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Fight over new sports gTLDs gets real ugly

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2013, Domain Registries

The battle for contested new gTLDs .rugby and .basketball is turning nasty.

Roar Domains, a New Zealand marketing firm whose gTLD applications are backed by the official international bodies for both sports, is promising to pull out all the stops to kill off its competition.

The company, which is partnered with Minds + Machines on both bids, has told rival portfolio applicant Donuts that it will attack its applications for the two TLDs on at least three fronts.

Notably, Roar wants Donuts disqualified from the entire new gTLD program, and plans to lobby to have Donuts fail its background check.

The company told Donuts last month:

while we have no desire to join the chorus of voices speaking out against Donuts, it is incumbent on us to pursue the automatic disqualification of Applicant Guidebook Section 1.2.1, and every opposition and objection process available to us.

Applicant Guidebook section 1.2.1 deals with background checks.

Donuts came under more scrutiny than most on these grounds during the new gTLDs public comment period last year due to its co-founders being involved at the sharp end of domain investment over the last decade.

Demand Media and eNom, where founder Paul Stahura was a senior executive, have lost many UDRP cases over the years.

A mystery lawyer who refuses to disclose his clients started pursuing Donuts last August, saying the company is “unsuited and ineligible to participate in the new gTLD program.”

Separate (pseudonymous?) public comments fingered a former Donuts director for allegedly cybersquatting the Olympics and Disney.

While Roar has not claimed responsibility for these specific previous attacks, it certainly seems to be planning something similar in future.

In addition, Roar and International Rugby Board, which supports Roar’s application for .rugby, say they plan to official objections with ICANN about rival .rugby bids.

The IRB told Donuts, in a letter shortly before Christmas:

As the global representative of the sport and the only applicant vested with the trust and representation of the rugby community, we are unquestionably the rightful steward of .RUGBY.

Without the support of the global rugby community your commercialization efforts for .RUGBY will be thwarted. We are also preparing an objection to file against your application in accordance with ICANN rules to which you will be required to dedicate resources to formulate a response.

Roar and the IRB are also both lobbying members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which has the power to file potentially decisive GAC Advice against any application.

Roar told Donuts recently:

Roar serves as the voice and arm for FIBA [the International Basketball Federation] and IRB in the New gTLD area. We are pleased to have obtained four Early Warnings on behalf of our applications, and fully expect the GAC process to be completed to GAC Advice.

The Early Warnings against the two other .rugby applicants were filed by the UK government — the only warnings it filed — while Greece warned the two non-Roar .basketball applicants.

Roar is also involved with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) on its .basketball bid.

While commercial interests obviously play a huge role, there’s a philosophical disagreement at the heart of these fights that could be encapsulated in the following question:

Should new gTLDs only be delegated to companies and organizations most closely affiliated with those strings?

In response to the UK’s Early Warning, Donut has written to UK GAC representative Mark Carvell asking for face-to-face talks and making the case for a “neutral” registry provider for .rugby.

Donuts told Carvell:

We believe gTLDs should be run safely and securely, and in a manner that is fair to all law-­abiding registrants, not only those predetermined as eligible. A neutral third party, such as Donuts, can be best capable of achieving this outcome.

Donuts believes a neutral operator is better able to ensure that the gTLD reflects the full diversity of opinion and content of all Internet users who are interested in the term “rugby.”

As the IRB is a powerful voice in rugby, an IRB‐managed registry might not be neutral in its operations, raising questions about its ability to impartially oversee the gTLD. For example, will IRB/Roar chill free speech by censoring content adversarial to their interests? How would they treat third parties who are interested in rugby but aren’t part of the IRB? What about IRB critics or potential rival leagues?

Despite these questions, no .rugby applicant has said it plans to operate a restricted registry. There are no applications for .basketball or .rugby designated as “Community” bids.

The IRB/Roar application specifically states “anyone can register a .rugby domain name.”

Both .basketball and .rugby are contested by Roar (FIBA/IRB/M+M), Donuts (via subsidiaries) and portfolio applicant Domain Venture Partners (aka Famous Four Media, also via subsidiaries).

Roar is a sports marketing agency that is also involved in bids for .baseball, .soccer, .football and .futbol. The New Zealand national team football captain, Ryan Nelsen, is on its board.

Here are the letters (pdf).

.info and .biz contracts extended after expiring

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias and Neustar have had their key gTLD registry contracts temporarily extended after they expired on New Year’s Eve.

The .info and .biz agreements, which were both signed with ICANN in 2006, both ended on December 31 2012.

Both deals, of course, have a presumption of renewal. They’ve been extended for six months while renewal terms are finalized.

I understand that the delay in getting new contracts negotiated and approved is due largely to all the other stuff going on at ICANN right now.

(New gTLD applicants planning to negotiate a non-standard contract with ICANN, take note.)

According to ICANN, drafts of the the next versions of the .info and .biz contracts will be posted for public comment this month.

I’d expect to see some of the same minor technical and legal changes made as those that were made to Verisign’s .net contract, which was renegotiated in 2011.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether .info and .biz will keep the same rights to increase registry fees, in light of the US Department of Commerce’s move to freeze .com prices.

However, .com is a special case and Commerce does not have a built-in right to examine .biz and .info contracts.

Registrars sought as Pool.com shuts down drop-catching business

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN is looking for new homes for approximately 67,000 domain names, after a decision by Momentous to dump 85 of its domain name registrar accreditations.

The accreditations were used primarily for drop-catching, according to an email sent to registrars last Friday, and each has between 200 and 3,000 gTLD domains under management.

While most affected domains are recently caught drops, there may be some regular registrants scattered throughout the customer base, according to ICANN.

Momentous, owner of Pool.com, announced that it was getting rid of its drop-catching registrars in an email to customers late last year, as several domainer blogs reported at the time.

Pool plans to “refocus its business away from an emphasis on the secondary market”, the email said.

The company wanted to consolidate all of the domains in its NameScout registrar with the transfer fees waived, but ICANN declined its request, according to the email.

Some customers are not happy with how Pool has handled the situation.

The domainer “Acro” is currently pursuing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in Momentous’ native Canada, according to a recent blog post.

The 85 accreditations are due to expire January 10. Registrars wishing to take over the portfolios had a deadline of this afternoon to express an interest with ICANN.

FTC chief says most new gTLD bids are “defensive”

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2013, Domain Policy

The US Federal Trade Commission is still “looking at” ICANN’s new gTLD program amid concerns that most of the applicants applied defensively, it has emerged.

FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz also said today that he thinks new gTLDs will cause consumer confusion and lead to an increase in fraud.

“We have been very, very concerned about ICANN and their dramatic expansion of the domain names, which we think will cause consumer confusion and even worse lead to more areas where malefactors can hide from the law while defrauding consumers,” Leibowitz said.

“A lot of companies that have plunked down $185,000 per domain name — and there have been hundreds of companies that have done it — have mostly done it for defensive purposes,” he added.

Most new gTLDs are not dot-brands, so Leibowitz probably misspoke when he said that “most” applications are defensive. Within the subset of bids that are dot-brands, he may be on firmer ground.

His comments came during a press conference to discuss the FTC’s settlement of its competition probe of Google, which has itself applied for almost 100 new gTLDs.

The settlement agreement relates to Google’s search practices and not its gTLD applications.

Leibowitz said that the FTC is “not looking that issue [new gTLDs] with respect to Google, we’re looking at that issue with respect to ICANN”.

The FTC’s concerns about the program are not new, but it has not publicly expressed them recently.

In December 2011 the agency said the program could “magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters.”

Three ICANN staffers laid off in Aussie closure, other offices safe

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2013, Gossip

ICANN has officially confirmed the closure of its Sydney, Australia office, but it appears that jobs at other satellite offices are safe.

All three Aussie employees were “let go” as a result of the Sydney decision, according to ICANN.

“ICANN is in the process of assessing how to effectively grow ICANN resources around the globe,” a spokesperson said. “This is an on-going process that will require consultation with the Board.”

The six staffers located in Palo Alto, California — the office set up largely to cater to the needs of former CEO Rod Beckstrom — are also set to move to a smaller office to save money.

The Washington DC office will also move, apparently to a location close to the White House, the spokesperson said.