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Chehade kicks off massive Whois review

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has started the ball rolling on its potentially radical rethink of how Whois works with formation of a new “Expert Working Group” tasked with examining the issue.

As ICANN chair Steve Crocker told DI last month, this is the first stage of a root-and-branch reexamination of Whois databases, what they’re for, and how they’re accessed.

According to ICANN, which is referring to Whois as “gTLD registration data” presumably to avoid confusion with the Whois technical standard, the group will:

1) define the purpose of collecting and maintaining gTLD registration data, and consider how to safeguard the data, and

2) provide a proposed model for managing gTLD directory services that addresses related data accuracy and access issues, while taking into account safeguards for protecting data.

Whatever the new Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services comes up with between January and April next year will be punted to the Generic Names Supporting Organization for an ICANN board-mandated Policy Development Process.

The PDP could create policies binding on gTLD registries and registrars.

Jean-Francois Baril has been hand-picked to chair the group. He has no connection to the domain name industry but appears to have worked with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade on the RosettaNet standards-setting project.

Crocker and fellow ICANN director Chris Disspain will also join the group.

ICANN wants volunteers to fill the other positions and it seems to be eager to find outsiders who do not already represent entrenched ICANN constituency positions, saying:

Volunteer working group members should: have significant operational knowledge and experience with WHOIS, registrant data, or directory services; be open to new ideas and willing to forge consensus; be able to think strategically and navigate conflicting views; have a record of fostering improvements and delivering results; have a desire to create a new model for gTLD directory services; and be able to volunteer approximately 12-20 hours a month during January – April 2013 to the working group.

Individuals who have worked extensively in the areas of registration data collection, access, accuracy, use, privacy, security, law enforcement, and standards and protocols are also encouraged to consider working group membership. As the working group will be a collection of experts, it is not expected to be comprised solely of representatives of current ICANN community interests. Although members may not come directly from ICANN structures, the working group will have a deep understanding of, and concern for, the ICANN communities’ interests.

Obviously law enforcement and intellectual property interests will be keen to make sure they’re amply represented in the group, as will registries/registrars and privacy advocates.

Seven new gTLD applications withdrawn, two after GAC Early Warnings

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Registries

Seven more new gTLD applications have been officially withdrawn from the ICANN evaluation process, two of which were recently hit with governmental warnings, bringing the total to 13.

The applications yanked since DI’s last update are:

.ansons (CBM Creative Brands Marken GmbH)
.caremore (WellPoint, Inc)
.glean (Lifestyle Domain Holdings, Inc)
.gmbh (GMBH Registry, LLC)
.hilton (HLT Stakis IP Limited)
.skolkovo (Fund for Development of the Center for Elaboration and Commercialization of New Technologies)
.swiss (Swiss International Air Lines Ltd)

The withdrawal of .swiss means that a contention set is now no longer a contention set.

The other .swiss applicant is the Swiss government itself, which filed a Governmental Advisory Committee Early Warning against its rival last month and is now pretty much guaranteed a win.

The latest withdrawals also thin the field for .gmbh, reducing the number of applicants from six to five.

All of the .gmbh applications received GAC Early Warnings from Germany. The country is concerned that only legal GmbH entities — equivalent to “Ltd” or “LLC” companies — should be able to own these domains.

The .hilton, .glean, .ansons, and .caremore applications were all dot-brands.

So, to an extent, was .skolkovo. Skolkovo is an emerging high-technology campus outside of Moscow with big intentions to become the Russian Silicon Valley. It’s not known why its bid was pulled.

Deloitte confirmed as first Trademark Clearinghouse provider

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has signed a contract with Deloitte, making the company the first official trademark validation agent for the forthcoming new gTLDs Trademark Clearinghouse.

The news emerged in a blog post from ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today.

The TMCH is going to use the registry-registrar model, with IBM acting as the centralized, sole-source database operator, and Deloitte acting as the first “registrar”.

Marks entered into the TMCH will be eligible for Trademark Claims notifications and, in cases where proof of use has been provided, Sunrise registrations.

Chehade confirmed that Deloitte can charge a maximum of $150 per trademark per year, with discounts available for multiple marks and multiple years.

IBM’s contract and associated fees have not yet been set, due largely to the fact that the TMCH implementation model is still the subject of debate and controversy.

ICANN has confirmed, however, that it will retain “all intellectual property rights” to data stored in the Clearinghouse, meaning it may be able to migrate the database to a different provider in future.

Chehade also confirmed that ICANN has received “multiple” responses to its Request For Information for a Uniform Rapid Suspension service provider that come in under its $500-per-case price target.

Ombudsman probing secretive Trademark Clearinghouse meetings

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte is investigating ICANN’s recent closed-door Trademark Clearinghouse talks, and wants feedback from community members.

In a brief blog post this evening, LaHatte wrote:

I have received a complaint about the process used in the recent Trademark Clearinghouse meetings where decisions were made on the way forward. The complaint in summary says that the decisions were made without full consultation from some contituencies. I have of course not formed any view on this, and need input from people who participated and were pleased with the process, or from others who feel they were excluded. Such submissions can be made to me at ombudsman@icann.org, or on this blog. as comments.

The complaint refers to meetings in Brussels and Los Angeles recently, convened by CEO Fadi Chehade to discuss proposals jointly submitted by the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency.

The IPC and BC continue to call for stronger trademark protections in the new gTLD program, and the talks were designed to see if any changes could be made to the TMCH that would fulfill these requests.

The two meetings ultimately saw ICANN come up with a “strawman proposal” for giving the IPC/BC some of what they wanted, which is currently open for public comment.

However, the meetings were invitation-only and, unusually for ICANN, not webcast live. Attendees at the LA meeting also say that they were asked by ICANN not to tweet or blog about the talks.

While the LA meeting was apparently recorded, to the best of my knowledge the audio has not yet been released.

While LaHatte did not of course name the person who complained about these meetings, I’d hazard a guess they are from the non-commercial side of the house, members of which have already complained that they were vastly outnumbered by IP interests.

(UPDATE: I was correct. The complaint was filed by Maria Farrell of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency)

Former GNSO Council chair Stephane Van Gelder (from the Registrar Constituency) also recently wrote a guest post for DI in which he questioned the possible circumvention of ICANN’s established bottom-up policy-making processes.

There’s also substantial concern in other constituencies that ICANN is trying to appease the trademark lobby for political reasons, attempting to force through their desired changes to the new gTLD program under the guise of tweaks to “implementation” detail.

Chehade has asked the GNSO Council for “policy guidance” on the TMCH strawman proposals, which seems to be already stirring up passions on the Council ahead of its December 20 meeting.

The question of what is “implementation” and what is “policy” is a meme that we will be returning to before long, without doubt.

YouPorn owner arrested in tax evasion probe

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2012, Domain Registries

YouPorn owner and regular ICM Registry antagonist Fabian Thylmann has reportedly been arrested in Belgium in connection with a German tax evasion investigation.

He was taken into custody at Brussels airport today under a warrant from the Cologne District Court, according to German daily Die Welt.

Thylmann is the owner — some say nominally so — of Manwin Licensing, the online porn empire behind brands such as YouPorn, Brazzers and, under license, Playboy.

Manwin sued ICANN and ICM late last year over the .xxx gTLD, saying it violates US antitrust laws, charges which are denied.

The company is also engaged in an ICANN Independent Review Panel procedure over the same issues.

ICM says that the lawsuit, and a related boycott, are merely attempts to disrupt its business. Thylmann, the company claims, offered to invest in ICM but was rebuffed.

According to Die Welt, Manwin’s German headquarters was raided last Tuesday as part of an ongoing tax evasion probe, which was spurred in part by the newspaper’s own investigation into the company.