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GAC gives ICANN a way out on IGO acronyms

Kevin Murphy, November 22, 2013, Domain Policy

The ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee has reiterated its call for the protection of intergovernmental organization acronyms in the new gTLD program, but seems to have given ICANN a way to avoid a nasty confrontation.

In its official Communique from the just-concluded meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the GAC provided the following advice concerning IGOs:

The GAC, together with IGOs, remains committed to continuing the dialogue with NGPC [ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee] on finalising the modalities for permanent protection of IGO acronyms at the second level, by putting in place a mechanism which would:

1. provide for a permanent system of notifications to both the potential registrant and the relevant IGO as to a possible conflict if a potential registrant seeks to register a domain name matching the acronym of that IGO;

2. allow the IGO a timely opportunity to effectively prevent potential misuse and confusion;

3. allow for a final and binding determination by an independent third party in order to resolve any disagreement between an IGO and a potential registrant; and

4. be at no cost or of a nominal cost only to the IGO.

This seems to be a departure from the GAC’s its Durban Communique, in which it had demanded “preventative” measures be put in place to stop third parties registering IGO acronyms.

As we reported earlier this week, the GNSO Council unanimously approved a resolution telling ICANN to remove IGO acronyms from existing block-lists, something the GAC had been demanding.

Now, it seems that ICANN has been given a relatively simple and less confrontational way of accepting the GAC’s watered-down advice.

The Trademark Claims alerts service and Uniform Rapid Suspension dispute resolution process combined would, by my reading, tick all four of the GAC’s boxes.

IGO acronyms do not currently qualify for either, because they’re not trademarks, but if ICANN can figure out a way to allow these strings into the Trademark Clearinghouse, it can probably give the GAC what it wants.

In my view, such a move wouldn’t trample on anyone else’s rights, it would not represent the kind of overkill the GAC originally wanted, nor would it be in conflict with the GNSO’s consensus resolution (which seems to envisage a future in which these acronyms get TMCH protection).

ICANN may have avoided the sticky situation I pondered earlier this week.

ICANN in a sticky spot as GNSO overrules GAC on block-lists

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN may have to decide which of its babies it loves the most — the GNSO or the GAC — after receiving conflicting marching orders on a controversial rights protection issue.

Essentially, the GAC has previously told ICANN to protect a bunch of acronyms representing international organizations — and ICANN did — but the GNSO today told ICANN to un-protect them.

The GNSO Council this afternoon passed a resolution to the effect that the acronyms of IGOs and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) should not be blocked in new gTLDs.

This conflicts directly with the Governmental Advisory Committee’s longstanding advice, which states that IGOs should have their names and acronyms reserved in all new gTLDs.

The Council’s resolution was passed unanimously, enjoying the support of registries, registrars, non-commercial users, intellectual property interests… everyone.

It came at the end of a Policy Development Process that kicked off in 2011 after the GAC demanded that the International Olympic Committee and Red Cross/Red Crescent should have their names protected.

The PDP working group’s remit was later expanded to address new demands from the GAC, along with a UN-led coalition of IGOs, to also protect IGO and INGO names and acronyms.

The outcome of the PDP, which had most of its recommendations approved by the GNSO Council today, was to give the GAC most of what it wanted — but not everything.

The exact matches of the full IOC, RC/RC, IGO and INGO names should now become permanently ineligible for delegation as gTLDs. The same strings will also be eligible for the Trademark Claims service at the second level.

But, crucially, the GNSO Council has voted to not protect the acronyms of these organizations. Part of the lengthy resolution — apparently the longest the Council ever voted on — reads:

At the Top Level, Acronyms of the RCRC, IOC, IGOs and INGOs under consideration in this PDP shall not be considered as “Strings Ineligible for Delegation”; and

At the Second level, Acronyms of the RCRC, IOC, IGOs and INGO under consideration in this PDP shall not be withheld from registration. For the current round of New gTLDs, the temporary protections extended to the acronyms subject to this recommendation shall be removed from the Reserved Names List in Specification 5 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement.

The list of reserved names in Spec 5, which all new gTLD registries must block from launch, can be found here. The GNSO has basically told ICANN to remove the acronyms from it.

This means hundreds of strings like “who” and “idea” (which would have been reserved for the World Health Organization and the Institute for Development and Electoral Assistance respectively) should now become available to new gTLD registries to sell or otherwise allocate.

I say “should”, because the Council’s resolution still needs to be approved by the ICANN board before it becomes a full Consensus Policy, and to do so the board will have to reject (or reinterpret) the GAC’s advice.

The GAC, as of its last formal Communique, seemed to be of the opinion that it was going to receive all the protections that it asked for.

It has told ICANN for the last year that “IGOs are in an objectively different category to other rights holders” and that “their identifiers (both their names and their acronyms) need preventative protection”

It said in its advice from the Durban meeting (pdf) three months ago:

The GAC understands that the ICANN Board, further to its previous assurances, is prepared to fully implement GAC advice; an outstanding matter to be finalized is the practical and effective implementation of the permanent preventative protection of IGO acronyms at the second level.

The key word here seems to be “preventative”. Under the resolution passed by the GNSO Council today, IGO acronyms would be allowed to enter the Trademark Clearinghouse and participate in the Trademark Claims service, but Claims does not prevent anyone from registering a matching domain.

It’s looking like the ICANN board is going to have to make a call — does it accept the GAC advice, or does it accept the unanimous consensus position of the GNSO?

Given that much of ICANN 48 here in Buenos Aires this week has been a saccharine love-in for the “multistakeholder process”, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the GNSO Council does not win out.

GACmail? Belgium denies .spa gTLD shakedown

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2013, Domain Registries

The Belgian government has denied claims that the city of Spa tried to shake down new gTLD applicants for money in exchange for not objecting to their .spa applications.

The Belgian Governmental Advisory Committee representative said this afternoon that Belgium was “extremely unhappy” that the “disrespectful allusions” got an airing during a meeting with the ICANN board.

He was responding directly to a question asked during a Sunday session by ICANN director Chris Disspain, who, to be fair, didn’t name either the government or the gTLD. He had said:

I understand there is at least one application, possibly more, where a government or part a government is negotiating with the applicant in respect to receive a financial benefit from the applicant. I’m concerned about that and I wondered if the GAC had a view as to whether such matters were appropriate.

While nobody would talk on the record, asking around the ICANN 48 meeting here in Buenos Aires it became clear that Disspain was referring to Belgium and .spa.

It was not clear whether he was referring to Donuts or to Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, which have both applied for the string.

The string “spa” was not protected by ICANN’s rules on geographic names, but the GAC in April advised ICANN not to approve the applications until governments had more time to reach a decision.

My inference from Disspain’s question was that Belgium was planning to press for a GAC objection to .spa unless its city got paid, which could be perceived as an abuse of power.

Nobody from the GAC answered the question on Sunday, but Belgium today denied that anything inappropriate was going on, saying Disspain’s assertion was “factually incorrect”.

There is a contract between Spa and an applicant, he confirmed, but he said that “no money will flow to the city of Spa”.

“A very small part of the profits of the registry will go to the community served by .spa,” he said.

This side-deal does not appear to be a public document, but the Belgian rep said that it has been circulated to GAC members for transparency purposes.

There are several applicants whose strings appeared on ICANN’s protected geo names list that have been required to get letters of non-objection from various countries.

Tata Group, for example, needed permission from Morocco for .tata, while TUI had to go to Burkina Faso for .tui. Both are the names of provinces in those countries.

It’s not publicly known how these letters of non-objection were obtained, and whether any financial benefit accrued to the government as a result.

Will ICANN be forced to reject Islamic gTLDs?

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2013, Domain Policy

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has condemned applications for .islam and .halal gTLDs filed by a Turkish company, despite the applicant recently fighting off an OIC-backed objection.

Claiming to represent the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the OIC expressed in a November 4 letter to ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee:

official opposition of the Member States of the OIC towards probable authorization by the GAC allowing use of these new gTLDs .Islam and .Halal by any entity not representing the collective voice of the Muslim people.

The letter seems to have been sent in response to the GAC’s current stalemate on these two TLDs, which were applied for, uncontested, by Istanbul-based Asia Green IT System.

At the ICANN meeting in Beijing six months ago, the GAC was unable to reach a consensus to object to .islam and .halal, instead merely noting:

Some GAC members have raised sensitivities on the applications that relate to Islamic terms, specifically .islam and .halal. The GAC members concerned have noted that the applications for .islam and .halal lack community involvement and support. It is the view of these GAC members that these applications should not proceed.

As a non-consensus objection, there’s no presumption that the ICANN board of directors should reject the applications.

And it seems that the New gTLD Program Committee, which carries board powers, has been deliberately ignoring the controversy pending the resolution of two formal Community Objections.

The objections were filed by the United Arab Emirates’ Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the UAE’s ccTLD registry operator, with backing (it claimed) from the OIC.

But the TRA lost both objections, partly because the wishy-washy government-speak OIC letter it submitted in evidence failed to convince International Chamber of Commerce adjudicator Bernardo Cremades that it really did have that OIC support.

Whether the OIC really does object to Asia Green’s bids now seems beyond dispute.

In fact, the organization says it intends to pass a formal resolution containing its position on Islamic gTLDs during its Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in early December.

ICANN chair Steve Crocker has now asked the GAC to provide further guidance before it decides whether to accept or reject the two bids.

Given that a single governmental hold-out in the GAC would be enough to kill any chance of consensus, the OIC may be right to presuppose that the GAC will not fully object.

That would leave ICANN in the tricky position, for the first time in this application round, of having to decide the fate of a gTLD without the cover of a uniform international objection.

Would it reject .islam, opening the door for other gTLDs to be killed off by minority government concerns? Or would it approve the controversial strings, potentially pissing off the Muslim world?

I expect there’s at least one NGPC member — Lebanese-born Christian ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade — who would certainly not relish having to cast a vote on such a resolution.

ICANN rejects third new gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, November 12, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has formally rejected .thai, only the third new gTLD application to suffer this fate.

It’s been flagged as “Not Approved”, following an objection from a consensus of the Governmental Advisory Committee led by an outcry from Thailand and Thai nationals.

Only DotConnectAfrica’s .africa and GCC’s .gcc have the same designation. Both also were killed off by GAC advice.

Better Living Management Company had applied for .thai, promising to restrict it to people and organizations with a local presence.

Thailand already has the ccTLD .th, of course, as well as the IDN equivalent, .ไทย, which means “Thailand”.

ICANN has not yet rejected any applications that lost crippling objections filed by non-governmental actors.