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“We’re not homophobic!” ICANN pleads as it throws out .gay appeal

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has refused dotgay LLC’s latest appeal against adverse .gay decisions, and has taken the unusual step of preemptively defending itself against probably inevitable accusations from gay rights groups.

On Monday, the Board Governance Committee threw out dotgay’s Request for Reconsideration, in which the company had asked for a third crack at the Community Priority Evaluation process that could have seen it win .gay without paying at auction.

Today, BGC chair Chris Disspain published a blog post that’s basically a defense against accusations that ICANN is somehow intolerant or ignorant of gay issues.

The post explains the RfR process, explains that the latest decision doesn’t mean there won’t be a .gay or that dotgay won’t win the contention set, winding up:

I want to make clear that the denial of the Request for Reconsideration is not a statement about the validity of dotgay LLC’s application or dotgay LLC’s supporters. The decision means that the BGC did not find that the CPE process for dotgay, LLC’s .GAY application violated any ICANN policies or procedures.

It is ICANN’s responsibility to support the community-developed process and provide equitable treatment to all impacted parties. We understand that this outcome will be disappointing to supporters of the dotgay LLC application. We appreciate the amount of interest that this topic has generated within the ICANN community, and we encourage all interested parties to participate in the multistakeholder process to help shape how future application rounds are defined.

dotgay’s two CPEs, which were evaluated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, failed because the company defined its “community” too broadly, to include people who aren’t gay.

The company says that it’s “common sense” that “gay” is an umbrella term not only for lesbian and bisexual people, but also for people with non-standard gender identities and straight people who support equal rights.

(As an aside, I recently learned that former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, the UK’s poster girl for transgender issues, disagrees with same-sex couples raising kids and once called for gay pride marches to be banned. I wonder how she fits under this umbrella.)

But the second EIU panel “determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals”.

The CPE application fell apart on that basis. It scored 10 of the available 16 points, four points shy of a winner.

Due to the sensitive nature of this kind of thing, and the fact that dotgay does have a truckload of genuine support from prominent campaigning members of its community, ICANN and the EIU have come in for criticism.

Some of that criticism has implied that ICANN, the EIU, the process or all three are in some way homophobic or at least ignorant.

An article on gay news website The Gayly this week said: “The EIU’s actions contradict all common sense and are being interpreted as the outcome of a hostile environment.”

dotgay encouraged supporters to tweet: “Say NO to unfair & unequal treatment of the gay community at the hands of @TheEIU #Yes2dotgay”.

I’ve seen some tweets from supporters that use stronger language, which I’m guessing is what the BGC is trying to preempt today.

Now that it has exhausted the RfR process without success, expect dotgay to file an Independent Review Process appeal with ICANN, delaying the .gay contention set resolution for a year or more.

DCA sues ICANN for fraud, demands cash

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2016, Domain Policy

New gTLD applicants may have signed away all their rights to sue ICANN, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern for loose-cannon .dotafrica .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica.

The company has filed suit in California, trying to kill off rival ZACR’s application as “fraudulent” and demanding a load of cash from ICANN.

The suit was filed January 20, and DCA’s request for an emergency restraining order has already been thrown out by the judge.

DCA is basically attempting to re-litigate the Independent Review Process case it won against ICANN last year.

The company claims that ICANN, ZACR, independent evaluator InterConnect Communications, and the Governmental Advisory Committee improperly ganged up on it, in breach of contract.

It also claims fraud, negligence, and a few other alleged violations of the law on the same grounds.

It’s looking for three flavors of monetary damages and “rescission of ICANN’s registry agreement with ZACR as a null and void contract predicated on fraud.”

The IRP panel ruled last year that ICANN breached its bylaws by kicking out DCA’s application based on GAC advice that had not been properly and transparently explained.

The case revealed that ICANN had drafted a letter of support for the African Union Commission to submit in order to show its support for ZACR.

ICANN claims there was nothing improper about that — and the IRP panel did not express an opinion — but it looked pretty dodgy.

The organization says it has not yet been formally served with DCA’s complaint, but told the court that there’s no need for an emergency TRO against .africa being delegated because it’s not an imminent possibility.

Indeed, there’s no danger of ZACR getting .africa live while DCA’s application is undergoing a second round of InterConnect scrutiny for evidence of governmental support (which it does not have).

ICANN added in its filing, almost as an aside, that DCA has signed away its right to sue.

DCA’s new choice of law firm, post-IRP, may be an indication of either the fragile nature of its standing or dwindling cash reserves.

Pricey ICANN-killer Arif Ali is out. Replacing him, a dude who runs a website-free, six-month-old, one-man show from his home in a California cul-de-sac.

Disclosure: DCA thinks I’m a racist, and I think it’s mad. The long, sordid history of the company’s shenanigans can be perused at your leisure with this search.

$41m auction loser tries to slam brakes on .shop

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2016, Domain Registries

Lawyer-happy gTLD applicant Commercial Connect has put GMO Registry’s $41 million purchase of the new gTLD .shop in jeopardy by filing an appeal with ICANN.

On January 26 — the day before the .shop auction — the Connecticut-based company filed an Independent Review Process complaint with ICANN, asking a panel of judges to enjoin ICANN from delegating .shop or even signing a registry contract with GMO.

It’s applied for “emergency” relief. Its full IRP complaint has yet to be filed.

GMO won a seven-way ICANN auction for .shop last week, agreeing to pay $41.5 million into ICANN coffers.

The IRP news will not be particularly surprising for anyone who has followed the .shop contention set closely.

Commercial Connect has deployed pretty much every legal avenue available to it in order to win .shop, which had eight competing applications.

It applied as a “community” applicant, but unsurprisingly failed to meet the stringent criteria that a Community Priority Evaluation requires.

It scored a measly 5 out of the 16 available CPE points, missing the 14-point target.

The company also spunked goodness knows how much cash filing 21 formal objections against other gTLD applicants — ridiculous complaints that “.supply” or “.セール” or “.services” were “confusingly similar” to .shop.

It actually managed to win two of its string similarity challenges, when panelists apparently decided to write their judgments before their morning coffee had kicked in.

It was probable that .shopping and .通販 would be confused with .shop in the mind of the average internet user, these panelists decided.

The .通販 decision was thrown out when sanity prevailed, but the .shopping decision stood. Only a recent back-room deal between Uniregistry and Donuts prevented the .shop auction being a head-explodingly confusing mess.

Now, with its IRP, Commercial Connect is claiming that the whole CPE system goes against ICANN rules.

According to its initial complaint, the fact that the CPE adjudicator, the Economist Intelligence Unit, came up with its own supplemental “CPE Guidelines” means that the the CPE system is not “ICANN policy” and should therefore be disregarded.

At first glance, it seems weak. But I said the same about the DotConnectAfrica IRP case, which DCA won.

IRP panels have been known to be somewhat “activist” (not necessarily a bad thing) recently, so it’s hard to call which way they will swing in any specific case.

But it does seem quite possible that the emergency relief that Commercial Connect requests — that is, no .shop contract until the IRP is over — will be granted.

For GMO, that means it’s just spent $41.5 million on a gTLD it probably won’t be able to launch for well over a year.

It’s perhaps interesting that Commercial Connect doesn’t seem to make any reference in its IRP to its original 2000-round application for .shop.

If that comes up in future filings, it could open up an entirely new can of worms.

UN group supports community .gay bid

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2016, Domain Registries

An organization representing staff members of the United Nations has come out in support of dotgay LLC’s struggling community application for the .gay gTLD.

UN-GLOBE comprises UN employees who identify as “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and inter-sex”. Its primary goals are pushing for equal rights for these groups within the UN system.

In a letter to ICANN (pdf) earlier this month, the organization said it supports dotgay’s application, despite its Community Priority Evaluation being rejected twice.

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s judging panel has kicked out both of dotgay’s CPEs on the grounds that the applicant’s definition of “gay” includes straight people, and straight people aren’t gay.

But UN-GLOBE, echoing dotgay’s own view, wrote:

We also express our disagreement over the results of the Community Priority Evaluation of October 8, 2015 that rejected dotgay LCC’s community application based on its narrow analysis of the term gay. The term gay should be understood globally instead, as it is generally understood by the internationally diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and ally (LGBTQIA) community represented in dotgay LLC’s application.

It might be worth noting that UN-GLOBE makes no mention of its own membership including “allies” — that is, people who are not LGBTQI but nevertheless support equal rights — in its letter or on its web site.

dotgay currently has an outstanding Request for Reconsideration against its latest CPE loss, which is expected to be decided by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee on Monday.

If ICANN closes the door on more appeals, the .gay contention set will go to auction where its rivals are Rightside, Top Level Design and Minds + Machines.

One way or another, there will be a .gay gTLD, the only question is whether it will be restricted to approved “gay community” members or open to all.

Terror fears prompt security crackdown for ICANN 55

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN is bringing in metal detectors, bag searches and ID checks at its forthcoming public meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

The measures are being introduced despite ICANN’s assurances that it considers the chance of terrorism at ICANN 55 to be “LOW”.

In a statement today, ICANN meetings boss Nick Tomasso said:

we are in constant and on-going communication with our hosts and the Moroccan government, to assess any security concerns surrounding the upcoming meeting. In addition, we are working with a highly respected global security-consulting firm, which gives us on-going updates of potential risks. This firm has also assigned a senior level analyst to work with ICANN.

As of this date, the assessments of these various security experts is that there is only a LOW risk of any type of terrorist activity in Morocco.

The statement comes as some members of the ICANN community have been expressing concerns about visiting Morocco, in the light of recent ISIS/Daesh-linked terrorist attacks in North Africa.

Morocco itself has not been the target of any successful Daesh attacks, though members of the cell behind the November attacks in Paris are reported to have Moroccan links.

Marrakech was bombed by an Al Qaeda-linked group in 2011.

Several Western governments urge visitors to the country to exercise caution, saying there’s a high risk of terrorist attacks.

The UK government says, for example:

There is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.

The US government is less alarmist:

The potential for terrorist violence against U.S. interests and citizens exists in Morocco. Moroccan authorities continue to disrupt groups seeking to attack U.S. or Western-affiliated and Moroccan government targets, arresting numerous individuals associated with international terrorist groups. With indications that such groups still seek to carry out attacks in Morocco, it is important for U.S. citizens to be keenly aware of their surroundings and adhere to prudent security practices such as avoiding predictable travel patterns and maintaining a low profile.

I’ve heard community members speculate that an ICANN meeting, with its broad international mix of delegates, some governmental, might be an attractive target.

Personally, I’m not convinced the risk is much greater than it would be in any Western capital. My mother is vacationing unaccompanied in Egypt around the same time, and I’m fine with that.

However, ICANN seems to be taking the concerns seriously.

Tomasso added the following, non-exhaustive list of new security measures for ICANN 55:

  • Every delegate will now need a government-issued ID to pick up a badge at the registration desk.
  • There will be increased security screening for those entering our meeting venue, which may include metal detectors, magnetic wands and bag checks.
  • There will be advanced verification of delegate registration information by Moroccan authorities.
  • Security will be increased at the hotels where delegates are staying.
  • We are establishing a 24/7 operations center at the venue.

It’s not exactly TSA-levels of privacy invasion, but I can see some would-be delegates being put off by the extra hassle.

If ICANN were to cancel the Marrakech meeting, it would risk seriously pissing off African community members.

The Marrakech meeting was originally scheduled for 2015, but it was postponed due to fears about the Ebola virus, which at the time was running rampant in African countries thousands of miles away.

In 2010, ICANN was criticized for its handling of security concerns around a meeting in Kenya, where at least 74 delegates cancelled their registrations over terror fears.

ICANN also cancelled a planned 2011 meeting in Jordan due to Middle East security concerns.

ICANN 55 is scheduled for March 5 to 10.