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Governments kill off Patagonia’s dot-brand bid

Kevin Murphy, July 11, 2013, Domain Policy

The clothing retailer Patagonia has withdrawn its application for .patagonia after it became clear that ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was unlikely to allow it.

Controversial from the outset, Patagonia’s dot-brand came under fire from governments including Argentina and Chile because the company is named after a large region of Latin America.

The GAC couldn’t find a consensus for a full-on objection to the bid, however, because the US government refused to agree that governments should have rights over such geographic terms.

However the US said last week that it would stand neutral on .patagonia and other geographic-flavored applications at next week’s ICANN meeting in Durban, smoothing the path to GAC consensus.

A GAC consensus objection would have spelled certain death to the application.

Amazon’s .amazon application is in exactly the same position as .patagonia was. Unless the company can come to some kind of arrangement with Brazil and over governments it may suffer the same fate.

Plural gTLDs not confusing, says ICANN (and two gotchas proving it wrong)

Dozens of new gTLD applicants will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning as ICANN said it will allow single and plural versions of the same gTLD to co-exist after all.

The decision, made Tuesday by ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, affects at least 98 applications. It said:

NGPC has determined that no changes are needed to the existing mechanisms in the Applicant Guidebook to address potential consumer confusion resulting from allowing singular and plural versions of the same string.

It was in response to the Governmental Advisory Committee, which had advised ICANN to “reconsider its decision to allow singular and plural versions of the same strings.”

Because of the wording of the advice, ICANN is able to disagree with the the GAC’s opinion that “singular and plural versions of the string as a TLD could lead to potential consumer confusion” without triggering its bylaws provision that forces it into time-consuming GAC negotiations.

By “reconsidering” plural/singular coexistence and not doing anything, it has stuck to the letter of the advice.

In its reconsideration it reconsiderated whether it should overturn the findings of its independent String Similarity Panel, which did not believe any plural/singular pairs were confusingly visually similar.

It also used the coexistence of second-level plural and singular domains, registered to different people, as evidence that users would not find similar coexistence at the top level confusing.

The decision has potentially far-reaching consequences on the new gTLD program.

First, it could mean that some plural/singular pairs will be allowed to exist while others will not.

There are a handful of formal String Confusion Objections filed by applicants for gTLDs that have singular or plural competitors in the current round.

These string pairs are not currently in contention sets, but if the objectors prevail only one of the strings will survive to delegation.

Other string pairs have no objections and will be allowed to coexist. This may be fair in a sense, but it’s not uniform nor predictable.

(One wonders if the String Confusion Objection arbitration panels will use ICANN’s ruling this week in their own decision-making process, which could open a can of worms.)

Second, I think the decision might encourage bad business practices by registries.

My beef with coexistence

I don’t think coexistence is a wholly terrible idea, but I do think it will have some negative effects, as I’ve expressed in the past.

First, I think it’s going to lead to millions of unnecessary defensive registrations.

And by “defensive” I’m not talking about companies protecting their trademarks. Whether you think they’re adequate or not, trademark owners already have protections in new gTLDs.

I’m talking about regular domain registrants, small businesses, entrepreneurs and so on. These people are going to find themselves buying two domains when they only need one.

Let’s say you’re Mad John’s Autos, and you’re registering madjohn.auto. You get to the checkout and Go Daddy offers you the matching .autos domain. Assuming similar pricing, you’d definitely register it, right?

You’ve always got to assume a certain subset of users will get confused and either wind up at a dead URL or a competitor’s site. It’s simpler just to defensively register both.

What if one was priced a little higher than the other? Maybe you’d still register it. How big would the price differential have to be before you decided not to buy the plural duplicate?

Buying two domains instead of one may not be a huge financial burden to individual registrants, but it’s going to lead to situations where gTLDs exist in symbiotic — or parasitic — pairs.

If you run the .auto registry, you may find that your plural competitor is spending so much on marketing .autos that you don’t need to lift a finger in order to sell millions of domain names.

Just make sure you’re partnered with the same registrars and bingo: you’re up-sell.

Attractive business plan, right? You may disagree, but when ICANN opens the floodgates for the second round of new gTLD applications in a couple years, we’ll find out for sure.

Two gotchas

Defenses of plural/singular gTLD coexistence often come from, unsurprisingly, the portfolio applicants that have applied for them and, presumably, may apply for them in future rounds.

“Singulars and plurals live together now on the [second-level domain] side,” Uniregistry said. “They create healthy competition and do not unduly confuse consumers to the point of annoyance.”

I wouldn’t disagree with that statement. Plural/singular coexistence may not confuse internet users to the point of danger or annoyance. But, I would argue, they do make people buy more domain names than they need to.

If you were buying autos.com today you’d definitely definitely buy auto.com as well and redirect it to autos.com. You’d be an idiot not too.

When I put this to Uniregistry execs privately several weeks ago, they disagreed with me. Nobody would bother with such duplicative/defensive domains, they said.

In response, I asked, cheekily: so why do you own uniregistries.com, redirecting it to uniregistry.com?

Another portfolio applicant, Donuts, also didn’t like the idea of plurals and singulars being mutually exclusive, according to this CircleID article. It doesn’t think they’re confusingly similar.

Yet a press release put out by the company last month accidentally said it planned to put its application for .apartment to auction.

The problem is that Donuts hasn’t applied for .apartment, it has applied for .apartments.

I feel rotten for highlighting a simple typo by a fellow media professional (I make enough of those) but isn’t that what we’re often talking about when discussing confusing similarity? Typos?

If the registry can get confused by its own applied-for strings, doesn’t that mean internet users will as well?

Oh, I’m a cybersquatter

Interestingly, ICANN’s belief that plurals are not confusing appears to be institutional.

At least, I discovered this morning that icanns.org, the plural of its primary domain, was available for registration.

So I bought it.

Let’s see how much traffic it gets.

If I get hit by a UDRP, that could be interesting too.

ICANN freezes “closed generic” gTLD bids

ICANN has temporarily banned “closed generic” gTLDs in response to Governmental Advisory Committee demands.

The ban, which may be lifted, affects at least 73 applications (probably dozens more) for dictionary-word strings that had been put forward with “single registrant” business models.

ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee on Tuesday voted to prevent any applicant for a closed generic gTLD from signing a registry contract, pending further talks with the GAC.

In order to sign a registry agreement, applicants will have to agree to the following Public Interest Commitments:

1. Registry Operator will operate the TLD in a transparent manner consistent with general principles of openness and non-discrimination by establishing, publishing and adhering to clear registration policies.

2. Registry Operator of a “Generic String” TLD may not impose eligibility criteria for registering names in the TLD that limit registrations exclusively to a single person or entity and/or that person’s or entity’s “Affiliates” (as defined in Section 2.9(c) of the Registry Agreement). “Generic String” means 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.

The effect of this is that applications for closed generics are on hold until ICANN has figured out what exactly the GAC is trying to achieve with its advice, which emerged in its Beijing communique (pdf).

Closed generics have not to date been a specific category of gTLD. They’re basically bids like Symantec’s .antivirus, L’Oreal’s .beauty and Amazon’s .cloud, where the gTLD is not a “dot-brand” but every second-level domain would belong to the registry anyway.

The two main reasons the new gTLD program has allowed them so far are a) ICANN decided that coming up with definitions for categories of gTLD was too hard and prone to abuse, and b) ICANN didn’t want to overly restrict registries’ business models.

Apparently all it needed was a nudge from the GAC and a change of senior management to change its mind.

ICANN now has a definition of “generic”, which I believe is a first. To reiterate, it’s:

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

If the proposed PIC stands after ICANN’s talks with the GAC, nobody will be able to operate a generic string as a single-registrant gTLD.

But there may be one massive loophole.

Let’s say Volkswagen had applied for .golf (it didn’t) as a single-registrant dot-brand gTLD.

In that context, “golf” is a word used to label one model of car, “distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others”.

But the word “golf” is also indisputably “a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things”.

So which use case would trump the other? Would Volkswagen be banned from using .golf as a dot-brand?

It’s not just hypothetical. There are live examples in the current round of single-registrant applications that are both generic terms in one industry and brands in others.

Apple’s application for .apple is the obvious one. While it’s hard to imagine apple farmers wanting a gTLD, we don’t yet know how crazy the gTLD landrush is going to get in future rounds.

What of Bond University’s application for .bond? It’s a brand in terms of further education, but a generic term for debt instruments in finance.

Boots’ application for .boots? A brand in the high street pharmacy game, a generic if you sell shoes. Google’s application for .chrome is a brand in browsers but a generic in metallurgy.

None of the examples given here (and there are many more) are on the GAC’s list of problematic closed generics, but as far as I can see they would all be affected by ICANN’s proposed PIC.

The affected applications are not dead yet, of course. ICANN could change its view and drop the new PIC requirement a few months from now after talking to the GAC.

But the applications do appear to be in limbo for now.

ICANN offers to split the cost of GAC “safeguards” with new gTLD registries

Kevin Murphy, June 28, 2013, Domain Policy

All new gTLD applicants will have to abide by stricter rules on security and Whois accuracy under government-mandated changes to their contracts approved by the ICANN board.

At least one of the new obligations is likely to laden new gTLDs registries with additional ongoing costs. In another case, ICANN appears ready to shoulder the financial burden instead.

The changes are coming as a result of ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, which on on Tuesday voted to adopt six more pieces of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice from March.

This chunk of advice, which deals exclusively with security-related issues, was found in the GAC’s Beijing communique (pdf) under the heading “Safeguards Applicable to all New gTLDs”.

Here’s what ICANN has decided to do about it.

Mandatory Whois checks

The GAC wanted all registries to conduct mandatory checks of Whois data at least twice a year, notifying registrars about any “inaccurate or incomplete records” found.

Many new gTLD applicants already offered to do something similar in their applications.

But ICANN, in response to the GAC advice, has volunteered to do these checks itself. The NGPC said:

ICANN is concluding its development of a WHOIS tool that gives it the ability to check false, incomplete or inaccurate WHOIS data

Given these ongoing activities, ICANN (instead of Registry Operators) is well positioned to implement the GAC’s advice that checks identifying registrations in a gTLD with deliberately false, inaccurate or incomplete WHOIS data be conducted at least twice a year. To achieve this, ICANN will perform a periodic sampling of WHOIS data across registries in an effort to identify potentially inaccurate records.

While the resolution is light on detail, it appears that new gTLD registries may well be taken out of the loop completely, with ICANN notifying their registrars instead about inaccurate Whois records.

It’s not the first time ICANN has offered to shoulder potentially costly burdens that would otherwise encumber registry operators. It doesn’t get nearly enough credit from new gTLD applicants for this.

Contractually banning abuse

The GAC wanted new gTLD registrants contractually forbidden from doing bad stuff like phishing, pharming, operating botnets, distributing malware and from infringing intellectual property rights.

These obligations should be passed to the registrants by the registries via their contracts with registrars, the GAC said.

ICANN’s NGPC has agreed with this bit of advice entirely. The base new gTLD Registry Agreement is therefore going to be amended to include a new mandatory Public Interest Commitment reading:

Registry Operator will include a provision in its Registry-Registrar Agreement that requires Registrars to include in their Registration Agreements a provision prohibiting Registered Name Holders from distributing malware, abusively operating botnets, phishing, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement, fraudulent or deceptive practices, counterfeiting or otherwise engaging in activity contrary to applicable law, and providing (consistent with applicable law and any related procedures) consequences for such activities including suspension of the domain name.

The decision to include it as a Public Interest Commitment, rather than building it into the contract proper, is noteworthy.

PICs will be subject to a Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Process (PICDRP) which allows basically anyone to file a complaint about a registry suspected of breaking its commitments.

ICANN would act as the enforcer of the ruling, rather than the complainant. Registries that lose PICDRP cases face consequences up to an including the termination of their contracts.

In theory, by including the GAC’s advice as a PIC, ICANN is handing a loaded gun to anyone who might want to shoot down a new gTLD registry in future.

However, the proposed PIC language seems to be worded in such a way that the registry would only have to include the anti-abuse provisions in its contract in order to be in compliance.

Right now, the way the PIC is worded, I can’t see a registry getting terminated or otherwise sanctioned due to a dispute about an instance of copyright infringement by a registrant, for example.

I don’t think there’s much else to get excited about here. Every registry or registrar worth a damn already prohibits its customers from doing bad stuff, if only to cover their own asses legally and keep their networks clean; ICANN merely wants to formalize these provisions in its chain of contracts.

Actually fighting abuse

The third through sixth pieces of GAC advice approved by ICANN this week are the ones that will almost certainly add to the cost of running a new gTLD registry.

The GAC wants registries to “periodically conduct a technical analysis to assess whether domains in its gTLD are being used to perpetrate security threats such as pharming, phishing, malware, and botnets.”

It also wants registries to keep records of what they find in these analyses, to maintain a complaints mechanism, and to shut down any domains found to be perpetrating abusive behavior.

ICANN has again gone the route of adding a new mandatory PIC to the base Registry Agreement. It reads:

Registry Operator will periodically conduct a technical analysis to assess whether domains in the TLD are being used to perpetrate security threats, such as pharming, phishing, malware, and botnets. Registry Operator will maintain statistical reports on the number of security threats identified and the actions taken as a result of the periodic security checks. Registry Operator will maintain these reports for the term of the Agreement unless a shorter period is required by law or approved by ICANN, and will provide them to ICANN upon request.

You’ll notice that the language is purposefully vague on how registries should carry out these checks.

ICANN said it will convene a task force or GNSO policy development process to figure out the precise details, enabling new gTLD applicants to enter into contracts as soon as possible.

It means, of course, that applicants could wind up signing contracts without being fully apprised of the cost implications. Fighting abuse costs money.

There are dozens of ways to scan TLDs for abusive behavior, but the most comprehensive ones are commercial services.

ICM Registry, for example, decided to pay Intel/McAfee millions of dollars — a dollar or two per domain, I believe — for it to run daily malware scans of the entire .xxx zone.

More recently, Directi’s .PW Registry chose to sign up to Architelos’ NameSentry service to monitor abuse in its newly relaunched ccTLD.

There’s going to be a fight about the implementation details, but one way or the other the PIC would make registries scan their zones for abuse.

What the PIC does not state, and where it may face queries from the GAC as a result, is what registries must do when they find abusive behavior in their gTLDs. There’s no mention of mandatory domain name suspension, for example.

But in an annex to Tuesday’s resolution, ICANN’s NGPC said the “consequences” part of the GAC advice would be addressed as part of the same future technical implementation discussions.

In summary, the NGPC wants registries to be contractually obliged to contractually oblige their registrars to contractually oblige their registrants to not do bad stuff, but there are not yet any obligations relating to the consequences, to registrants, of ignoring these rules.

This week’s resolutions are the second big batch of decisions ICANN has taken regarding the GAC’s Beijing communique.

Earlier this month, it accepted some of the GAC’s direct advice related to certain specific gTLDs it has a problem with, the RAA and intergovernmental organizations and pretended to accept other advice related to community objections.

The NGPC has yet to address the egregiously incompetent “Category 1” GAC advice, which was the subject of a public comment period.

Verisign says people might die if new gTLDs are delegated

Kevin Murphy, June 2, 2013, Domain Policy

If there was any doubt in your mind that Verisign is trying to delay the launch of new gTLDs, its latest letter to ICANN and the Governmental Advisory Committee advice should settle it.

The company has ramped up its anti-expansion rhetoric, calling on the GAC to support its view that launching new gTLDs now will put the security and stability of the internet at risk.

People might die if some strings are delegated, Verisign says.

Among other things, Verisign is now asking for:

  • Each new gTLD to be individually vetted for its possible security impact, with particular reference to TLDs that clash with widely-used internal network domains (eg, .corp).
  • A procedure put in place to throttle the addition of new gTLDs, should a security problem arise.
  • A trial period for each string ICANN adds to the root, so that new gTLDs can be tested for security impact before launching properly.
  • A new process for removing delegated gTLDs from the root if they cause problems.

In short, the company is asking for much more than it has to date — and much more that is likely to frenzy its rivals — in its ongoing security-based campaign against new gTLDs.

The demands came in Verisign’s response to the GAC’s Beijing communique, which detailed government concerns about hundreds of applied-for gTLDs and provided frustratingly vague remediation advice.

Verisign has provided one of the most detailed responses to the GAC advice of any ICANN has received to date, discussing how each item could be resolved and/or clarified.

In general, it seems to support the view that the advice should be implemented, but that work is needed to figure out the details.

In many cases, it’s proposing ICANN community working groups. In others, it says each affected registry should negotiate individual contract terms with ICANN.

But much of the 12-page letter talks about the security problems that Verisign suddenly found itself massively concerned about in March, a week after ICANN started publishing Initial Evaluation results.

The letter reiterates the potential problem that when a gTLD is delegated that is already widely used on internal networks, security problems such as spoofing could arise.

Verisign says there needs to be an “in-depth study” at the DNS root to figure out which strings are risky, even if the volume of traffic they receive today is quite low.

It also says each string should be phased in with an “ephemeral root delegation” — basically a test-bed period for each new gTLD — and that already-delegated strings should be removed if they cause problems:

A policy framework is needed in order to codify a method for braking or throttling new delegations (if and when these issues occur) either in the DNS or in dependent systems that provides some considerations as to when removing an impacting string from the root will occur.

While it’s well-known that strings such as .home and .corp may cause issues due to internal name clashes and their already high volume of root traffic, Verisign seems to want every string to be treated with the same degree of caution.

Lives may be on the line, Verisign said:

The problem is not just with obvious strings like .corp, but strings that have even small query volumes at the root may be problematic, such as those discussed in SAC045. These “outlier” strings with very low query rates may actually pose the most risks because they could support critical devices including emergency communication systems or other such life-supporting networked devices.

We believe the GAC, and its member governments, would undoubtedly share our fundamental concern.

The impact of pretty much every recommendation made in the letter would be to delay or prevent the delegation of new gTLDs.

A not unreasonable interpretation of this is that Verisign is merely trying to protect its $800 million .com business by keeping competitors out of the market for as long as possible.

Remember, Verisign adds roughly 2.5 million new .com domains every month, at $7.85 a pop.

New gTLDs may well put a big dent in that growth, and Verisign doesn’t have anything to replace it yet. It can’t raise prices any more, and the patent licensing program it has discussed has yet to bear fruit.

But because the company also operates the primary DNS root server, it has a plausible smokescreen for shutting down competition under the guise of security and stability.

If that is what is happening, one could easily make the argument that it is abusing its position.

If, on the other hand, Verisign’s concerns are legitimate, ICANN would be foolhardy to ignore its advice.

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has made it clear publicly, several times, that new gTLDs will not be delegated if there’s a good reason to believe they will destabilize the internet.

The chair of the SSAC has stated that the internal name problem is largely dealt with, at least as far as SSL certificates go.

The question now for ICANN — the organization and the community — is whether Verisign is talking nonsense or not.

Global standards group highlights silliness of GAC’s IGO demands

Kevin Murphy, May 14, 2013, Domain Policy

The International Organization for Standardization, known as ISO, doesn’t want to have its acronym blocked in new gTLDs by the International Sugar Organization.

ISO has told ICANN in a letter that demands for special favors coming from intergovernmental organizations, via the Governmental Advisory Committee, should be rejected.

Secretary general Rob Steele wrote:

We have very strong concerns with the GAC proposal, and firmly oppose any such block of the acronym “ISO.”

To implement a block on the term “ISO” (requiring its release be permitted by the International Sugar Organization) disregards the longstanding rights and important mission of the International Organization for Standardization. To be frank, this would be unacceptable.

please be assured that the International Organization for Standardization is prepared to take all necessary steps if its well-known short name is blocked on behalf of another organization.

For several months the GAC has argued that IGOs are “objectively different category to other rights holders, warranting special protection from ICANN” in new gTLDs.

Just like the “unique” Olympics and Red Cross were in 2011.

The GAC proposes that that any IGO that qualifies for a .int address (it’s a number in the hundreds) should have its name and acronym blocked by default at the second level in every new gTLD.

But ICANN pointed that this would be unfair on the hundreds (thousands?) of other legitimate uses of those acronyms. It gave several examples.

The GAC in response said that the IGOs would be able to grant consent for their acronyms to be unblocked for use by others, but this opened up a whole other can of implementation worms (as the GAC is wont to do).

ICANN director Chris Disspain of AuDA said in Beijing:

Who at each IGO would make a decision about providing consent? How long would each IGO have to provide consent? Would no reply be equivalent to consent? What criteria would be used to decide whether to give consent or not? Who would draft that criteria? Would the criteria be consistent across all IGOs or would consent simply be granted at the whim of an IGO?

In the GAC’s Beijing communique, it seemed to acknowledge this problem. It said:

The GAC is mindful of outstanding implementation issues and commits to actively working with IGOs, the Board, and ICANN Staff to find a workable and timely way forward.

The GAC insists, however, that no new gTLDs should be allowed to launch until the IGO protections are in place.

Given the amount of other work created for ICANN by the Beijing communique, I suspect that the IGO discussions will focus on implementation detail, rather than the principle.

But the principle is important. IGOs are not typically victims of pernicious cybersquatting. If they deserve special protections, then why don’t trademark owners that are cybersquatted on a daily basis?

ISO standardizes all kinds of stuff in dozens of sectors. In the domain name space, it’s probably best known for providing ICANN with ISO 3166-1 alpha-2, the authoritative list of two-letter strings that may be delegated as ccTLDs.

The International Sugar Organization is very important too, probably, if you’re in the sugar business.

Wikipedia gives it a single paragraph, Google ranks the International Society of Organbuilders higher on a search for “ISO”, and its web site suggests it doesn’t do much business online.

Does it need better brand protection than Microsoft or Marriott or Facebook or Fox? Is anyone going to want to cybersquat the International Sugar Organization, really?

If it does deserve that extra layer of protection, should that right trump the more-famous ISO’s right to register domains matching its own brand?

New gTLDs applicants should brace for GAC delays

Kevin Murphy, May 12, 2013, Domain Policy

New gTLD applicants affected by Governmental Advisory Committee advice may be about to find that their launch runway is quite a bit longer than they hoped.

That’s the message that seems to be coming through subtly from ICANN and the GAC itself — via last week’s applicant update webinar and GAC chair Heather Dryden — right now.

Dryden made it clear in an official ICANN interview, recorded early last week, that the GAC expects its Beijing communique to be “fully taken into account”, lest governments abandon ICANN altogether.

But at the same time she seemed to suggest that the rest of the community may have misunderstood the GAC’s intentions, due in part to the fact that its deliberations were held in private.

Here’s a slice of the interview with Brad White, ICANN’s media relations chief:

WHITE: Suppose the [ICANN] board in the end says “thank you very much for the advice, we’ve looked at it, but we’re moving on” and basically ignores a lot of that advice?

DRYDEN: I think it would be a very immediate reaction, questioning the value of participating in the Governmental Advisory Committee. If it is going to be the place for governments to come and raise their concern and influence the decision making that occurs at ICANN then we have to be able to demonstrate that the advice generated is fully taken into account or to the maximum extent appropriate taken in and in this way governments understand that the GAC is useful mechanism for them.

WHITE: What you seem to be saying is there is concern about whether or not some governments might pull out from that multi-stakeholder model?

DRYDEN: Right, right why would they come? How would they justify coming to the GAC meetings? Why would they support this model if in fact it’s there aren’t channels available to them and appropriate to their role and perspective as a government?

Under ICANN’s bylaws, the board of directors does not have to adopt GAC advice wholesale.

It is able to disagree with, and essentially overrule, the GAC, but only after they’ve tried “in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution”.

The only time this has happened before was in February 2011, when discussions covered the final details of the new gTLD program and the imminent approval of the .xxx gTLD.

Then, the ICANN board and the GAC gathered in Brussels for two days of intense face-to-face discussions, which was followed by multiple “scorecard” drafts and follow-up talks.

It seems very likely that we’re going to see something similar for the Beijing advice, if for no other reason than the communique is vague enough that ICANN will need a lot of clarification before it acts.

So does this mean delay for new gTLD applicants? Probably.

Dryden, asked about the GAC’s agenda for the ICANN public meeting in Durban this July, said:

There may well also be aspects of safeguard advice that we would discuss further with the board or with the community or would need to, particularly the implementation aspects of some of the new safeguards that the GAC identified.

The “safeguard” advice is the large section of the Beijing communique that attempts to impose broad new obligations on over 500 new gTLDs in “regulated or professional sectors”.

Dryden appeared to acknowledge the criticism that much of the advice appears unworkable to many, saying:

The intent behind this was to provide a reminder or to reinforce the importance of preexisting obligations and the applicability of national laws and really not to impose new burdens on applicants or registrants.

However, there are measures proposed in that safeguard advice where there are real implementation questions and so we think this is a very good focus for discussions now in the community with the GAC and with the board around that particular aspect of the advice.

The safeguard advice is currently open for public comment. I outline some of the many implementation questions in this post.

White put to Dryden DI’s criticism that the communique was a “perplexing, frustrating mess” aimed at using the DNS to solve wider problems with the internet.

For example, the GAC appears to want to use ICANN contracts use introduce new ways to enforce copyrights and data security regulations, something perhaps better addressed by legislation.

She responded:

It’s really not intended to impose a new global regulatory regime. It is intended to be consistent with ICANN’s existing role and serve as a reminder to those that have applied of what is really involved with implementing if they are successful a string globally as well as really wanting to emphasize that some of those strings raise particular sensitivities for governments

So have we misunderstood the GAC’s intentions? That seems to be the message.

Watch the whole Dryden interview here:

Based on current evidence, I’d say that any applicant covered by the Beijing communique that still believes they have a chance of signing a contract before July is kidding itself.

The ICANN board’s new gTLD program committee met on Wednesday to discuss its response to the Beijing communique. The results of this meeting should be published in the next few days.

But there’s little doubt in my mind that ICANN doesn’t have enough time before Durban to pick through the advice, consult with the GAC, and come up with a mutually acceptable solution.

Quite apart from the complexity of and lack of detail in the GAC’s requests, there’s the simple matter of logistics.

Getting a representative quorum of GAC members in the same room as the ICANN board for a day or two at some point in the next 60 days would be challenging, based on past performance.

I think it’s much more likely that a day or two will be added to the Durban meeting (before its official start) to give the board and GAC the kind of time they need to thrash this stuff out.

ICANN’s latest program timetable, discussed during a webinar on Thursday night, extended the deadline for the ICANN board’s response to the GAC from the first week of June to the end of June.

On the call, program manager Christine Willett confirmed that this date assumes the board adopts all of the advice — it does not take into account so-called “bylaws consultations”.

While it seems clear that all 518 applications (or more) affected by the “safeguards” advice won’t be signing anything before Durban, it’s less clear whether the remaining applicants will feel an impact too.

This is how stupid the GAC’s new gTLDs advice is

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2013, Domain Policy

For the last few weeks I’ve been attempting to write a sensible analysis of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice on new gTLDs without resorting to incredulity, hyperbole or sarcasm.

I failed, so you’ll have to read this instead.

I’m sorry, but the GAC’s Beijing communique (pdf) just has too much stupid in it to take seriously.

As a quick reminder, the bulk of the GAC’s advice was taken up by a list of hundreds of applied-for strings, in 12 categories, that “are likely to invoke a level of implied trust from consumers”.

The GAC said that any string on the list should be subject to more stringent regulation than others, turning their registries into data security regulators and creating an obligation to partner with “relevant regulatory, or industry self-­regulatory, bodies”.

The GAC, having advised the creation of these unexpected obligations, decided that it wasn’t its responsibility to figure out whether any of them would be feasible to implement.

That’s apparently up to ICANN to figure out.

But that’s not the most infuriating part of the advice. The most infuriating part is the list of strings it provided, which by the GAC’s own admission was unhelpfully “non-exhaustive”.

When one performs a cursory analysis of the list, and compares it to the strings that did not make it, the dumb just accumulates.

My spies tell me that the GAC worked into the early hours on a few occasions during the Beijing meeting in order to put this advice together, and some might say it’s unfair to expect its members to have read and formed consensus opinions on all 1,930 original new gTLD applications.

But the GAC wasn’t expected to read them all, nor did it. Its job was originally conceived of as commenting on the strings alone, and that appears to be what it ultimately did limit itself to.

I think it’s fair to try to get some insight into the GAC’s collective thought process by looking at the “Category 1” strings that it did put on the list and those that it did not.

Not because I think there’s a coherent thought process at work here, but because I think there isn’t.

Remember, the GAC had nine months to come up with its list. This article was written in an afternoon.

Here’s my list of bizarre inconsistencies, failed reality checks and pure dumb I found in the Beijing communique.

It’s non-exhaustive.

Destroy all pirates!

The GAC is clearly a bit worried that people might use new gTLDs to offer pirated and counterfeited goods (like they do in existing TLDs), so it has placed a few dozen content-related strings on its list.

The intellectual property list is one of the longest of the 12 categories in the Beijing communique.

But it could be longer.

I wonder why, for example, the GAC doesn’t consider .stream a threat to copyright? Streaming sites are frequent targets of takedown notices.

Why does .hiphop get a mention but not .country, a gTLD specifically designed for country music lovers?

Why are .photography, .photo, .photos, .pictures and .pics not on the list? Image theft is pandemic online, enabled by default in browsers (no P2P required) and utterly trivial to execute.

And if .tours is considered a problem, why not .events, or .tickets?

We’re talking about sectors with abuse potential here, and ticketing is considered worthy of legislation in many places. Here in England you can get a £5,000 fine for reselling a ticket to a football match.

Why is .tours even on the intellectual property list? It could just as easily refer to organized vacations or guide services provided by museums. Or the French city of the same name, for that matter.

Why aren’t our friends in Tours getting the same GAC love as Spa and Date — towns in Belgium and Japan — which have caused the delay of advice on .spa and .date respectively?

And why are .free, .gratis and .discount considered intellectual property problems?

How is the .free registry supposed to follow the GAC’s demand that it partner with “relevant regulatory, or industry self­‐regulatory, bodies” for free stuff? Does “.free” even have an “implied level of trust”?

Is the GAC’s goal to kill off the bid by the back door?

Goodbye .free, you couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be piracy in your TLD so your application is forfeit? A potentially cool TLD, sacrificed on the altar of Big Copyright?

Don’t even get me started on .art…

Won’t somebody think of the children?!

The GAC did not say why the “children” category exists, but I assume it’s about ensuring that the content in TLDs such as .kids and .school is suitable for “kids” (pick your own definition, the GAC doesn’t have one).

It goes without saying that any TLD that is obliged to follow child-friendly rules will be saddled with a commercial death sentence, as the US government already knows full well.

The GAC didn’t include .family on the list for some reason, but it did inexplicably include .game and .games.

In the last game I played, my character stabbed a guy in the neck with a broken bottle, stole his clothes and threw his body off a cliff. Gaming is a predominantly adult pastime nowadays.

Suggesting that .games sites need to be child-friendly is just as stupid as saying .movie or .book sites need to be child-friendly.

I’m sure GAC chair Heather Dryden is far too sensible and grown-up to play games, but I’d be surprised if not a single member of the committee owns an Xbox. One of them should have pointed this nonsense out.

If the GAC is not saying this — if it’s merely saying the .games registry should work cooperatively with the gaming industry — then why is .games in the “Children” category?

The GAC Diet

Another couple dozen strings are listed under the “health and fitness” category, ranging from the not-unreasonable, such as .doctor, to the terrifically broad, such as .diet and .care.

Really? .care?

Donuts, the .care applicant, has to partner with some kind of medical register in order to sell a TLD that could just as easily be used for customer support by a company that sells shoes?

And .diet? If the GAC is concerned about internet users getting dodgy dieting advice from a disreputable .diet registrant, why not also issue advice against .eat and .food?

If .fitness is a problem, why isn’t .yoga?

Why isn’t the GAC bothered by .tattoo and .ink? Where I live, you need to be a licensed professional in order to stick people with an inky needle.

For that matter, why aren’t .beauty and .salon a problem? Pretty much every beauty salon I’ve walked past in the last couple of years wants to inject toxins into my face for a fee.

If we’re already saying games are for kids, that free equals fake, and that tours can be pirated, it doesn’t seem like too unreasonable a leap to to regulate .beauty too.

You feed beefburgers to swans

There’s a provision in the Beijing communique saying that every string on the GAC’s list must force its registrants “to comply with all applicable laws, including those that relate to… organic farming.”

So why the hell doesn’t .farm appear on the list?!?

Really, it doesn’t. I’ve triple-checked. It’s not there. According to the GAC’s advice, a .bingo registrant has to abide by organic farming laws but a .farm registrant does not.

Some professions are more equal than others

For all of the “Category 1” strings the GAC has advised against, the headline argument is this:

Strings that are linked to regulated or professional sectors should operate in a way that is consistent with applicable laws.

But there are plenty of strings that are “linked to regulated or professional sectors” that don’t merit a mention in the communique.

Alcohol, for example. The sale of booze is regulated pretty much everywhere — in some places it’s illegal — but .pub and .bar don’t make it to the GAC’s advice. Neither does .vodka.

If the GAC wants .weather to have strict controls — with no abuse scenario I can think of — why not a couple of TLDs that could, potentially, be used to sell alcohol over the internet?

What of construction? There may have been advice against .engineer, but .construction, .building, .contractors and .build got a pass. Why? Governments everywhere regulate the building industry tightly.

Here in the UK, if you want a plumber to come over and tinker with your heating you’d better hope they’re on the Gas Safe Register, but .plumber doesn’t show up in the Beijing communique.

Why not? An abusive .dentist registrant could mess up my teeth, but he’ll need an expensive surgery to do it in. An abusive .plumber, on the other hand, can come over and blow up my house with no such outlay.

Taxis are regulated in most big cities, but .taxi and .limo escaped GAC advice. Hell, even porn is strictly controlled in many countries, but .porn got a pass.

I could go on.

Anyway…

You might think I’m being petty, but remember: the GAC got the list of applied-for strings last June the same as everybody else. It had plenty of time to get its advice list right.

The GAC has a big responsibility in the multi-stakeholder process and by presenting advice that appears half-assed at best it makes it look like it doesn’t take that responsibility seriously.

I know it does, but it doesn’t appear that way.

ICANN starts the clock on new gTLD GAC advice

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2013, Domain Policy

The over 500 new gTLD applicants affected by Governmental Advisory Committee advice on their bids have 21 days from today to file their responses officially with ICANN.

But there’s still some confusion about who exactly is expected to file responses, given the extraordinary breadth of the advice contained within the GAC’s Beijing communique.

ICANN today put applicants on formal notice of the publication of the Beijing communique, which actually came out a week ago, and said applicants have until May 10 to respond to the ICANN board.

What it didn’t do is say which applicants are affected. Technically, it could be all of them.

The Beijing communique contains six “safeguards” related to things such as abuse and security, which it said “should apply to all new gTLDs”.

On a more granular level, the GAC has called out, we believe, 517 individual applications that should not be approved or that should not be approved unless they do what the GAC says.

The Beijing communique, it could be argued, throws the whole new gTLD program into disarray, and this is the first chance applicants will get to put their views directly in writing to the ICANN board.

GAC Advice on new gTLDs “not the end of the story”

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2013, Domain Policy

Governments may want new gTLD registries to become the internet’s police force, but ICANN doesn’t have to take it lying down.

ICANN is set to open up the shock Beijing communique to public comments, CEO Fadi Chehade said Friday, while chair Steve Crocker has already raised the possibility of not following the GAC’s advice.

“Advice from governments carries quite a bit of weight and equally it is not the end of the story,” Crocker said in a post-meeting interview with ICANN PR Brad White.

“We have a carefully constructed multi-stakeholder process,” he said. “We want very much to listen to governments, and we also want to make sure there’s a balance.”

The ICANN bylaws, he reminded us, give ICANN “a preference towards following advice from the GAC, but not an absolute requirement.”

That’s a reference the the part of the bylaws that enables ICANN’s board to overrule GAC advice, as long as it carries out consultation and provides sound reasoning.

It was invoked once before, when ICANN tried to get a handle on the GAC’s concerns about .xxx in 2011.

In this case, I’d be very surprised indeed if the GAC’s advice out of Beijing does not wind up in this bylaws process, if only because the document appears to be internally contradictory in parts.

It’s also vague and broad enough in parts that ICANN is going to need much more detail if it hopes to even begin to implement it.

It looks like at least 517 new gTLD applications will be affected by the GAC’s advice, but in the vast majority of cases it’s not clear what applicants are expected to do about it.

The first part of dissecting the Beijing communique will be a public comment period, Chehade said during the interview Friday. He said:

The community wishes to participate in the discussion about the GAC communique. So, alongside the staff analysis that is starting right now on the GAC communique we have decided to put the GAC communique out for public comment, soliciting the entire community to give us their input to ensure that the GAC communique is taken seriously but also encompasses our response, encompasses the views of the whole community.

Watch the full video below.