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What .xxx means for trademark holders

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2010, Domain Registries

Trademark holders have been screwed over by ISP domain name wildcarding more than they realise, I’ve discovered from the .xxx contract documents.

ICM Registry is planning a novel approach to trademark protection if its application to launch the .xxx top-level domain is successful, but it’s been watered down compared to its original plan.

Hypothetically, let’s say you’re Lego. You really, really don’t want some cybersquatter snapping up lego.xxx and filling it with… well, you can imagine what Lego porn might look like.

At the same time, for the sake of your family-friendly brand, you don’t want to actually own a resolvable lego.xxx either.

And you certainly don’t want to be forced to to hand some pornographer over $60 a year for each of your brands. Some companies could see this as supporting pornography.

ICM had originally planned to allow companies in this position to pay a one-time fee to have their brand.xxx turned off permanently.

Personally, I like this idea. It would give the IP lobby a lot less to complain about in discussions surrounding the new TLD program.

But the company may now water down this plan, called IP Protect, due to the way that non-existent domains are increasingly handled by some ISPs.

As you probably know, ISPs worldwide are increasingly capturing NXDOMAIN traffic in order to show search results and advertising links to their customers.

It’s generally frowned upon in DNS circles, and it’s now likely to have the effect of making IP Protect costlier and more of an administrative hassle for brand owners.

You’re Lego again. You pay ICM the one-time shut-down fee, only to find that Comcast is now showing its users links to Lego porn whenever they type in lego.xxx.

ICM president Stuart Lawley tells me that one option currently being looked at is to have IP Protect domains resolve to a standard page at an ICM-controlled server.

The problem here is that ICM has to pay ICANN and its registry back-end provider annual fees for every resolving domain name, and that cost will have to be passed on to the registrant, in our case Lego.

Lawley says that ICM is “engaging” with the ICANN intellectual property community to figure out the best solution. It appears that both options are still open.

Why .xxx will be domainer-friendly (and why it won’t)

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2010, Domain Registries

The proposed .xxx top-level domain may be “sponsored”, but the restrictions on who will be able to register names are so loose that pretty much anybody, including domainers, will be able to register one.

I’ve now had time to dig through the mountain of documents that ICANN published earlier this week. I’m submitting something to The Register later today, but I thought I’d first look here at the domaining angle.

First, the bad news: .xxx domains won’t be cheap.

ICM Registry, which wants to run the TLD, plans to charge $60 per year, and that’s just the registry fee.

That’s a lot of money to recoup if you’re planning to park a domain, so it’s likely that much of the value of .xxx for domainers will be in development and resale.

The proposed contract does suggest, and ICM president Stuart Lawley is on record as saying, that the price of registrations could eventually come down. Whether that would include renewals remains to be seen.

Now for the good news: you won’t actually have to be a pornographer to register a .xxx domain.

It’s true that .xxx is ostensibly restricted to members of the adult entertainment community, but the definition also includes companies that supply products and services to the industry.

According to Lawley, flipping domain names falls into that category.

So, if you register a nice .xxx in order to sell it later to an actual pornographer, you’re technically part of the .xxx Sponsored Community. Congratulations, you’re in the adult business.

Parking .xxx domains will also be possible, and it doesn’t look like parking companies will need to make any changes in order to support the TLD.

It’s true that all .xxx sites will have to be “labelled” as porn, but that doesn’t mean, as I initially thought, that all .xxx web sites, including the parked ones, will have to slap a logo on their pages.

Lawley says that ICM will handle all the labelling transparently at the registry end, using a W3C standard called POWDER. Apparently this is doable without touching anybody’s HTML.

Of course, getting hold of a prime piece of .xxx real estate at launch will not be easy.

Anybody with designs on a geo .xxx domain is out of luck. ICANN will reserve all place names, and two-letter domains are banned, due to potential confusion with country codes.

But single-letter domains will be possible. The provision that banned it has been deleted from the new contract.

ICM plans to auction some premium names. It may even reserve some names, such as movie.xxx, in order to offer registrations at the third level.

An additional barrier is that roughly 9,400 people have already “pre-reserved” about 176,000 names (an average of 18 each). That’s about as many words as there are in the English language by some counts.

Quite how these reservations will be handled isn’t spelled out in detail in the contract, as far as I can tell.

The .xxx TLD is still in the application phase, of course, and there are ways it could still fail. If the contract is ultimately signed, general availability is expected seven months later.

ICANN posts .xxx contract for comment

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has just published the proposed contract for ICM Registry’s porn-only .xxx top-level domain, and over a dozen supporting documents.

Now the fun begins!

Another 30-day public comment period is now underway, which will likely see more concerted efforts by the Free Speech Coalition and its accidental allies on the religious right to have .xxx killed off.

It will also be interesting to see whether the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee decides to chip in with its $0.02.

The GAC has always been wary of the .xxx application and remains the tallest hurdle to jump before the TLD has a chance of being approved.

There’s a lot of information in these documents, including much more detail on IFFOR, the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which will set the TLD’s policies.

I’m going to bury my nose in these docs, and will provide an update later if I find anything interesting, which seems likely.

ITU chief snubs ICANN’s Beckstrom

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2010, Domain Policy

“If your name’s not down, you’re not coming in.”

That’s pretty much the message sent to ICANN chief Rod Beckstrom by the International Telecommunications Union’s secretary general, following his request to attend a top-level ITU policy meeting.

Beckstrom wrote to Hamadoun Toure last month, asking for observer status at October’s ITU Plenipotentiary Conference – the “supreme organ” of ITU policy-making, held every four years.

The idea was that ICANN and the ITU would start to develop a more formal relationship.

In a letter published today, Toure turned him down, noting that the guest-list for the Guadalajara meeting is strictly limited by convention to entities such as national telecoms regulators and UN agencies.

For your information, the Plenipotentiary Conferece, the supreme organ of the ITU, is the highest level of administrative conference for the Union.

I regret to inform you that the ITU is unable to respond positively to your request to attend

Ouch.

ICANN and the ITU have a spiky history. It’s well known that the ITU would prefer internet addressing to be handled from Geneva rather than Marina Del Rey. Over the years, it’s occasionally made the odd attempted power grab.

The fact that Beckstrom has been rebuffed is surely more evidence that, for all its flaws, ICANN is still a better place to manage the DNS.

If the head of ICANN can’t even observe the ITU’s top dogs at work, what chance would the rest of us have of being heard?

Two registrars get stay of execution

Kevin Murphy, August 19, 2010, Domain Registrars

ICANN has given two registrars another year of accreditation, after previously threatening to terminate their contracts for non-payment of fees.

Abansys & Hostytec and Namehouse, two small registrars, have had the terms of their registrar accreditation agreements extended to August 15, 2011 and July 6, 2011, respectively.

In June, ICANN had told both companies they would be de-accredited on July 1, 2010. Together, the two firms owed almost $20,000 in unpaid fees.

Yesterday, a small note appeared on ICANN’s compliance page:

18 August 2010: Abansys & Hostytec, S.L. RAA effective date extended to 15 August 2011.
18 August 2010: Namehouse, Inc. RAA effective date extended to 6 July 2011.

It’s not entirely clear to me whether this means the registrars have paid up or not. Unlike previous occasions, there’s no mention of whether the companies “cured all outstanding contract breaches”.

According to DotAndCo.net, neither registrar has any domains under management in the gTLDs, although Abansys & Hostytec claims to run over 100,000 domains.