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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.

ICANN to crack down on UDRP “cyberflight”

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN has moved closer to cracking down on cybersquatters who try to flip their domains when they discover they’ve been hit with a UDRP complaint.

Under recommendations approved by the GNSO Council yesterday, registrars would be bound by a much stricter set of UDRP-related domain locking rules in future.

So-called “cyberflight” — where squatters transfer their domains to a new registrar or registrants — appears to be a relatively infrequent problem, but when it does happen it causes big headaches for UDRP providers and trademark owners.

A survey of UDRP providers carried out as part of the GNSO’s policy development process discovered that the vast majority of registrars already lock domains hit by UDRP.

The problem is, they said, that locking practices are not uniform. Some registrars take well over a week to lock domains, and what the “lock” entails differs by registrar.

The recommendations of the GNSO’s Final Report on the Locking of a Domain Name Subject to UDRP Proceedings Policy Development Process, adopted by the Council yesterday, seek to standardize the process.

After being told about a complaint against one of its domains, the registrar in future would have a maximum of two business days to put a lock — preventing any changes in registrant or registrar — in place.

The lock would remain until the UDRP was resolved, but there would be various safeguards in place to enable complainants and respondents to settle their differences outside of the UDRP.

The lock would not prevent registrars or proxy/privacy services revealing the true identity of the registrant — that wouldn’t count as a change of registrant.

To prevent registrants abusing the two-day window to sell their domains or switch registrars, they would not be told about the existence of the UDRP until the domain had been locked.

The UDRP rules currently require the complainant to send a copy of their complaint to the domain owner at the same time it is filed with the UDRP provider.

But the GNSO has now recommended getting rid of this rule, stating: “as a best practice, complainants need not inform respondents that a complaint has been filed to avoid cyberflight.”

The registrant would be informed later by the UDRP provider instead.

Registrars would be prohibited from tipping off the registrant until the lock was in place.

The July 2013 recommendations (pdf) came out of a working group that was formed in April 2012, in response to policy ideas floated in 2011.

The GNSO’s resolution calls for ICANN staff to work with members of the working group on an implementation plan, which would eventually be put to the ICANN board for approval.

Once through the board, the new policy would become binding on all ICANN-accredited registrars.

Guest post: Pritz on policy vs implementation and the brother-in-law test

Kurt Pritz, July 11, 2013, Domain Policy

A current, important debate in internet governance and operation of the multi-stakeholder model asks: when do the bottom-up policy-making volunteers let go and when do the staff policy implementers take over?

Drawing that line to the satisfaction of everyone seems impossible. That is because there is no bright line — the development and implementation of policy is a task requiring the constant attention and cooperation of policy makers and implementation teams.

Is an ICANN action a policy position? Or is it a mere implementation detail? Labels almost never work, especially one-word labels. Since when are ICANN issues black or white?

We’ve stopped discussing the issues, it is easier to discuss the labels: is it “policy” or “implementation”?

The multi-stakeholder model depends on communication, consideration and collaboration

ICANN has a rich history of its stakeholders butting heads with the Board and both butting heads with the staff: long lines at microphones, speaking in hyperbole, and wringing of hands that the multi-stakeholder model has failed. ICANN also has a rich history of staff-stakeholder collaboration in the formulation of policy and in the implementation of policy.

The initial Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy was little more than a framework. Then a team of ICANN staff and TLD registry operators met over a period of months and developed the implementation model. It really didn’t matter where the policy making ended and the implementation started. There was a resolve that there should be an easy-to-follow way for registrants to transfer names and there was teamwork to get that accomplished.

There are parallels in the “real” world. In 1990, the United States enacted the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA itself was little more than a framework also: American employers should make “reasonable accommodation” for those with a “disability.” What was a reasonable accommodation? And what qualified as a disability?

Over a period of many years, those questions have been answered through a series of many court cases and regulations. But in 1990 employers were trying to figure that out.

At the time, we worked on developing clear criteria that would let our employees know what was covered by the ADA. After failing at that, we developed an approach to treat employees as you would your brother-in-law. You are deferential to your brother-in-law (because you have to face your sister) but not totally deferential (after all, he is making love to her). You just treat him better than the letter of the law requires.

So when your employee comes up to you and asks for better lighting at his workstation, you don’t try to parse whether you are required to accommodate near-sighted employees. You say, this is my brother-in-law, and I will listen to his request and carefully consider it.

This is how a public participation model works. The stakeholders are not strangers to one another and the model only works if there is mutual trust and respect.

If someone says, “I want to be heard,” she is generally listened to. (That doesn’t mean discussion is never ending. If that same person wants to be heard again, and says the same thing without change, she will be disregarded. If she continually repeats the same demand and content, she will be shunned.)

Policy versus Implementation should be Policy and Implementation

Take the example currently debated. There is a new gTLD policy element (approved in 2009) that states:

Strings must not infringe the existing legal rights of others that are recognized or enforceable under generally accepted and internationally recognized principles of law.

How does one implement that? The implementation of trademark rights protection mechanisms were developed after years of community/staff consultation, “implementability” studies, draft positions, memoranda describing potential solutions and the reasoning behind them, debate, and discussion.

When things were apparently settled, new parties joined the ICANN discussion — they were welcomed as were their opinions. ICANN was richer because there were new participants in the model. New implementation models were written. Finally, there was an indication the discussion was spent. The work was “said and done.”

Then, apparently, not all was said-and-done. After the gTLD program was launched, there were new suggestions and participants. ICANN decided to entertain those ideas. After a round of community feedback, a subset of the new suggestions was recommended by ICANN for inclusion into the implementation plan for new gTLDs.

ICANN’s policy makers, the GNSO, weighed in, agreeing with many of the conclusions but picking one of the recommendations and saying, “we’d like to talk a bit more about this one because we don’t fully understand its implications and effects.” (Unfortunately, the GNSO didn’t say exactly that, it sounded more to me like, “this item is policy and therefore it cannot be implemented without our consensus opinion.”)

Now, if my brother-in-law says he wants to talk about something some more, even if he doesn’t give a good reason, I am ready to indulge him. But ICANN did not indulge the GNSO. Now, we are in a policy versus implementation discussion: what work is the province of policy makers, and the province of implementers? The GNSO is considering ICANN Bylaw changes to ensure they are heeded.

Bylaw changes are not the lynchpin to multi-stakeholder model success. Putting rules in place for how and when to listen never work. There will always be exceptions. (Another whole piece can be written on how the rules governing communications between ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee have failed to facilitate the success of the multi-stakeholder model.)

Processes and procedures (as they are currently described in the Bylaws) are important. We must have clear rules for creation of consensus policy, with timelines and borders to ensure that issues are addressed and rights are respected.

But the operation of the multi-stakeholder model is more complicated than following those processes. The success of the model depends on the mutual trust and respect of the participants, and the ability to actively listen and to understand what is meant, even if that is not exactly what is said.

Rather than create new rules or discuss how one side can prevent the other from abusing its position, the volunteers, staff and Board should look inwardly to improve its own listening and communicating.

You’re my brother-in-law. I am ready (more than ready) to disagree with you, but first I am going to listen to what you have to say.

This is a guest post written by Kurt Pritz, ICANN’s former chief strategy officer. He is currently an independent consultant working with new gTLD applicants and others.

Geo gTLD bidders propose new constituency

Applicants for geographic gTLDs voted unanimously to form a new ICANN constituency last week.

According to minutes of a meeting hosted by .london applicant London & Partners in London last Thursday, 20 applicants voted in favor of a constituency and nobody voted for the alternatives.

Not every geo was in attendance, however. Twenty votes represents less than a third of the overall geographic gTLD applicant base.

A new constituency would likely join registries and registrars in the Contracted Parties House of the Generic Name Supporting Organization.

A constituency for dot-brand applicants, the Brand Registry Group, is also currently being formed.

GNSO still breathing as ICANN retracts “flawed” Trademark+50 thinking

Kevin Murphy, July 2, 2013, Domain Policy

The Generic Names Supporting Organization isn’t dead after all.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee has retracted a document related to new gTLD trademark protections that some on the GNSO Council believed spelled the end of the multistakeholder model as we know it.

The BGC, in rejecting a formal Reconsideration Request related to the “Trademark+50” mechanism, had used a rationale that some said was overly confrontational, legalistic and gave ICANN staff the ability to ignore community input more or less at will.

We reported on the issue in considerable detail here.

The committee on Friday retracted the original rationale, replacing it with one (pdf) that, while still containing some of the flawed reasoning DI noted last month, seems to have appeased the GNSO Council.

Neustar policy VP Jeff Neuman, who raised the original concerns, told the Council: “I believe the rationale is much more consistent with, and recognizes, the value of the multi-stakeholder model.”

The BGC did not change its ultimate decision — the Reconsideration Request has still been rejected and Trademark+50 is still being implemented in the new gTLD program.