Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

.gay is gay enough after all? ICANN overturns community panel decision

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2015, Domain Registries

One of the applicants for .gay has won a significant battle in the fight for the controversial new gTLD.

In a shock move, a committee of ICANN’s board of directors has overturned the rejection of dotgay LLC’s Community Priority Evaluation, ordering that the case should be re-examined by a new panel of experts.

As you may recall, dotgay’s CPE was kicked out in October after the Economist Intelligence Unit panel decided that the company’s defined community was too broad to be described by “gay” as it included a lot of people who aren’t gay, such as straight people.

The decision — which I thought was probably correct — caused an uproar from dotgay’s myriad supporters, which include dozens of international equal rights and gay community organizations.

dotgay filed a Request for Reconsideration, ICANN’s cheapest but least reliable form of appeal, and today found out it actually won.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee, which handles the RfR process, this week ruled (pdf):

The BGC concludes that, upon investigation of Requester’s claims, the CPE Panel inadvertently failed to verify 54 letters of support for the Application and that this failure contradicts an established procedure. The BGC further concludes that the CPE Panel’s failure to comply with this established CPE procedure warrants reconsideration. Accordingly, the BGC determines that the CPE Panel Report shall be set aside, and that the EIU shall identify two different evaluators to perform a new CPE for the Application

The successful RfR appears to be based on a technicality, and may have no lasting impact on the .gay contention set.

Under the EIU’s process rules: “With few exceptions, verification emails are sent to every entity that has sent a letter(s) of support or opposition to validate their identity and authority”.

It seems that the EIU was sent a bundle of 54 letters of support for dotgay, but did not email the senders to verify they were legit. The BCG wrote:

Over the course of investigating the claims made in Request 14-44, ICANN learned that the CPE Panel inadvertently did not verify 54 of the letters of support it reviewed. All 54 letters were sent by the Requester in one correspondence bundle, and they are publicly posted on ICANN’s correspondence page.36 The 54 letters were deemed to be relevant by the EIU, but the EIU inadvertently failed to verify them.

If an applicant wins a CPE it means all the other applicants are automatically excluded, and the door is now open for the EIU to rethink its earlier decision.

So do competing applicants Rightside, Minds + Machines and Top Level Design now have genuine cause for concern? Not necessarily.

CPE applicants need to score at least 14 out of 16 available points in order to win, and dotgay only scored 10 points in its original evaluation.

Crucially, the EIU panel said that because the “community” as defined by dotgay included transgender, intersex, asexual and straight “allies” of equal rights, it was too broad to score any of the available four points on the “Nexus” criteria.

The BCG could find no fault with the EIU’s determination on Nexus, so even if dotgay’s letters of support are verified according to procedure, it would not necessarily lead to dotgay picking up any more Nexus points.

The BCG wrote on Nexus: “Requester’s substantive disagreement with the CPE Panel’s conclusion does not support reconsideration”.

However, given that the EIU is going to do the entire CPE all over again with new panelists, it seems entirely possible that dotgay could win this time.

Why kicking out the .gay “community” was right

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2014, Domain Policy

Since Dotgay’s application for a Community Priority Evaluation on .gay failed last week, there’s been some unrest among its supporters and in the media.

An effort to get #ICANNisBroken trending hasn’t exactly set the Twittersphere alight, but there have been a handful of news stories that attack the CPE decision for failing to represent the gay community.

I think the criticisms are misplaced.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, which conducts the CPEs for ICANN, got it right in this case, in my view.

Dotgay scored 10 points out of 16 on the CPE. It needed 14 to pass. A pass would have given it exclusive rights to .gay, forcing the three other applicants to withdraw.

It could have scored 14 had it managed to get 4 points out of the available 4 on the “Nexus” criteria — the strength of the relationship between the string “gay” and the community Dotgay said it wanted to represent.

The EIU scored Dotgay zero.

The reason was that Dotgay, in its application, defined its community like this:

The Gay Community includes individuals who identify themselves as male or female homosexuals, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, ally and many other terminology – in a variety of languages – that has been used at various points to refer most simply to those individuals who do not participate in mainstream cultural practices pertaining to gender identity, expression and adult consensual sexual relationships. The Gay Community has also been referred to using the acronym LGBT, and sometimes the more inclusive LGBTQIA. The most common and globally understood term – used both by members of the Gay Community and in the world at large – is however “Gay”.

Dotgay lost the 4 points it needed to pass the CPE almost entirely because of this paragraph.

It overstretched, and it doing so it failed to play by the ICANN rules.

Remember, the EIU was asked to determine the “nexus”, or correlation, between the gTLD string — the word “gay” — and the people Dotgay said it was trying to represent.

By trying to be as inclusive as possible to as many different sexuality/gender identities as it could, Dotgay lost sight of the fact that the gTLD string it wants only describes a subsection of those people.

LGBTQIA isn’t even a particularly well-understood acronym. The “A” could mean “Ally”, as Dotgay said in its application, or “Asexual”, as it is often (but not in Dotgay’s application) interpreted.

Dotgay tried to define “intersex” people — humans whose genitalia or other sexual characteristics do not conform to the standard male/female norms — as “gay”. Are they “gay”?

It tried to define “allies” of gay rights as “gay”. Are we?

The majority of the straight people reading this post, myself included, would characterize themselves as an “ally” of the gay community — we’re supporters of equal rights — but we would not call ourselves “gay”.

The fact that we wouldn’t is an important part of the EIU’s logic, the reason it found Dotgay had overstretched in its community definition, and as hard as I try I can’t figure out why that logic is faulty.

“Membership in the Gay Community is not restricted by any geographical boundaries and is united by a common interest in human rights,” the Dotgay application reads.

Is that not an implicit admission that the “gay community” defined in the application actually includes the majority of the populations of most right-thinking democracies?

Regardless of the EIU’s logic, there has been a moderate amount of outrage online about its decision.

The article getting the most link love appears to be this one at Slate, written by “LGBTQ activist” Marc Naimark.

First, note the acronym Naimark uses in his bio at the bottom of the piece. There are two letters missing when compared to the Dotgay application — “I” and “A”, for “Intersex” and “Ally” or “Asexual”.

Would Dotgay have won its CPE if it had limited itself to the same five letters? Maybe, maybe not. GLAAD defines “gay” as only those people attracted to the same gender. Transsexuals may not count. I and A almost certainly don’t.

Is this just nit-picking?

Not really. The point of the CPE, taken as a whole, was to allow genuine communities to avoid expensive auctions whilst preventing gaming by unscrupulous registries that would seek to claim a valuable string without a genuine community behind them.

In a previous new gTLD round, ICM Registry defined its .xxx “community” as essentially ‘anyone who wants to be a member of the community’. The .mobi registry defined its community as basically ‘anyone with a mobile phone’.

These were both attempts, in my view, to game the rules ICANN had put in place for that particularly new gTLD application round. They were both successful.

What Dotgay tried to do with its .gay application was to define its community as basically everyone. I don’t think I would call it gaming, but I might call it a failure to follow the community rules closely enough.

So is it a bad thing that Dotgay’s CPE got rejected?

I don’t think so.

Remember, Dotgay has not been ruled out of the process. It can still compete at auction with the other applicants.

If that’s too rich for it, there may even be an opportunity for the company to combine in another way with a rival applicant, rather like DotGreen did with Afilias for .green.

In Salon, Naimark wrote that a non-Community .gay — one manged by Top Level Design, Minds + Machines or Rightside, the other three applicants — will likely be awash with pornography or homophobia:

Now, instead, .gay is up for auction, with dotgay LLC facing off against three much larger rivals whose sole aim is to make as much money as possible from .gay names. That means no oversight over who gets a name or what it’s used for. Gay bashers will be able to buy .gay domains. More significantly, the largest market is likely to be among porn sites. Any legitimate use of the name by individuals, businesses, and organizations associated with the LGBTQ community will likely be drowned in a sea of sex: On the Internet, everyone will be .gay for pay.

On the face of it, that seems like a compelling argument. Wouldn’t it be nicer if .gay was devoted to worthy causes rather than gay porn? I would probably agree with that argument.

But none of the four applicants for .gay — not even Dotgay — have any prohibitions or restrictions on porn in their applications.

There’s no reason on the new gTLD program record to believe Dotgay won’t sell .gay domains to porn sites too.

Where Dotgay does have a moral advantage against its competitors is in its explicit prohibitions against homophobic speech in the domain names it sells.

One of the policies it proposes in its application is that domain names should not be “words or phrases that incite or promote discrimination or violent behavior, including anti-gay hate speech.”

The other three applicants don’t have anything nearly as specific in their applications.

But by applying as a formal, big-C “Community” applicant, Dotgay also had to promise to restrict its gTLD to a limited number of people who were members of its self-defined “community”.

This is where I struggle.

Dotgay proposes to restrict .gay to people who obtain a special code via a number of as-yet unspecified, approved “Authentication Providers” — organizations that represent sections of the LGBTQIA community.

This process has clearly been created by the applicant, in my opinion, in order to get the required number of points in the CPE’s “Registration Policies” criteria, where you have to be restrictive to win.

What Dotgay is proposing is a system whereby in order to express your homosexuality (or membership of another LGBTQIA community, including “ally”) you need to apply to an approved gay-related organization for a special code.

That just seems wrong to me.

Whatever happened to the “self-identified” gay person? I thought that “self-identification”, in the sexual and gender identity world, was a bit of a big deal.

You need a password to “come out” online? Really?

I don’t want to be accused of “straightsplaining”, so it’s a genuine question: is it okay for a registry to need to authenticate your sexual/gender identity before you can register a .gay domain?

Gay community not gay enough to win new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2014, Domain Registries

An applicant for .gay has lost its chance to get exclusive rights to the new gTLD, partly because the self-defined gay community it wants to represent is not “gay” enough.

Dotgay LLC is one of four applicants, and the only “Community” applicant under ICANN rules, for .gay.

But the company yesterday failed in its attempt to pass a Community Priority Evaluation, scoring just 10 out of 16 available points and failing to reach the required 14-point passing threshold.

Most of its points were lost on the “Nexus between Proposed String and Community” criteria, where 4 points were available but Dotgay scored zilch.

The CPE panel concluded that the gay community described in the Dotgay application was too broad to be described by the string “gay”, because it includes lots of people who aren’t gay — such as transgender people or heterosexual campaigners for gay rights.

Under the CPE rules, applicants can score the maximum points if their chosen string “matches” the name of the community. Partial points can be won if it “identifies” the community.

The panel decided that it did neither:

Included in the application’s community definition are transgender and intersex individuals as well as “allies” (understood as heterosexual individuals supportive of the missions of the organizations that comprise the defined community). However, “gay” does not identify these individuals. Transgender people may identify as straight or gay, since gender identity and sexual orientation are not necessarily linked.8 Likewise, intersex individuals are defined by having been born with atypical sexual reproductive anatomy; such individuals are not necessarily “gay”. Finally, allies, given the assumption that they are heterosexual supporters of LGBTQIA issues, are not identified by “gay” at all. Such individuals may be an active part of the .GAY community, even if they are heterosexual, but “gay” nevertheless does not describe these individuals

Because “gay” was not found to identify the applicant-defined community, Dotgay lost 3 points. A knock-on effect was that it lost another 1 point for not “uniquely” identifying the community.

The applicant lost another two points on the “Community Endorsement” criteria — one point for not being backed by an organization recognized as representing all gays and another because the application had received informal objections from at least one significant community member.

The CPE decision means that rival applicants Top Level Design, Rightside and Minds + Machines are back in the game.

The .gay gTLD, assuming there are no successful appeals against the CPE, is now likely headed to auction.

First three Community Objections decided: DotGay and Google win but Donuts loses

Kevin Murphy, September 10, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Chamber of Commerce has delivered the first three Community Objection decisions in the new gTLD program, killing off one application and saving two others.

These are the results:

.gay

The objection filed by Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, a gay political organization, against DotGay LLC has failed.

The panelist, Bernhard Schlink, decided that Metrolplex lacked standing to file the objection, stating:

while the conservative segment, with which Metroplex claims association, is a segment of the clearly delineated gay community, it is not a clearly delineated community in and of itself. That some LGBTQ people hold conservative political views and vote for conservative candidates may bring them into a statistical category, but does not make them connect, gather, interact, or do anything else together that would constitute a community, or, that would make them publicly visible as one.

It was the only objection against this .gay application, meaning it can now proceed to later stages of the new gTLD process.

.fly

The objection was filed by FairSearch.org, a coalition of companies that campaigns against Google’s dominance of online markets, against Google’s .fly application.

The application was originally for a “closed generic” registry, but Google has since stated that it has changed its mind and run .fly with an open registration policy.

FairSearch lost the objection, despite ICC panelist George Bermann giving it the benefit of the doubt multiple times during his discussion on its standing to object.

Instead, Google prevailed due to FairSearch’s failure to demonstrate enough opposition to its application, with Bermann writing:

A showing of substantial opposition to an application is critical to a successful Objection. Such a showing is absent here.

He also decided that Google presented a better case when it came to arguing whether or not its .fly would be damaging to the community in question.

.architect

Finally, Donuts has lost its application for .architect, due to an objection by the International Union of Architects, which supports Starting Dot’s competing application for .archi.

Donuts had argued that UIA did not have standing to object because an “architect” does not always mean the kind of architect that designs buildings, which is the community the UIA represents. It could mean a software architect or landscape architects, for example.

But panelist Andreas Reiner found that even if the UIA represents a subset of the overall “architect” community, that subset was still substantial enough, still a community, and still represented by the string “architect”, so that it did have the standing to use the Community Objection.

It also did not matter that the UIA does not represent all the “structural architects” in the world, the panelist found. It represents enough of them that its opposition to .architect passes the “substantial” test.

He eventually took the word “architect” in its most common use — people who design buildings — in determining whether the UIA was closely associated with the community in question.

On the question of whether architects would be harmed by Donuts’ plan for .architect, the panelist noted that architects are always licensed for public safety reasons.

Here are some extracts from his decision, which seem important:

Beyond concerns of public safety, habitat for human beings is of essential importance in society, at the human-social level, at the economic level and at the environmental level

it would be compatible with the above references public interests linked to the work of architects and with the related consumer protection concerns, to allow the domain name “.architect” to be used by anyone other than “architects” who, by definition, need to be licensed

The use of the top-level domain “.architect” by non-licenced architects is in itself an abuse. This top-level domain refers to a regulated professional service. Therefore all safeguards must be adopted to prevent its use by a non-licensed person.

The top-level domain “.architect” raises the legitimate expectation that the related website is the webiste of a licensed architect (or a group of licenced architects). Correct information is essential to consumers visiting websites.

Basically, Reiner trashed Donuts long-standing argument in favor of blanket open registration policies.

He noted specifically that whether to allow a gTLD to proceed might be considered a free speech question, but said that free speech often has its limits, such as in cases of consumer protection.

Worryingly, one of the pieces of evidence that the panelist considered was the Governmental Advisory Committee’s Beijing communique, which contains the GAC’s formal advice against over 500 applications.

Rejected .gay gTLD objection ruled “unfair”

Kevin Murphy, June 27, 2013, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC could be hit by another formal new gTLD objection from gay Republicans.

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said that it was “unfair” that a community objection filed by GOProud, a gay lobby group, was rejected by the International Chamber of Commerce.

The ICC screwed up, it seems, judging by LaHatte’s decision.

Washington DC-based GOProud, which seeks to show that not all gay rights advocates have liberal views on other issues, had filed a community-based objection to dotgay’s .gay gTLD application.

While the substance of the objection is not known, I suspect it’s politically motivated. The other objection to dotgay’s application was filed by another gay Republican organization, the Metroplex Republicans of Dallas (formerly Log Cabin Republicans Dallas).

The ICC rejected the objection because it was about 500 words over the prescribed limit, but it sent the notification to the wrong email address, according to LaHatte’s blog.

Had GOProud received the notification, it would have had time to amend its objection to rectify the mistake. However, by the time it discovered the problem the filing deadline had passed.

LaHatte wrote:

there is some unfairness in the subsequent rejection given the apparent error in the use of the wrong email. It seems to me that it would be relatively easy to unwind that decision, and permit the late filing of the objection. I can of course only make a recommendation, but in this case where there is some unfairness I think the matter should be revisited.

The Ombudsman’s role is to handle complaints about unfairness in ICANN’s actions, so it’s not entirely clear what’s going to happen in this case, given that the ICC is an ICANN subcontractor.

LaHatte’s recommendation is certainly not binding in either case. Whether the ICC changes its mind may depend on whether ICANN asks it to or not.

dotgay is the New York-based applicant founded by Scott Seitz. It’s one of four companies applying for .gay.

The other three applicants — Top Level Domain Holdings, Top Level Design and Demand Media — have each received community objections from the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association, a dotgay supporter.