparibas for almost everything, particularly in its native France. It has three domains in the Alexa top 100,000 most-visited web sites.

Others with dot-brands in use include Barclays and Citi.

The biggest dot-brand in the world has 50,000 domains, but are they legit?

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2017, Domain Registries

The biggest dot-brand gTLD active today has about 50,000 domains under management, but the vast majority of them may not be compliant with ICANN rules.

Real Estate Domains LLC runs .realtor in partnership with the National Association of Realtors, a US-based real estate agent membership organization.

RED/NAR has an ICANN policy exemption that means it does not have to open .realtor to competition between registrars, but it does not appear to be sticking to the promises it made when it asked for that exemption.

RED has told DI that it believes it is fully compliant with its contractual obligations.

The .realtor gTLD is highly unusual, possibly even unique, in the market.

It is, by most comparisons, a thriving new gTLD. It has tens of thousands of domain names and thousands of active web sites.

It’s the 59th-biggest 2012-round gTLD, according to zone file counts. It has more names than .blog, .webcam and .ninja.

It currently has about 48,000 names in its zone file, a bit less than half of its November 2015 peak of 110,000. It’s been offering a free first-year name to NAR members since launch, which may account for the first-year peak and second-year trough.

It’s arguably a “dot-brand”, but its domains are primarily used by fee-paying third parties, which is not the case for the over 500 other dot-brands out there today.

The string “realtor” is in fact an trademark, fiercely guarded by the NAR and apparently at genuine risk of genericide.

To call yourself a realtor, you have to pay NAR local and national membership fees that can run into hundreds of dollars a year.

To register a .realtor domain, you have to be an NAR member. So, even though the price of a .realtor domain is only around $40 at Name Share (the only approved .realtor registrar), the cost of eligibility is much higher.

I think that the way the NAR is selling its names to third-party realtors is very possibly a breach of ICANN rules, but explaining why I think that will get a bit complicated.

To begin with, whether a gTLD is a “dot-brand” depends to a great extent on your definition of the term.

I usually take “dot-brand” to mean any new gTLD that has Specification 13 — which allows registries to ignore ICANN policies such as the otherwise mandatory Sunrise period — in its Registry Agreement.

There are 463 gTLDs that have Spec 13 so far. They’re being used to a greater or lesser extent by the respective registries to promote their own brands.

Some have set up a bunch of domains with redirects to specific URLs on their .com or ccTLD site. Others have built a modest number of custom sites to promote various products, services, offers or marketing campaigns.

A small number have been using their domains to help business partners. Spanish car maker Seat points scores of .seat domains to cookie-cutter sites promoting local car dealerships, but I’ve seen no evidence these dealers have any control over these domains.

Almost all of the time, the only entity actually using the domain is the registry — that is, the brand owner — itself.

There’s also another definition of dot-brand — any gTLD that does not have Spec 13, but does have an exemption to Specification 9 of the standard ICANN Registry Agreement.

Spec 9, also called the “Code of Conduct”, is the part of the RA that requires registries to give equal, non-discriminatory access to all ICANN-accredited registrars.

It’s there to stop registries favoring registrars they have close relationships with and therefore to keep the market competitive.

Every Spec 13 dot-brand has a Spec 9 exemption, but not every TLD with a Spec 9 exemption has signed Spec 13.

There are 66 gTLDs that have the Spec 9 exemption but do not have Spec 13 in their contracts. Almost all of these have fewer than 100 domains in their zone file today.

The Spec 9 exemption was created to avoid the stupid and undesirable situation where a big-name company has to open access to its dot-brand back-end registry to multiple registrars, even though it is the only registrant permitted to register names there.

The Code of Conduct is there to protect registrants. When there is only one registrant, there’s no need for protection. With multiple registrants, competition needs to be enforced.

To get the Spec 9 exemption, dot-brands have to send a letter to ICANN promising three things:

  1. All domain name registrations in the TLD are registered to, and maintained by, Registry Operator for the exclusive use of Registry Operator or its Affiliates (as defined in the Registry Agreement);
  2. Registry Operator does not sell, distribute or transfer control or use of any registrations in the TLD to any third party that is not an Affiliate of Registry Operator; and
  3. Application of the Code of Conduct to the TLD is not necessary to protect the public interest

Those bullets are copied from the March 2014 .realtor letter (pdf), but they’re all basically the same.

The first bullet says that domains have to be registered to the registry operator. In the case of .realtor, that’s RED/NAR.

And in fact, as far as I can tell, every .realtor domain has the RED/NAR listed in the “Registrant” field of its Whois record. The registry owns the lot.

But that bullet also says that .realtor domains have to be “maintained by” and “for the exclusive use of” the registry operator (in this case, the NAR) and its “Affiliates”.

The second bullet says that the registry cannot give “control or use” of any .realtor domain to a third party that is not an “Affiliate” of the registry.

The term “Affiliate” is important here. The Spec 9 exemption states that it is defined by the RA, and the RA defines it like this:

For the purposes of this Agreement: (i) “Affiliate” means a person or entity that, directly or indirectly, through one or more intermediaries, or in combination with one or more other persons or entities, controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with, the person or entity specified, and (ii) “control” (including the terms “controlled by” and “under common control with”) means the possession, directly or indirectly, of the power to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of a person or entity, whether through the ownership of securities, as trustee or executor, by serving as an employee or a member of a board of directors or equivalent governing body, by contract, by credit arrangement or otherwise.

My reading of this is that an Affiliate is an entity that is controlled, in a corporate sense, by the registry. The definition came about as a way to stop domain companies trying to avoid policy obligations by hiding behind shell companies.

However, in my opinion, the vast majority of .realtor domains today are in fact being controlled and used by third parties that are not registry Affiliates by the RA definition.

The first giveaway is Whois. While RED/NAR is listed as the “Registrant” of pretty much all .realtor domains, in most cases the “Administrative” contact is listed as the person or company who caused the name to be registered. Third-party realtors, in other words.

Realtor screenSecond, the registry’s web site states plainly that NAR member realtors can “get” and “use” .realtor domains and goes on to specify that they can use the names to build a web site, set up an email address, and even redirect the domain to an existing site.

Doing a Google search for .realtor sites, you’ll find that realtors are in fact using .realtor domains for these permitted purposes.

This seems to be a case of thousands of non-registry parties paying for “control” and “use” of domains that are supposed to be restricted to the registry’s control and use.

It seems to be true that they don’t “own” the domains that they “use”, but they nevertheless do “use” them in much the same way as I expect a significant majority of non-domainer registrants in other TLDs “use” their domains.

NAR/RED is of course fully aware of its RA obligations, and has written its own terms to accommodate them.

On a .realtor registry web site, its registration agreement, or “License Agreement”, states:

You represent, warrant and agree that you are a REALTOR®, an NAR member, the Canadian Real Estate Association (“CREA”), a member of CREA, an NAR or CREA member Board or Association, an NAR affiliate, an NAR licensee, or otherwise in a contractual relationship with NAR relating to use of NAR’s REALTOR® mark and that, in such capacity, you are deemed an “Affiliate” of RED as such is defined in the Registry Agreement, including as specifically set forth in the Code of Conduct Exemption.

The NAR is basically asking its members to affirm, via the small print of their registration agreement (that the majority won’t read) and the .realtor RA (which I’m sure none of them will read), that the NAR has some kind of corporate control over them.

That’s clearly not the case, in my understanding. The NAR’s members are generally fully independent sole traders or limited companies.

Realtors causing .realtor domains to be registered on their behalf are no more “Affiliates” of RED or the NAR than I would be an Affiliate of Facebook if, perchance, there’s a similar clause in the Facebook terms of service.

While I’ve been asking industry experts about this for the last couple of weeks, it was suggested to me that the fact that .realtor registrants have a “contract” with the registry (to license the Realtor trademark) is enough to satisfy the “Affiliate” definition.

I don’t buy it. Every registrant in every TLD signs a contract whenever they register a domain name. If a contract were sufficient for a Spec 9 opt-out, every gTLD would have the opt-out.

At this point you may be wondering what the harm of this business model is. I wondered the same thing myself.

The main harm, as far as I can see it, is that it sets a precedent for other gTLDs to avoid contractual obligations.

The other is that .realtor registrants (for want of a better term) are locked into the one approved registrar, Name Share, forever. If Name Share were to raise its prices, they would not have the option to move to another registrar.

Name Share, part of the EnCirca registrar family, specializes in niche TLDs and currently charges a not-unreasonable $39.95 per year for a .realtor domain.

There’s also the fact that gTLDs themed around real estate are thin on the ground right now.

RED/NAR also controls the new gTLD .realestate, but it has yet to launch for unknown reasons.

.realtor went from delegation to general availability in less than three months back in mid-2014 — a fast launch — but .realestate was delegated in April 2016 and hasn’t even set out its launch plan yet.

It’s a fully generic, non-brand gTLD but it hasn’t told ICANN when its sunrise, trademark claims or GA dates are yet. It hasn’t even launched its nic.realestate web site yet, which is a contractual obligation also in the RA.

I don’t know why RED/NAR has not started to launch .realestate yet. When I asked RED’s top brass I did not get a reply.

But I do know that a real estate agent in North America today who wants to get a domain in a semantically valuable TLD has one fewer option due to the absence of .realestate from the market.

Another option, buying a .realty domain from Top Level Spectrum, is not possible either because, 18 months after delegation, it also has not launched.

Then there’s .homes, a restricted gTLD operated by Dominion Enterprises, but that has virtually no registrar support and fewer than 100 names in its zone eight months after general availability started.

The only real option right now (other than using an unrelated TLD) is to buy a .realtor domain, but they’d have to pay hundreds of dollars to NAR for membership and then would not have a choice of registrars through which to register.

I put all of my questions about the business model and the Spec 9 exemption to RED last week.

“We believe we are in full compliance with the Spec 9 exemption as granted by ICANN based on our request and posted publicly here,” CEO Matthew Embrescia said in an email (link in original).

Brian Johnson, general counsel for RED, said in a separate email:

our position is that RED is in full compliance as such relates to Spec 9 for .REALTOR. In fact, we think .REALTOR is a very successful example of a TLD with a legitimate business model which incorporates a Spec 9 exemption.

I also pushed Johnson and Embrescia for specific explanations of why I might be wrong in my interpretation of the Spec 9 exemption and how RED is applying it, but I did not get any replies.

A senior ICANN staffer, while declining to comment on the specifics of any TLD or any compliance investigation, told me that my understanding of the Spec 9 exemption is correct.

I gather that all Spec 9-exempt registries are obliged to submit an annual report about their exemption compliance, and that the 2016 report is due tomorrow.

However, I believe .realtor’s business model is well over one year old already, so it’s debateble whether ICANN has been paying attention.

GoDaddy gets its dot-brand

GoDaddy has become a new gTLD registry with the delegation yesterday of .godaddy.

It’s a dot-brand, so domain name registrations will not be made available to the general public.

In one of the shortest mission statements found in new gTLD applications, the company describes .godaddy like this:

The mission or purpose of the .GODADDY gTLD is strictly for branding protection and internal use. The gTLD .GODADDY will give visitors to any .GODADDY site the assurance that they are truly dealing with Go Daddy and not an imposter or cybersquatter.

GoDaddy has not yet gone live with its nic.godaddy site.

It’s not the first domain name firm to get its own dot-brand. Notably, Neustar and Verisign own .neustar and .verisign.

It’s not the only registrar with a dot-brand, either. France’s OVH got there first with .ovh.

GoDaddy originally applied for two other gTLDs — .home and .casa — but withdrew their applications almost immediately after a shift of company strategy.

Amazingly, .blockbuster will soon be a gTLD

Video rental chain Blockbuster may have gone the way of the the 8-track, the VCR, and the Nokia cell phone, but it will soon have a gTLD of its own.

The .blockbuster gTLD application completed its pre-delegation testing with ICANN this week and is now with IANA/Verisign, ready to go live on the internet in the coming week or so.

It’s a fairly straightforward dot-brand application, even though the brand itself is pretty much dead.

Blockbuster, which at its peak in 2004 had 9,000 rental stores in its chain, was rescued from its Netflix-induced bankruptcy by TV company Dish Network back in 2011.

Dish applied for .blockbuster in 2012 when the brand was still, if only barely, a going concern.

However, since that time all of its remaining Blockbuster stores have been closed down and the Blockbuster-branded streaming service has been renamed Sling.

The web site at blockbuster.com is a husk that hasn’t been updated since 2014.

And yet the brand will shortly be at the cutting edge of online branding by having its own new gTLD.

A dot-brand without a brand? Surely this will be among the most useless new gTLDs to hit the ‘net.