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Are new gTLD registries ripping off brands with unfair sunrise fees?

Forget .sucks — several less controversial new gTLD registries have come under fire from the likes of Google, Facebook and Adobe for charging sunrise fees as high as $17,000 for domains matching famous trademarks.

According to figures supplied to DI by ICANN’s Business Constituency, the domain instagram.love carries a $17,610 “Premium Name Fee” during the current sunrise period.

Instagram is of course the photo sharing service belonging to Facebook, and to the best of my knowledge not a dictionary word.

The domain facebook.love has a $8,930 fee, these figures show, while google.love costs $6,610, both in addition to sunrise fees of $350 and annual fees of $60.

The regular sunrise fee for .love comes in at $265 at some registrars.

The new gTLDs .design, .video, .wang, .wein, .rich and .top also seem to carry very high fees for brands such as Facebook, according to the BC’s numbers.

Google recently filed a public comment with ICANN which warned:

some registry operators are taking advantage of rights owners during Sunrise by charging exorbitant and extortionate Sunrise registration fees. Although such pricing policies are not strictly within the ICANN compliance mandate, they contravene the spirit of the RPMs [rights protection mechanisms], damage ICANN’s reputation, harm consumers in contravention of ICANN’s mandate to promote the public interest, and create disincentives for rights owners to take advantage of the Sunrise period

Similar comments were sent by the Intellectual Property Constituency, BC, and others.

The issue of registries charging super-high “premium” fees for trademarked names has been on the radar of the BC and the IPC since at least 2013.

It seems that in at least some cases, trademark owners are being hit with the higher fees because their marks are dictionary words that the registry has identified as premium due to their regular meaning.

For example, adobe.design is on the list of names provided by the BC, carrying a $1,175 registration fee.

But Andrew Merriam, director of business development at .design registry Top Level Design, denied that the software company is being targeted. Instead, he said “adobe” refers to the material used in architecture — its dictionary meaning.

He said: “Stucco.design, concrete.design, wood.design, granite.design (and many other materials and building styles) are all on the premium list, at varying prices. In fact, adobe.design is priced on the lower end of all these materials.”

Merriam said the registry’s premium fee for adobe.design is actually $250 and speculated that $1,175 could be the price quoted by Adobe’s brand protection registrar post-markup. It was $349 at Go Daddy, he said.

In other cases, trademarks may have found their way on to premium lists due to a lack of manual vetting by the registry, rather than nefarious targeting.

In the case of instagram.love, Evatt Merchant of .love registry Merchant Law Group told DI that Facebook can buy the name for the normal sunrise fee if it wants.

He told DI that trademark owners should contact the registry if they believe their marks have been wrongly given premium prices. He said:

While it is possible that some brand terms that are frequently googled have ended up on the premium list, valued based on their Google search frequency, there is a simple solution. During the sunrise period, brands seeking non-dictionary trademarked domain names can contact the registry so that a review of individual sunrise pricing can occur. As has already occurred, such requests will often result in the .LOVE TLD voluntarily offering to reduce their sunrise application cost to the base sunrise price and that would certainly be the case for Instagram.

ICANN’s does not regulate pricing in new gTLDs, but nevertheless the IPC and BC and their members have asked ICANN to include premium pricing of trademarked names in its upcoming review of rights protection mechanisms.

Google wins .map and .search

Kevin Murphy, April 21, 2015, Domain Registries

Google has secured two gTLDs representing two of its core services.

The company has won .search and .map, fighting off competition from Amazon, Donuts, Famous Four Media for .search and Rightside and Amazon for .map.

All the losing bidders have now withdrawn their applications.

Both strings were due to head to ICANN auction April 29, but appear to have been settled privately instead.

That means the winning bids will not be disclosed.

Google plans to operate .map as an open gTLD in which anyone can register.

It had originally planned to keep .search domains limited to itself, until ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee and others complained about so-called “closed generics”.

Its updated .search application talks about restricting .search to sites that offer search functionality that adheres to a certain technical standard.

Specifically, domains in .search will have to follow a certain URL format (example.search/?q=query, the format used by Google itself) for queries.

It’s going to be very interesting how Google goes about implementing the plans in its application. We could be looking at some innovative or possibly controversial services.

Warren Buffett party firm beats Google to .fun

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2015, Domain Registries

An 80-year-old seller of party supplies, owned by Warren Buffett, has won the rights to the new gTLD .fun, after the other two applicants withdrew.

Oriental Trading Company plans to operate the gTLD as a “restricted” space where only the company and its partners can register, according to its application.

Quite why this isn’t on hold as a “closed generic”, I don’t know.

The application states .fun will be:

an authoritative Internet space for OTC, its affiliates and partners where OTC can develop an unlimited number of domain names dedicated and relevant to “fun” and to provide Internet users with content, services and products they need, while being assured of brand authenticity.

The other two applicants were Google and Dot Strategy. Both applications have now been withdrawn.

OTC sells balloons, party hats, banners and such. It was acquired by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2012 after filing for bankruptcy protection.

In other withdrawal news, games maker Konami today became the latest company to dump its plans for a dot-brand, in this case .konami.

Google eliminating domains from search results

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2015, Domain Tech

Google has made another move to make domain names less relevant to internet users.

The company will no longer display URLs in search results pages for any web site that adopts a certain technical standard.

Instead, the name of the web site will be given. So instead of a DI post showing up with “domainincite.com” in results, it would be “Domain Incite”.

Google explained the change in a blog post incorrectly titled “Better presentation of URLs in search results”.

Webmasters wishing to present a company name or brand instead of a domain name need to publish metadata on their home pages. It’s just a few lines of code.

Google will make a determination whether to make the change based on whether the name meets these criteria:

Be reasonbly [sic] similar to your domain name

Be a natural name used to refer to the site, such as “Google,” rather than “Google, Inc.”

Be unique to your site—not used by some other site

Not be a misleading description of your site

Code samples and the rules are published here.

It strikes me that Google, by demanding naming uniqueness, is opening itself up for a world of hurt.

Could there be a landrush among non-unique brands? How will disputes be handled?

Right now the change has been made only to mobile search results and only in the US, but Google hinted that it could roll out elsewhere too.

Google launches com.google

Google has launched com.google, one of its batch of 2015 April Fool’s Day jokes.

Visiting the domain today will reveal a reversed perspective on the usual Google home page.

Even the results pages are reversed.

It’s probably the most inventive use of a dot-brand new gTLD to date.