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Private auction settles .club fight

.CLUB Domains has won the right to launch the .club gTLD at a private auction against two other applicants, according to an announcement from the company.

The company, chiefed by Tucows and Hostopia founder Colin Campbell, also said it has raised $7 million to bring the TLD to market.

Its two rivals for the string were portfolio applicants Donuts and Merchant Law Group. The auction was designed by Cramton Associates and managed by Innovative Auctions of Hong Kong.

Neither competing applicant has had their withdrawals, assuming they’ve been submitted, processed by ICANN yet.

None of the applications were subject to formal objections or Governmental Advisory Committee meddling, giving the successful bidder a relatively clear run at delegation and launch.

.CLUB Domains said in a press release:

Domains like www.golf.club, www.poker.club, and www.book.club should hit the market in late 2013 or early 2014. In addition to acting as the worldwide .CLUB registry, the company has plans to offer .CLUB domain name registrants a web and mobile social platform designed specifically for member engagement and management, making it easy for clubs of any kind to establish themselves on the internet.

According to its application, the registry plans to target:

1. Social Clubs, 2. Sporting Clubs 3. Special Interest/Hobby Clubs, 4. Country Clubs 5. Buying Clubs, 6. Fraternities and Sororities, 7. Personal Clubs, 8. Professional Clubs, 9.School Clubs, 10. Service Clubs, and 11. Night Clubs.

That said, .CLUB does not plan to implement any registration restrictions; .club will be completely open.

The applicant has chosen Neustar to provide its back-end registry.

L’Oreal’s dot-brand bites the dust

Beauty products maker L’Oreal has withdrawn its new gTLD application for .loreal.

I did not see this one coming.

L’Oreal is among the most prolific applicants for new gTLDs from the offline world, applying for 14 strings in total.

One of its marketing executives even spoke at the Digital Marketing & gTLD Strategy Congress in New York this March.

Its primary dot-brand is its first third application to be dropped.

The company has also applied for dot-brands including .maybelline, .garnier and .lancome, and generics such as .salon, .makeup, .skin and .hair, all of which still appear to be active bids.

Is this indicative of a changing gTLD strategy — perhaps the company has decided to focus on its product brands rather than its company name — or is .loreal merely the first latest of many withdrawals?

Plural gTLDs could be a casualty as ICANN accepts big chunk of GAC advice

ICANN has accepted nine pieces of Governmental Advisory Committee advice pertaining to new gTLDs, essentially killing off two applications and putting question marks over many more.

Notably, the question of whether plural and singular versions of the same string should be allowed to coexist has been reopened for debate, affecting as many as 98 applications.

ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, which carries board powers but does not include directors with conflicts of interest, this week passed a resolution that addresses a good chunk of the GAC’s Beijing communique.

It does not discuss any of the amorphous “safeguard” advice from the document, which was subject to a recently closed public comment period and is likely to take much longer to resolve.

By far the line item with the broadest immediate impact is this:

The NGPC accepts this advice and will consider whether to allow singular and plural versions of the same string.

That’s right folks, singular and plural gTLDs (eg, .car and .cars) may not be allowed to coexist after all.

Using a broad interpretation (that treats .new and .news as clashes, for example), 98 applications could be affected by this decision.

Singular vs plural is a contentious issue with some strongly held religious views. Whether you come down on one side or the other depends largely on how you see new gTLDs being used in future.

Proponents of coexistence see a future of 30,000 gTLDs being used as direct navigation and search tools, while opponents worry about the risk of freeloading plural registries making a killing from unnecessary defensive registrations.

The NGPC did not say how the debate would be moved forward, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t involved the broader community through public comments or meetings in Durban next month.

Ding dong…?

Two line items appear to put the final nails in the coffins of two new gTLD applications: DotConnectAfrica’s .africa and GCCIX WLL’s .gcc.

Both clash with the names of geographic regions (.gcc is for Gulf Cooperation Council, a name often associated with nations in the Arabian/Persian Gulf) and received the GAC’s strongest possible form of objection.

In both cases, the NGPC said the applications “will not be approved” and invited the applicants to withdraw.

However, it gave both applicants the right to appeal using “ICANN’s accountability mechanisms”.

Islamic strings on life support

Some governments in the GAC had taken issue with the applications for strings such as .islam and .halal, and the NGPC said it “stands ready to enter into dialogue with the GAC on this matter”.

That’s the Applicant Guidebook-mandated response when the GAC cannot reach a consensus that an application should be killed off.

Amazon among geo strings delayed

As expected, the NGPC decided to work with the GAC’s extended timetable for the consideration of 19 applications whose chosen strings clash with geographic names such as .thai and .persiangulf.

Basically, the GAC asked for more time to discuss them.

In response, ICANN will not delay Initial Evaluation for these applications, but it will not sign contracts with the applicants until the GAC has issued its final advice.

The list includes two big trademarks: retail giant Amazon and the clothing brand Patagonia.

Both will have to wait until at least Durban to discover their fate.

The list also includes .wine and .vin, because some in the wine industry have been kicking up a stink about the protection of special geographic identifiers (eg Champagne, Bordeaux) at the second-level.

Weasel words on community objections

There’s one piece of advice that the NGPC said it has “accepted” but which it clearly has not.

The GAC had said this:

The GAC advises the Board that in those cases where a community, which is clearly impacted by a set of new gTLD applications in contention, has expressed a collective and clear opinion on those applications, such opinion should be duly taken into account, together with all other relevant information.

I think any reasonable interpretation of this item would require ICANN or somebody else to make a subjective judgement call on which applications should win certain contention sets.

To my mind, the advice captures contested strings such as .book (where publishers hate the idea of Amazon running it as a closed generic) and .music (where the music industry favors a restricted registration policy).

But ICANN, always reluctant to have to pick winners and losers, seems to have chosen to interpret the advice somewhat differently. In its response, it states:

The NGPC accepts this advice. Criterion 4 for the Community Priority Evaluation process takes into account “community support and/or opposition to the application” in determining whether to award priority to a community application in a contention set. (Note however that if a contention set is not resolved by the applicants or through a community priority evaluation then ICANN will utilize an auction as the objective method for resolving the contention.)

I don’t think this covers the GAC’s advice at all, and I think the NGPC knows it.

As the parenthetical comment says, communities’ views are only taken into account if an applicant has filed a formal “Community” bid and chooses to resolve its contention set with a Community Priority Evaluation.

To return to the above examples, this may well capture .music, where at least one applicant intends to go the CPE route, but it does not capture .book, where there are no Community applications.

There are 33 remaining Community applications in 29 contention sets.

Will the GAC accept the NGPC’s response as a proper implementation of its advice? If it’s paying attention and feels strongly enough about the issue, my guess is probably not.

More special favors for the Olympics

The International Olympic Committee holds extraordinary power over governments, which has resulted in the GAC repeatedly humiliating itself by acting an Olympic lobbyist before the ICANN board.

In the Beijing communique, it asked ICANN to make sure that the temporary temporary protections granted to Olympics and Red Cross are made permanent in the Applicant Guidebook.

Prior to April, the Registry Agreement in the Guidebook said that the protected strings “shall be initially reserved”, but this language has been removed in the current version of the RA.

The NGPC said that this was due to the GAC’s advice. Box ticked.

But here’s the kicker: the protections will still be subject to a Generic Names Supporting Organization Policy Development Process.

In other words, the discussion is not over. The rest of the ICANN community will get their say and ICANN will try to reconcile what the GNSO decides with what the GAC wants at a later date.

While “accepting” the GAC’s advice, it’s actually proposing something of a compromise. The NGPC said:

Until such time as the GNSO approves recommendations in the PDP and the Board adopts them, the NGPC’s resolutions protecting IOC/RCRC names will remain in place. Should the GNSO submit any recommendations on this topic, the NGPC will confer with the GAC prior to taking action on any such recommendations.

New gTLD registries will not be able to argue in future that their contracts only require them to “initially” protect the Olympic and Red Cross strings, but at the same time the GNSO as a whole gets a say in whether permanent protections are warranted.

It seems like a pretty nice compromise proposal from ICANN — particularly given the problems it’s been having with the GNSO recently — but I doubt the GAC will see it that way.

Other stuff

There were two other items:

  • The GAC had advised that no new gTLD contracts should be approved until the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement is finalized. ICANN agreed. It’s already built into the timetable.
  • The GAC wanted its existing views taken into account in the current, ongoing, formative discussions about a replacement service for Whois. That’s already happening.

In summary…

…it’s a pretty sensible response from the NGPC, with the exception of the weaselly response to the “community views” advice.

Taken as a whole, it’s notable for its respect for other stakeholders and processes, which is admirable.

Even in the case of .africa and .gcc, which I firmly believed would be dead today, it’s given the applicants the opportunity to go through the appropriate appeals channels.

The GAC, it seems, doesn’t even get the last word with its kiss of death.

GNSO wins minor victory in Trademark+50 dispute

Kevin Murphy, June 6, 2013, Domain Policy

The ICANN board has rescheduled an important decision for trademark owners, apparently at the behest of members of the Generic Names Supporting Organization Council.

The board’s New gTLD Program Committee was due to vote June 11 on whether to approve the rejection of a Reconsideration Request filed by the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group.

But the item has been removed from the agenda and will now instead be discussed at a new June 18 meeting that appears to have been specially scheduled for the purpose.

The rescheduling follows an appeal by GNSO Councillor Jeff Neuman directly to the committee and other senior ICANNers.

Neuman and others were concerned that a June 11 decision would preempt a discussion of the issue slated for the Council’s June 13 meeting, which would have been very bad for board-GNSO relations.

For the full background, read this post.

Essentially, Neuman and other councilors are worried that ICANN seems to be riding roughshod over the GNSO in an attempt to make a proposal known as “Trademark+50” a part of the new gTLD program.

Trademark+50 is a mechanism that will greatly expand the number of strings trademark owners can submit to the Trademark Clearinghouse and get limited protection for.

The NCSG’s Reconsideration Request had asked ICANN to reconsider its classification of the proposal as an “implementation” change that didn’t require GNSO “policy” review.

But the ICANN board’s Board Governance Committee, which adjudicates such matters, last month rejected the request in what I would describe as a sloppily argued and disconcertingly adversarial decision.

It’s now up to the New gTLD Program Committee, acting for the full board, to rubber-stamp the rejection, clearing the path for Trademark+50 to become law for new gTLD registries.

Rescheduling the decision won’t change the outcome, in my view. Trademark+50 is very probably a done deal.

But voting before the GNSO Council even had a chance to put its concerns to the board would have given fuel to the argument that ICANN ignores the GNSO when it is politically expedient to do so.

ICANN may have dodged a bullet for now, but the dispute continues.

Donuts withdraws its .vote bid, raising questions about new gTLD auctions

One down, only 306 to go! Donuts has withdrawn its application for the .vote new gTLD, leaving an Afilias joint venture as the sole remaining applicant, it emerged today.

It’s reasonable to assume that this is the first result of the private string auctions, designed by Cramton Associates, that are being run by Innovative Auctions this week.

Donuts had submitted .vote to this auction and has previously said that auctions were its preferred method of resolving contention sets.

Either way, the winner of the contention set is Monolith Registry, a joint venture of .info registry Afilias and two individual investors based in Utah.

Monolith is also the only applicant for the Spanish translation, .voto.

It’s the first example of a contention set between competing business models being resolved.

The result tells us a lot about how money talks in the new gTLD program and how it does not evaluate applications based on criteria such as inclusiveness or innovation.

Donuts had proposed a .vote with an open registration policy and no special purpose. People would have been able to register domains there for essentially any reason.

Afilias, on the other hand, intends to tightly restrict its .vote to “official and verified governments and office seekers” in only the United States.

Remarkably, it has the same US-only policy for the Spanish-language .voto, though both applications suggest that eligibility will be expanded to other countries in future.

Cybersquatting is not infrequent in electioneering, so .vote could give voters a way to trust that the web site they visit really does contain the opinions of the candidate.

Pricing is expected to be set at $60 “for the first year” ($100 for .voto), and Afilias reckons there are upwards of one million elected officials and candidates that would qualify for the names in the US alone.

It’s a potentially lucrative business, in other words.

But did the program produce an ideal result here?

Is it better that .vote carries a high price and will be restricted to American politicians? Is it right that other, non-governmental types of voting will be excluded from the TLD?

Or does the result show that the program can produce innovative uses of TLDs? With a couple of restricted namespaces, where voters and politicians can trust the authenticity of the contents (insert politicians-are-liars joke here) is Afilias adding value to the internet?

These types of questions are going to be asked over and over again as more contention set results emerge.