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Famous Four vows to fight .sport objection loss

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2013, Domain Registries

Famous Four Media has promised to pursue “all available legal avenues” after losing a Community Objection over the .sport gTLD to its Olympic-backed rival.

The portfolio applicant lost out to SportAccord in an October 23 decision by International Chamber of Commerce panelist Guido Santiago Tawil, meaning its .sport application should be rejected by ICANN.

But Famous Four says it’s not over yet. In a statement today, the company said:

Famous Four Media shall pursue rigorously all available legal avenues available to it to have the decision independently reviewed by ICANN and/or others as the case may be, and reversed.

The logical first step of such a threat would be a Reconsideration Request, a relatively cheap way to challenge an ICANN decision with a virtually zero chance of succeeding.

That could be followed by a demand for an Independent Review Panel procedure, which would take much longer and cost significantly more. When ICM Registry won an IRP, the bill ran to millions.

Or Famous Four could try its luck in the courtroom, which could be flustered by the fact that all new gTLD applicants had to sign fairly one-sided legal waivers when they applied.

So what’s the company so worked up about?

It’s lost the chance to run .sport, because the ICC panelist ruled that SportAccord, which is backed by the International Olympic Committee and dozens of official sporting associations, represents the “sport” community and would be harmed if Famous Four were to run the TLD.

Famous Four had argued in its defense that SportAccord can only purport to represent a “subset” of this community — its sporting organization members — rather than everyone who has an interest in sport.

Rather amusingly, in its statement today, FFM linked to the IOC’s own marketing, which bears the slogan “Sport Belongs to All”, to prove its point:

it is Famous Four Media’s unshakable belief that this statement is true and just and that is why Famous Four Media applied for an open TLD – a top level domain that is open to everyone and offered to everyone on a level and equitable basis. Trying to claim ownership and representation of sport is akin to claiming representation for the human race.

An alternative reading would be to state that the IOC’s marketing slogan is, like all marketing slogans, bullshit.

But it actually cuts to the heart of the case itself, which Guido Santiago Tawil found in favor of SportAccord, writing:

The ICANN Guidebook does not require that an “entire” community agree on an objection to an application. In fact, it would be almost impossible for an institution to represent any community as a whole. If such was the requirement, there would be no reason to provide for the possibility of community objections.

It is difficult to imagine which other association may claim representation of the Sport Community besides an institution that represents, as Objector does, more than a hundred well-known sports federations and institutions related to sports.

Another key, and related, factor Community Objection panelists have to consider is whether a community is “clearly delineated”.

It’s here where the arguments that an applicant can use to win a Legal Rights Objection seem to fail under Community Objection scrutiny.

Famous Four said that “sport” is not clearly delineated along the lines defined by SportAccord — ie, members of its federations — because it doesn’t allow, say, hobbyists or the media to get involved.

Similar arguments were made in LROs.

Applicants regularly defended themselves against LROs — where the objector owns a trademark rather than purporting to represent a community — by pointing out all the non-infringing uses of the string.

That defense apparently doesn’t work in Community Objections, with the .sport ICC panelist ruling:

The fact that the media (which may constitute a different community) or viewers are unable to be part of this association is irrelevant to consider Objector as a delineated community. Otherwise, no community could be recognized under the ICANN gTLD proceedings since it would be easy for any Applicant to find secondary or not closed-related members outside of it.

In its response to the ruling today, FFM called this a “non sequitur”, adding:

It is not difficult to conceive of communities which are exclusive, and in all cases these do not consist of generic words like “sport.” One example already given by other commentators might be “.yorkuniversity.”

Another key pivot point in the .sport decision is “detriment”.

Objectors have to prove the “likelihood of material detriment to the rights or legitimate interests of a significant portion of the community to which the string may be explicitly or implicitly targeted.”

The panelist in this case chose to interpret this as “future ‘possible’ damage”, which he said was quite a low bar.

His reasoning, in finding that detriment to SportAccord was likely, seems to hinge quite a bit on the fact that SportAccord has also applied for the same gTLD.

While seemingly discarding “hypothetical” arguments about cybersquatting and such in an open-registration .sport gTLD, he said he “shares Objector’s argument that all domain registrations in a community-based ‘.sport’ gTLD will assure sports acceptable use policies.”

That thinking only works, I think, if you also have a community-based .sport application on the table.

As FFM characterized it today: “What he is in effect saying is that the .SPORT gTLD should be delegated: just not to dot Sport Limited. This was not his decision to make.”

This week at the newdomains.org conference in Munich I spoke to several people who believe some of the highly contested, super-premium new gTLDs will take years to resolve.

It seems that .sport is going to be one of those.

Under the ICANN rules, FFM is supposed to withdrawn its application now. That’s clearly not going to happen.

Ralph Lauren can’t have .polo, panel rules

Kevin Murphy, October 17, 2013, Domain Policy

Ralph Lauren’s application for the dot-brand .polo is likely at an end, after the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that it would infringe the rights of polo players.

The Community Objection to the gTLD was filed by the US Polo Association, the governing body of the sport in the US, and supported by the Federation of International Polo, along with seven national and 10 regional US-based polo associations.

The FIP letter was crucial in ICC panelist Burkhard Hess’ decision to find against Ralph Lauren, persuading him that there was “substantial opposition” from a “clearly delineated” polo-playing community.

The word “polo” was often used in straw man arguments when the new gTLD program and its objection mechanisms were being designed. Who gets .polo? Ralph Lauren? Volkswagen? Nestle? The sport?

Well, now we know: according to the ICC, the sport will probably trump any dot-brand.

The precedent might be bad news for Donuts and Famous Four Media, which are facing Community Objections from the international governing bodies of rugby and basketball on .rugby and .basketball.

However, none of those applications are for dot-brand spaces.

Under the Community Objection rules, the objector has to show that the gTLD would harm its interests is delegated.

In the case of .polo, the panelist found detriment largely due to the fact that Ralph Lauren’s plan was for a single-registrant space from which the sports associations would be excluded.

With open, unrestricted .basketball and .rugby applications, it’s likely to be much harder for the objectors to prove that the gTLDs would damage the sport.

Famous Four says that Demand Media’s .cam should be rejected

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2013, Domain Policy

Demand Media’s application for .cam should be rejected because it lost a String Confusion Objection filed by .com registry Verisign, according to rival applicant Famous Four Media.

“The process in the applicant guidebook is now clear: AC Webconnecting and dot Agency Limited proceed to resolve the contention set, and United TLD’s application cannot proceed,” chief legal officer Peter Young told DI.

dot Agency is Famous Four’s applicant for .cam, which along with AC Webconnecting survived identical challenges filed by Verisign. United TLD is the applicant subsidiary of Demand Media.

Serious questions were raised about the SCO process after two International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelists reached opposition conclusions in the three .cam/.com cases last month.

Demand Media subsequently called for an ICANN investigation into the process, with vice president Statton Hammock writing:

String confusion objections are meant to be applicant agnostic and have nothing to do with the registration or use of the new gTLD.

However, Famous Four thinks it has found a gotcha in a letter (pdf) written by a lawyer representing Demand which opposed consolidation of the three .cam cases, which stated:

Consolidation has the potential to prejudice the Applicants if all Applicants’ arguments are evaluated collectively, without regard to each Applicant’s unique plan for the .cam gTLD and their arguments articulating why such plans would not cause confusion.

In other words, Demand argued that the proposed usage of the TLD should be taken into account before the ICDR panel ruled against it, and now it saying usage should not have been taken into account.

Famous Four’s Young said:

Whether or not one ascribes to the view that usage should not be taken into account, and we believe that it should (otherwise we would not have argued it), the fact is that United TLD were very explicit prior to the publication that usage should indeed be taken into account.

The SCO debate expanded yesterday when the GNSO Council spent some time discussing .cam and other SCO discrepancies during its regular monthly meeting.

Concerns are such that the Council intends to inform the ICANN board of directors and its New gTLD Program Committee that it is looking into the issue.

The NGPC, has “Update on String Similarity” on its agenda for a meeting on Tuesday, which will no doubt try to figure out what, if anything, needs to be done.

Uniregistry wins .gift and AOL yanks .patch bid

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2013, Domain Registries

Three more new gTLD applications were withdrawn today, only one of which was related to this week’s previously reported batch of private auctions.

First, Famous Four Media has pulled out of the .gift race with Uniregistry, presumably after some kind of deal. They were the only two applicants, meaning Uniregistry wins the contention set.

Potentially complicating matters, there are also two applicants for .gifts — if the plural/singular debate is reopened, which seems possible after today’s events, it might not be over yet.

Second, AOL withdrew its application for .patch, which was to be a single-registrant space for its Patch-branded network of local web sites.

This seems to be connected to cost-cutting at AOL.

Last week, the company fired Patch’s creative director in front of 1,000 colleagues and announced it was cutting the number of sites in the network.

Today, it started laying off almost half of Patch’s 1,100 employees, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Third, Top Level Domain Holdings withdrew from the .guide contention set, leaving Donuts the winner — a formality following this week’s Innovative Auctions auction, which it lost.

Donuts, Uniregistry and Famous Four respond to ICANN’s new gTLD security bombshell

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2013, Domain Registries

Following the shock news this morning that ICANN wants to delay hundreds of new gTLD applications due to potential security risks, we pinged a few of the biggest applicants for their initial reactions.

Donuts, Uniregistry and Famous Four Media, which combined are responsible for over a fifth of all applications, have all responded so far, so we’re printing their statements here in full.

As a reminder, two reports published by ICANN today a) strongly warn against delegating so-called “dotless” domains and b) present significant evidence that “internal name collisions” are a real and present danger to the security and stability of many private networks.

ICANN, in response to the internal name collision issue, proposed to delay 20% of all new gTLD applications for three to six more months while more research is carried out.

It also wants to ask new gTLD registries to conduct outreach to internet users potentially affected by their delegated gTLD strings.

Of the three, Donuts seems most upset. It sent us the following statement:

One has to wonder about the timing of these reports and the motivations behind them. Donuts believes, and our own research confirms satisfactorily to us, that dotless domains and name collision are not threatening to the stability and security of the domain name system.

Name collisions, such as the NxD (in the technical parlance) collisions studied in this report, happen every day in .com, yet the study did not quantify those and Verisign does not block those names from being registered.

We’re concerned about false impressions being deliberately created and believe the reports are commercially or competitively motivated.

There is little reason to pre-empt dotless domains now when there are ICANN processes in place to evaluate them in due course. We don’t believe that ICANN resources need to be deployed at this point on understanding the potential innovations of possible uses nor any security harms.

We also think that name collision is an overstated issue. Rather than take the overdone step of halting or delaying these TLDs, if the issue really is such a concern, it would be wiser to focus on the second-level names where a conflict could occur.

As the NTIA recently wrote, Verisign’s inconsistencies on technical issues are very troubling. These issues have been thoroughly studied for some time. It’s far past due to conclude this eight-year process an move to delegation

As I haven’t previously heard any reason to doubt Interisle Consulting’s impartiality or question its motivation in writing the name collisions report I asked Donuts for clarification, but the company declined to elaborate.

Interisle has been working with ICANN for some time on various technical studies and is also one of the new gTLD program’s independent evaluators, responsible for registry services evaluations.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling was also unhappy with the report. He sent the following statement:

We are deeply dismayed by this new report, both by its substance and its timing. On the substance, the concerns addressed by the report relate, primarily if not solely, to solvable problems created by third-parties using the DNS in non-standard ways. We expect that any problems will be addressed quickly by the companies and individuals that caused them in the first place.

On ICANN’s timing, it is, come just as the first new gTLDs are prepared to launch, very late and, quite obviously, highly disruptive to the long-standing business plans of the companies that relied on ICANN’s guidebook and stated timelines. Uniregistry believes that the best approach is to move forward with the launch of all new gTLDs on the existing schedule.

Finally, Famous Four Media is slightly more relaxed about the situation, judging by the statement it sent us:

Famous Four Media’s primary concern is the security and stability of the Internet. Since this is in the interest of all parties involved in the new gTLD program from registries to registrants and all in between Famous Four Media welcomes these proposals.

Whilst the latest report, and the consequent ICANN proposals, will inevitably cause delays and additional costs in the launches of new gTLDs, Famous Four Media does not believe it will impact its go-to-market plans significantly. The majority of our TLD strings are considered “low risk” and see this in a very positive light although other applicants might not afford to be as sanguine.

According to the DI PRO New gTLD Application Tracker, which has been updated with the risk levels ICANN says each applied-for gTLD poses, 18 of Famous Four’s 60 original applications are in the riskiest two categories, compared to 23 of Uniregistry’s 54 and 102 of Donuts’ of 307.