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.wine frozen after EU complaint

Kevin Murphy, April 5, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has frozen the applications for .wine and .vin new gTLDs, again, following a complaint about process violations from the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The New gTLD Program Committee of the ICANN board on Thursday voted to prevent any of the four affected applicants signing Registry Agreements for at least 60 days.

But the NGPC found that there had been “no process violation or procedural error” when it decided to take the .wine and .vin applications off hold status during the Singapore meeting last month.

The 60-day freeze is “to provide additional time for the relevant impacted parties to negotiate”, the resolution states.

The GAC advise in its Singapore communique stated that it had not had time to comment upon “external advice” — believed to be an opinion of a French lawyer (pdf) — that the NGPC had used in its deliberations.

That would have been a violation of ICANN’s bylaws.

The GAC said that ICANN should “reconsider” its decision to allow the applications to proceed and should give the applicants more time to negotiate a truce with the governments opposed to their proposed gTLDs.

The European Union wants .wine and .vin blocked unless the applicants promise to implement special protections for “geographic indicators” such as “Champagne” and “Bordeaux”.

But other nations, including the US, Canada and Australia, don’t want these protections. The GAC has therefore been unable to provide consensus advice against either string.

Essentially, the NGPC this week has found none of the bylaws violations alleged by the GAC, but has nevertheless given the GAC what it asked for in its Singapore communique. ICANN explained:

In sum, the NGPC has accepted the GAC advice and has carefully reviewed and evaluated whether there was a procedure or process violation under the Bylaws. The NGPC has determined that there was not because, among other reasons, ICANN did not seek the Independent Legal Analysis as External Expert Advice pursuant to Article XI-A, or any other portion of the Bylaws.

It’s not “policy”, it’s “implementation”, in other words.

The NGPC also, despairingly I imagine, has suggested that the full ICANN board might want to take a look at the broader issues in play here, resolving:

the NGPC recommends that the full Board consider the larger implications of legally complex and politically sensitive issues such as those raised by GAC members, including whether ICANN is the proper venue in which to resolve these issues, or whether there are venues or forums better suited to address concerns such as those raised by GAC members in relation to the .WINE and .VIN applications.

While I’m sure 60 days won’t be too much of a burden for these long-delayed applicants, this rather vague promise for more talks about “larger implications” may prove a cause for concern.

Are Whois email checks doing more harm than good?

“Tens of thousands” of web sites are going dark due to ICANN’s new email verification requirements and registrars are demanding to know how this sacrifice is helping solve crimes.

These claims and demands were made in meetings between registrars and ICANN’s board and management at the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore last week.

Go Daddy director of policy planning James Bladel and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss questioned the benefit of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement during a Tuesday session.

The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify that registrants’ email addresses are accurate. If registrants do not respond to verification emails within 15 days, their domains are turned off.

There have been many news stories and blog posts recounting how legitimate webmasters found their sites gone dark due to an overlooked verification email.

Just looking at my Twitter stream for an “icann” search, I see several complaints about the process every week, made by registrants whose web sites and email accounts have disappeared.

Noss told the ICANN board that the requirement has created a “demonstrable burden” for registrants.

“If you cared to hear operationally you would hear about tens and hundreds of thousands of terrible stories that are happening to legitimate businesses and individuals,” he said.

Noss told DI today that Tucows is currently compiling some statistics to illustrate the scale of the problem, but it’s not yet clear what the company plans to do with the data.

At the Singapore meeting, he asked ICANN to go to the law enforcement agencies that demanded Whois verification in the first place to ask for data showing that the new rules are also doing some good.

“What crime has been forestalled?” he said. “What issues around fraud? We heard about pedophilia regularly from law enforcement. What has any of this done to create benefits in that direction?”

Registrars have a renewed concern about this now because there are moves afoot in other fora, such as the group working on new rules for privacy and proxy services, for even greater Whois verification.

Bladel pointed to an exchange at the ICANN meeting in Durban last July, during which ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade suggested that ICANN would not entertain requests for more Whois verification until law enforcement had demonstrated that the 2013 RAA requirements had had benefits.

The exact Chehade line, from the Durban public forum transcript, was:

law enforcement, before they ask for more, we put them on notice that they need to tell us what was the impact of what we did for them already, which had costs on the implementers.

Quoted back to himself, in Singapore Chehade told Bladel: “It will be done by London.”

Speaking at greater length, director Mike Silber said:

What I cannot do is force law enforcement to give us anything. But I think what we can do is press the point home with law enforcement that if they want more, and if they want greater compliance and if they want greater collaborations, it would be very useful to show the people going through the exercise what benefits law enforcement are receiving from it.

So will law enforcement agencies be able to come up with any hard data by London, just a few months from now?

It seems unlikely to me. The 2013 RAA requirements only came into force in January, so the impact on the overall cleanliness of the various Whois databases is likely to be slim so far.

I also wonder whether law enforcement agencies track the accuracy of Whois in any meaningfully quantitative way. Anecdotes and color may not cut the mustard.

But it does seem likely that the registrars are going to have data to back up their side of the argument — customer service logs, verification email response rates and so forth — by London.

They want the 2013 RAA Whois verification rules rethought and removed from the contract and the ICANN board so far seems fairly responsive to their concerns.

Law enforcement may be about to find itself on the back foot in this long-running debate.

No sunrise periods for dot-brands

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has finally signed off on a set of exemptions that would allow dot-brand gTLDs to skip sunrise periods and, probably, work only with hand-picked registrars.

Its board’s New gTLD Program Committee passed a resolution at ICANN 49 last week that would add a new Specification 13 (pdf) to Registry Agreements signed by dot-brands.

The new spec removes the obligation operate a sunrise period, which is unnecessary for a gTLD that will only have a single registrant. It also lets dot-brands opt out of treating all registrars equally.

Dot-brands would still have to integrate with the Trademark Clearinghouse and would still have to operate Trademark Claims periods — if a dot-brand registers a competitor’s name in its own gTLD during the first 90 days post-launch, the competitor will find out about it.

ICANN is also proposing to add another clause to Spec 13 related to registrar exclusivity, but has decided to delay the addition for 45 days while it gets advice from the GNSO on whether it’s consistent with policy.

That clause states that the dot-brand registry may choose to “designate no more than three ICANN accredited registrars at any point in time to serve as the exclusive registrar(s) for the TLD.”

This is to avoid the silly situation where a dot-brand is obliged to integrate with registrars from which it has no intention of buying any domain names.

Spec 13 also provides for a two-year cooling off period after a dot-brand ceases operations, during which ICANN will not delegate the same string to another registry unless there’s a public interest need to do so.

The specification contains lots of language designed to prevent a registry gaming the system to pass off a generic string as a brand.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to pass off a trademark alone, without a business to back it up, as a brand. Neither is there a way to pass off a descriptive generic term as a brand.

The rules seem to allow Apple to have .apple as a dot-brand, because Apple doesn’t sell apples, but would not allow a trousers company to have .trousers as a dot-brand.

ICANN muddles through solution to IGO conflict

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN may have come up with a way to appease both the GNSO and the GAC, which are at conflict over the best way to protect the names and/or acronyms of intergovernmental organizations.

At the public forum of the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore last Thursday, director Bruce Tonkin told the community that the ICANN board will consider the GNSO’s recommendations piecemeal instead of altogether.

It will also convene a meeting of the GNSO, GAC, IGOs, international nongovernmental organizations and the At-Large Advisory Committee to help reach a consensus.

The issue, you may recall from a DI post last week, is whether the names and acronyms of IGOs and INGOs should be blocked in all new gTLDs.

The GNSO is happy for the names to be protected, but draws the line at protecting acronyms, many of which are dictionary words or have multiple uses. The GAC wants protection for both.

Both organizations have gone through their respective processes to come to full consensus policy advice.

This left ICANN in the tricky situation of having to reject advice from one or the other; its bylaws did not make a compromise easy.

By splitting the GNSO’s 20 or so recommendations up and considering them individually, the ICANN board may be able to reconcile some with the GAC advice.

It would also be able to reject bits of GAC advice, specific GNSO recommendations, or both. Because the advice conflicts directly in some cases, rejection of something seems probable.

But ICANN might not have to reject anything, if the GAC, GNSO and others can come to an agreement during the special talks ICANN has in mind, which could happen as soon as the London meeting in June.

Even if those talks lead to nothing, this proposed solution does seem to be good news for ICANN perception-wise; it won’t have to blanket-reject either GNSO or GAC policy advice.

This piecemeal or ‘scorecard’ approach to dealing with advice hasn’t been used with GNSO recommendations before, but it is how the board has dealt with complex GAC advice for the last few years.

It’s also been used with input from non-GNSO bodies such as the Whois Review Team and Accountability and Transparency Review Team.

Judging by a small number of comments made by GNSO members at the public forum on Thursday, the solution the board has proposed seems to be acceptable.

ICANN may have dodged a bullet here.

The slides used by Tonkin during the meeting can be found here.

EU buys more time for .wine talks after surprise GAC objection

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2014, Domain Policy

The ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee deposited a shock fly into the wine-related gTLD ointment tonight, asking ICANN to delay approval of .wine and .vin on a technicality.

ICANN’s board of directors had at the weekend basically approved the two new gTLDs, over the objections of the European Union, but the GAC today said the board’s decision hadn’t followed the rules.

In its communique (pdf) issued at the end of the just-concluded ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore, the GAC said: “In the final deliberation of the Board there appears to be at least one process violation and procedural error”.

The procedure in question is the part of the ICANN bylaws that says the GAC “shall have an opportunity to comment upon any external advice received prior to any decision by the Board.”

The GAC therefore advises:

That the Board reconsider the matter before delegating these strings.

The GAC needs to consider the above elements more fully. In the meantime concerned GAC members believe the applicants and interested parties should be encouraged to continue their negotiations with a view to reach an agreement on the matter.

The only “external advice” referenced in the ICANN decision on .wine was the legal opinion (pdf) of French law professor Jerome Passa.

Reading between the lines (I have not yet listened to all of the GAC’s public deliberations this week, so I’m speculating) it seems Passa’s opinion was not provided to the GAC before the ICANN board made its call.

I’m further assuming that the EU or one of its member states spotted the bylaws provision about external advice notice and cunningly used it to revive the .wine debate.

The GAC has declined to object to .wine and .vin because countries such as the US and Australia disagree with the EU’s position on the international law governing geographic indicators such as “Champagne”.

But no matter what other GAC members think about the European demands GI protections, it would have been very hard for them to argue in favor of an ICANN board decision that violated process.

Even if there’s very little chance of rustling up a consensus objection against these two gTLDs, the EU seems to have successfully added delay to the approval process, giving it leverage over the applicants.

I’m impressed.

While this may not change the eventual outcome, it at least buys the EU more time to negotiate with the .wine and .vin applicants about protection for geographic indicators.

This apparent oversight, coupled with the controversy this week about rights protection mechanisms for intergovernmental organizations, makes me wonder whether ICANN’s legal department might need a refresher course on the ICANN bylaws.

Or maybe, more likely, the bylaws are just such a bloody mess that even the smartest guys in the room can’t keep track of them any more.

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