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.food goes live, and it’s a closed generic

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .food went live in the DNS on Friday, but nobody except the registry will be able to register domains there.

In what I would argue is one of the new gTLD program’s biggest failures, .food will be a dot-brand, closed to all except the “brand” owner.

The registry is Lifestyle Domain Holdings, a subsidiary of US media company Scripps Networks.

Scripps runs the Food Network TV station in the States and the site Food.com. It has a trademark on the word “Food”.

Its registry agreement for .food, signed back in April, includes Specification 13, which allows registries to restrict all the second-level domains to themselves and their affiliates.

So food producers, restaurants, chefs and the like will never be able to use .food for their web sites.

ICANN signed the contract with Scripps despite objections from several entities including the Australian government, which warned “restricting common generic strings, such as .food, for the exclusive use of a single entity could have a negative impact on competition”.

Under ICANN rules hastily cobbled together after outrage over so-called “closed generics”, a registry cannot run as a dot-brand a gTLD that is:

a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.

Almost all applications flagged as closed generics were subsequently amended to make them restricted but not brand-exclusive. Scripps was the major hold-out.

The loophole that allowed .food to stay in exclusive hands appears to be that Scripps’ trademark on “Food” covers television, rather than food.

If .food winds up publishing content about food, such as recipes and healthy eating advice, I’d argue that it would go against the spirit of the rules on closed generics.

It would be a bit like Apple getting .apple as a Spec 13 dot-brand and then using the gTLD to publish content about the fruit rather than computers.

No sites are currently live in .food.

Aussie government slams .food closed generic bid

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2015, Domain Policy

The Australian government is among those asking ICANN deny a request to make .food a “closed generic” gTLD.

Eight people have filed comments opposing Lifestyle Domain’s application for Specification 13 status for its .food registry contract, which would allow the company to keep all .food domains for itself, since we reported the news earlier this month.

The Aussies are arguably the highest-profile opponent, and the one most likely to be taken seriously by ICANN.

Governmental Advisory Committee rep Annaliese Williams wrote:

The Australian Government issued an Early Warning to Lifestyle Domain Holdings, Inc on the grounds that ‘food’ is a common generic term, and that restricting common generic strings, such as .food, for the exclusive use of a single entity could have a negative impact on competition…

The Australian Government does not consider that Lifestyle Domain Holdings’ application to operate .food for its exclusive use serves a public interest goal.

Lifestyle Domain is a subsidiary of Scripps Networks, the company that runs the Food Network TV stations and Food.com web site.

The company claims that it has trademark rights to the word “food” that should allow it to run .food as a dot-brand gTLD.

That would mean nobody but Scripps, which won the right to .food at auction, would be able to register .food domains.

ICANN has also received negative comments from employees of registrars (both retail and corporate) and registries.

One comment, taken at face value, appears to be pro-Scripps, but I’m fairly confident it’s actually just extreme sarcasm.

The decision about whether to allow Scripps to add Spec 13 to its contract will be made by ICANN legal staff.

ICANN told me this week that there’s no ETA on a decision yet.

.food applies for dot-brand status, but you can help stop it

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2015, Domain Policy

Scripps Networks, the company that runs the Food Network television network, wants to make .food a dot-brand gTLD that only it can use.

The company has applied to ICANN to have Specification 13 exemptions incorporated into its Registry Agreement.

Spec 13 is an add-on to the RA that dot-brands use to exempt themselves from having to sell to the public via the registrar channel, offer sunrise periods, and so on.

Scripps subsidiary Lifestyle Domains won the .food contention set after an auction with Donuts and Dot Food LLC a couple months ago.

It’s one of the applications that was identified by the Governmental Advisory Committee as a “closed generic”. Such applications were subsequently banned by ICANN.

Scripps and dozens of other applicants were given the option to change their applications to remove the single-registrant policy, to withdraw, or to carry their applications over to the next round.

But Scripps is pressing ahead regardless, claiming that if anyone else is allowed to own .food domains, all kinds of horrible things will happen. It recently told ICANN:

Internet users will benefit more from Scripps operating .FOOD because it will provide more trusted experiences. Left open to the wild west of typosquatters and cybersquatters or fraudulent users, internet users will be harmed rather than helped. With a plethora of unregulated websites in a fully open registry, the public could be misled or confused as to the origin of the content and information and rely, to their detriment, on such content.

It more recently told ICANN that it has no intention of modifying its application to comply with the GAC advice. ICANN now considers the matter “resolved”.

What’s not resolved is whether .food qualifies for Spec 13 status.

To use Spec 13, the gTLD needs to match a trademark you own, but it cannot be also be a generic string, defined as:

a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.

ICANN lawyers will make the ultimate decision about whether .food qualifies for Spec 13, but the request is open for public comment until October 29.

ICANN told DI: “ICANN has not yet made a determination as to if the application qualifies for Specification 13 and welcomes any comments from the community.”

What do you think? Should something as clearly generic as “food” be a space where only one company can register names?

.food could be heading for limbo after closed generic applicant wins auction

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2015, Domain Policy

The future of the .food gTLD is up in the air after single-registrant applicant Lifestyle Domain Holdings won its contention set.

The applicant, a subsidiary of Scripps Networks, is the sole remaining .food applicant after withdrawals from Donuts and Dot Food LLC.

It’s also a recalcitrant “closed generic” applicant, which continues to insist it has the right to exclude all third-party registrants from the .food namespace.

The company seems to have won .food at auction, even though ICANN recently slapped a ban on closed generics in the current application round.

Scripps will not be able to launch .food any time soon, unless it changes its planned registration policies.

The company may have essentially just paid to have .food placed on hold until the next new gTLD round.

Scripps runs a cable TV station in the US called Food Network, which it says is famous. It also runs Food.com, which it describes as “the third largest food site on the web”.

The current version of its application states:

Applicant intends to function in such a way that all domain name registrations in the TLD shall be registered to and maintained by Applicant and Applicant will not sell, distribute or transfer control of domain name registrations to any party that is not an Affiliate of Applicant

When ICANN asked applicants if they would like to revise their closed generic applications to allow third-party registrants, due to adverse Governmental Advisory Committee advice, Scripps was one of half a dozen applicants to decline.

Audaciously, the company told ICANN that an open registration policy for .food would hurt its brand:

To open the top level domain means that anyone could register a domain for a small annual amount of money and exploit, confuse and infringe upon the brand equity and goodwill of the famous FOOD, FOOD NETWORK and FOOD.COM brands established by Scripps with more than twenty years and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.

Yes, Scripps thinks that when people think of “food”, they automatically think of the “third largest food web site” or a cable TV network that gets a 0.21% audience share in the UK.

A nonsense position, in other words.

So will Scripps get to run .food as a closed dot-brand? Probably not.

In June, ICANN ruled that the remaining closed generics applications (.food, .hotels, .grocery, .dvr, .data, and .phone) had the choice of either withdrawing, dropping their exclusivity plans, or carrying their applications over to the next gTLD application round.

Having just paid its competing applicants to go away, one assumes that Scripps’ withdrawal is off the cards.