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(Former) Donuts director hit with cybersquatting claim over Disney and Olympic domains

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2012, Domain Policy

Donuts, the massive new gTLD applicant, has been hit by another set of cybersquatting claims, this time aimed at one of the company’s original directors.

Graham Stirling, who is listed as a Donuts Inc director in the company’s only Securities and Exchange Commission filing, seems to own several domain names containing Disney and Olympics trademarks.

(UPDATE: Donuts has confirmed that Stirling is no longer with the company, and hasn’t been since November 2011. Read the company’s full statement at the bottom of this post.)

The information emerged in a comment filed with ICANN on several Donuts applications by somebody called James Oliver Warner.

These are some of the domains Gibraltar-based Stirling allegedly owns:

2016juegosolimpicos.com
2016olimpicos.com
2020juegosolimpicos.com
2020olimpicos.com
2024olimpicos.com
andaluciadisney.com
costadelsoldisney.com
disneyandalucia.com
disneylandmalaga.com
disneymalaga.com
disneyworldmalaga.com
juegosolimpicos2008.com
juegosolimpicos2016.com
juegosolimpicos2020.com
juegosolimpicos2024.com
juegosolimpicoslondres.com
londresjuegosolimpicos.com
malagadisney.com
malagadisneyland.com
malagadisneyworld.com
olimpicos2016.com
olimpicos2020.com
olimpicos2024.com
soldisney.com
spaindisneyland.com
spaindisneyworld.com
teleubbies.com

You don’t need to be a trademark lawyer to know that these domains would not pass a UDRP challenge.

The domains all seem to have been registered to a Graham Stirling of Gibraltar for some years. Gibraltar’s a pretty small place, suggesting that it’s very probably the same guy.

It’s the second serious cybersquatting claim to hit Donuts in the last couple of weeks.

As we reported last week, a lawyer who apparently doesn’t want his client’s identity to be known has written to ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee to warn that Demand Media, Donuts’ back-end partner and its founders’ former employer, has a history of adverse UDRP findings.

That letter fingered Stirling as an employee of Gibraltar-based investment company Veddis Ventures, whose other executives allegedly have ties to online gambling scandals in the US.

Veddis Ventures recently removed Stirling’s full name from its web site. He’s now just listed as “Graham S”, adding to the intrigue.

The latest set of cybersquatting allegations are directed to ICANN’s background screening panel, which is tasked with weeding likely ne’er-do-wells out of the new gTLD program.

The panel looks at not only the corporate history of the applicant, but also at its directors and officers.

Stirling is not named on any of Donuts applications. For that matter, Donuts itself is not named as an official applicant on any of its 307 applications either.

Each of its applications has been filed by a different shell company, most of which are owned by another company, Dozen Donuts LLC, which we assume (but do not know) is in turn owned by Donuts.

The only individual named in the background check part of the applications (at least the portions published by ICANN) is Donuts CEO Paul Stahura.

Stirling is not currently listed as a director on Donuts’ web site.

If Stirling is still involved with Donuts, it might not impact the results of Donuts background screening, if the panel only looks at UDRP or court cases for evidence of cybersquatting.

Stirling does not appear to have ever been named in, never mind lost, a UDRP complaint.

That said, I don’t think ICANN’s background screening process will be over for a while yet…

August 7 Update:

Donuts has provided the following statement:

Graham Stirling is not a member of the Donuts Board of Directors and has not been since November 2011. Our list of board members as documented on our web site at www.donuts.co is current.

It’s disappointing to see Donuts’ contributions to new gTLD expansion attacked by those (including some unwilling to disclose their identities) who attempt to portray the company or those associated with it as bad actors. The company is and will continue to be committed to the legitimate interests of rights holders. As described in our applications, Donuts will implement rights protection mechanisms in its new gTLDs that substantially exceed those mandated by ICANN.

We have engaged the intellectual property community, law enforcement and others in the community about IP protection and believe our intentions and actions are clear and well understood. Infringement of legitimate rights is not tolerated by Donuts, in any capacity. Our collaboration with the community on IP protections will be an ongoing priority as the new gTLD program continues.

ICANN director withdrew gTLD application

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN director Judith Vasquez applied for a new gTLD but then withdrew the bid at the last minute.

That’s among a tapestry of factoids relating to conflicts of interest to emerge from the minutes of recent meetings of ICANN’s board of directors that were published this week.

It’s also emerged that the New gTLD Program Committee — established as a subset of the board “without conflicted members” — actually now has four “directors with conflicts that have been mitigated”.

Vasquez, a businessperson heavily involved in media and telecoms in the Philippines, according to the minutes of the May 6 meeting:

disclosed that she withdrew her new gTLD application through the customer service center, though the withdrawal cannot be completed through the TAS due to the system being offline.

As you may recall, the TLD Application System (TAS) went down April 12, suggesting that Vasquez’s bid was withdrawn close to or after that date — the original deadline for filing new gTLD applications.

It’s not know what gTLD she (or a company she works for) was applying for, or why the application was withdrawn.

The potential for a conflict in her case was first noted in her published statement of interest when she joined the board in October last year.

But as I’ve noted before, Vasquez continued to vote on matters relating to the new gTLD program up until February 7.

She’s since joined the New gTLD Program Committee.

From the same May 6 minutes, it has emerged that directors Bill Graham and Kuo-Wei Wu were both probed for conflicts by a board subcommittee — set up a year ago in the wake of Peter Dengate Thrush’s move from the ICANN chair to Top Level Domain Holdings — which:

found that both of them had conflicts, but they had been already mitigated to the satisfaction of the subcommittee. And, therefore, the subcommittee determined that those two individuals, though conflicts were identified, had mitigated those conflicts with regard to the New gTLD Program.

Details of these conflicts have not been published. Both men have sat on the committee since its inception April 10.

A non-voting board liaison, Thomas Narten, was also considered conflicted but sufficiently “mitigated” to join the committee. He works as a software engineer for IBM, which has applied for a dot-brand.

Two other directors — Sebastien Bachollet and Bertrand de La Chapelle — were identified as having conflicts which they tried and apparently failed to mitigate to the satisfaction of the board.

Bachollet was unhappy with that classification, according to a statement he entered into the minutes several weeks later, which partly reads:

I still disagree with the conclusion of the Subcommittee and on the proposed mitigating measures. I will not enter into detail here, but now I have to accept this decision and I do.

I take this opportunity to underline that there is no appeal procedure in place allowing a second view on the matter.

Bachollet is a director of the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, .xxx’s nominal sponsoring organization, which is funded by ICM Registry, an applicant for three porn-related gTLDs.

The policy think-tank founded by De La Chapelle is or was funded by companies that applied for new gTLDs or offered services to applicants, according to his latest statement of interest.

The New gTLD Program Committee has 12 voting directors at present, three of which have been previously identified as conflicted but with their conflicts mitigated.

According to the May 6 minutes, ICANN’s chief lawyer John Jeffrey explained, in response to a query from de La Chapelle, why this is not a problem:

The General Counsel and Secretary explained that there are situations where a conflict may still exist, but mitigation can be completed that will remove that conflict from having an impact on the fiduciary responsibilities to ICANN or the other entity with whom the conflict may have arisen. Those directors or liaisons may then participate as if they were nonconflicted, acting without conflict in the decisions they make for the Board. He also noted that there could be situations where, upon mitigation, there may not be a conflict at all.

New gTLD timetable expected this week

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN plans to publish a new timetable for its new gTLD program later this week, according to its latest update.

Its board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee said in a report (pdf) published this morning:

The roadmap will show how the separate schedules for evaluation applications, possible dates for GAC [Governmental Advisory Committee] input, comment & objection periods, and other program elements fit together. The plan will demonstrate interdependencies, indicate risk areas, describe schedule uncertainty, and indicate how applicants might be affected by changes to the plan.

The roadmap will be released by the week of August 6, 2012.

New gTLD applicants have been waiting for this report since the Prague meeting in late June, when it became clear that the original timetable, based on application batching and “digital archery”, was dead.

Potential objectors will also be sharply impacted by the timetable; decisions could hit their wallets.

If the window for filing private sector objections closes before the GAC deadline to object, for example, the cheaper wait-for-the-GAC strategy for objecting becomes a non-starter.

Today’s report from ICANN also discloses a little more about how the 1,930 new gTLD applications are being processed: they’re being grouped by applicant and/or by back-end registry provider, in an attempt to create efficiencies.

According to ICANN, this will enable the evaluators to ramp up to a maximum capacity of 300 applications per month, but that it will take a few months to fully ramp up to that speed.

The Initial Evaluation phase of the process began about a month ago, in line with its July 12 target date, ICANN said.

Adding some time for ICANN to organize and publish results, this means that initial evaluation results will be published in 11-12 months after the July 12 start date, i.e., May or June 2013.

With the timetable set to be published this week, the ongoing public comment process about application metering will presumably not have an impact on what is published.

With that in mind, any timetable released this week is unlikely to answer every outstanding question about the timing of go-live dates for successful new gTLD applicants.

DotGreen lobbies the GAC for support in .green fight

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2012, Domain Registries

The DotGreen Community has asked ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee for backing in the four-way fight for the .green generic top-level domain.

In a letter to the GAC, copied to ICANN’s board and published today, DotGreen does everything but ask outright for the GAC to object to its three competitors’ .green applications.

In it, Annalisa Roger, CEO of the not-for-profit company, makes a passionate case that .green should be operated by a company that has a genuine connection to and affinity with the environmental movement.

She heavily implies that the GAC should object to the other applicants.

Without deliberate decision or intervention, the .green TLD may be won at ICANN Auction to join enmass with a slew of portfolio TLDs, blending into one of the many industry portfolios, a common business model ICANN’s new gTLD program has spawned.

Those like you who are in a position to object, evaluate, or delegate should consider the obvious relationship of .GREEN with the Green Community, and the global Green Movement which represents net social benefits to include all people, their natural and synthetic environments, the economic systems they construct (such as Green Business Models), and conditions for future generations of life who stand to be affected by the choices we make, the policies we implement, and the projects we fund and allow to be born today.

The other .green applicants are Top Level Domain Holdings, Afilias, and a Demand Media subsidiary. Unlike DotGreen, they’re all portfolio gTLD applicants.

Roger says these companies are basically out to sell as many domains as possible and don’t have the same commitment to the environmental movement as DotGreen.

Despite the name and a great deal of support from green organizations, DotGreen did not file a “community” application, so the only way it can avoid auction is by persuading the other applicants to drop their bids, or by having them all eliminated by objections.

Asking the GAC to object is probably the cheapest way to do this.

While the GAC has made its interest in gTLDs with obvious regulatory implications — such as .bank — abundantly clear, I understand conversations have also started about strings with more tangential relationships to public policy, such as .food.

It’s not inconceivable that .green could fall into that category, though I don’t think it’s an easy sell.

Who’s objecting to .sport, .health, .kids and more

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2012, Domain Registries

Today, the number of comments filed with ICANN on new gTLD applications surpassed the number of applications themselves, and we’re now starting to see more significant objections.

At the time of writing, 1,939 comments have been filed on 584 applications by 834 unique individuals and organizations.

Here are some recent comments from notable organizations.

Save the Children

The international charitable non-governmental organization Save the Children has expressed concerns about all four .health applications.

Here’s a snippet:

The health Internet is a vital means of health information access worldwide. Thus, “.health” and health related top level domains should be trusted and reliable resources which take the public interest into account and are based on broad-based, multi-stakeholder consensus. In this regard, it is particularly worrying that the current applicants intend to sell the “.health” gTLD on a ‘first-come, first-served’, wholesale and auction basis, placing private interests ahead of the public interest.

We urge ICANN to postpone the assignment of “.health” until such time as following broad-based consultation of the health community, including the public and private sectors, adequate baseline conditions for their operation are elaborated and their implementation and observance is ensured.

The same comment was filed by International Medical Informatics Association, indicating an orchestrated campaign is underway.

All were filed as Community Objection Grounds, suggesting that .health could run into objection delays down the road.

But Save the Children, which has better things to do with its money, may not necessarily object itself. I’d say .health is a prime candidate for a community-based intervention by the Independent Objector.

I’m also expecting the Governmental Advisory Committee to take a healthy interest in these applications.

International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee has, as expected, thrown its support behind the .sport application filed by SportAccord, which already has strong ties with the Olympic movement.

There are only two applications for .sport (though Donuts is going for .sports) and while SportAccord’s is a community-based bid, a successful Community Priority Evaluation is by no means assured.

However, if the IOC is half as belligerent about .sport as it has been about the new gTLD program in general then I expect Famous Four Media, the other .sport applicant, has a fight on its hands.

Notably, the IOC invokes ICANN’s new IANA contract to back up its claim that SportAccord should be the rightful owner of .sport:

new IANA contractual requirements require ICANN in connection with new gTLDs to document “how the process provided the opportunity for input from relevant stakeholders and was supportive of the global public interest. “ Therefore, SportAccord is the only applicant for the .SPORT gTLD which can serve the global public interest in connection with the operation of the gTLD on behalf of the global sports community.

Lego Juris

Lego Juris, the extremely brand-conscious producer of overpriced kids’ building blocks, has filed complaints about 80 applications, all of which appear to be the same form letter.

As you might imagine from the most prolific filer of UDRP complaints in history, Lego’s primary concern is cybersquatting and preventing the need for defensive registrations.

Here’s Lego’s comment:

While we of course support enhanced fair competition, we call on the evaluators to ensure the maintenance of a clean Internet space by impressing on the new registries the importance of not accepting second level names within their gTLDs that may be confusingly similar to our trade marks, especially from applicants believed to be registering in bad faith.

To avoid consumer confusion and the wasted resources of needless dispute resolution procedures, legal actions and defensive registrations (none of which benefit consumers), as well as proving to the entire community that the registries do wish to act in good faith in a clean space, we request that new registries develop “blocked” lists of brand names that should not be registered absent evidence of good faith. Such lists could take the form of “white lists” at the second level that could only be lifted if requested by and for the brand owner.

This comment was filed against .kids, .group, .inc, .gmbh, .discount, .deals, .direct and many, many more.

All of these comments, incidentally, are logged in the DI PRO new gTLD application database.