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France slams ICANN after GAC rejects special treatment for .wine

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2014, Domain Policy

France says that “ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance” after it failed to win support from other governments for special protections in .wine and .vin gTLDs.

The government came to ICANN 50 in London this week apparently determined to secure a Governmental Advisory Committee consensus that .wine should have protection for geographic indicators.

GIs are protected geographic terms such as “Champagne”, “Parma” and “Cheddar” that link a product to the region in which it is traditionally produced. France has a lot of wine-related GIs.

But the GAC — as I think everyone, including France, expected — failed to come to an agreement.

The GAC’s London communique (pdf) reads:

There was further discussion on the issue of .wine/.vin, but no agreement was reached because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

The matter of .wine and .vin was raised at the High Level Governmental Meeting, where some members expressed concerns in terms of ICANN’s accountability and public policy. These concerns are not shared by all members.

In the absence of a consensus GAC objection, the most likely outcome is ICANN pushing the competing .vin/.wine applicants along the contention resolution process to auction.

France has won a lot of media coverage this week, throwing out allegations such as the idea that ICANN is “opaque”, and questioning ICANN’s ability to do its job properly.

Quizzed about France’s statements at a press conference on Monday, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade pointed out that studies have show ICANN is extremely transparent and wondered aloud whether France’s position is the one where you “scream that everything’s broken when you don’t get what you want”.

Today’s French statement is a little, but not much, more relaxed. Translated, it partially reads:

Current procedures at ICANN highlight its inability to take into account the legitimate concerns of States and to ensure common resource management in the direction of respect for cultural diversity and balance of interests in economic sectors that its decisions affect.

Accordingly, it will propose to its European partners and all other stakeholders to reflect on the future of Internet governance based on transparency, accountability, and equal stakeholders. Commission also believes that ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance.

The government did, however, reiterate its support for the notion of multi-stakeholder internet governance.

French wine producers were less diplomatic. We received a statement from ANEV, the Association Nationale des Elus de la Vigne et du vin, this afternoon that called upon the French government and European Union to block all domain names that use GIs in violation of local law.

Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

During an ICANN session on Monday, the French GAC rep used the .wine controversy to call for the creation of a “General Assembly” at ICANN.

I’m working from the transcript, which has been translated by ICANN into English, and some media reports, but it seems that France is thinking along the lines of an ITU-style, voting-based rather than consensus-based, approach to generating GAC advice. I may be wrong.

During Monday’s press conference, Chehade did not oppose France’s suggestions, though he was careful to point out that it would have to be approved by the whole ICANN community first (implicitly a tall order).

A vote-based GAC could well favor European Union countries, given the make-up of the GAC right now.

On the .wine issue, it’s mainly a few Anglophone nations such as the US, Canada and Australia that oppose extra GI protections.

These nations point out that the GI issue is not settled international law and is best dealt with in venues such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

France actually says the same thing.

But while France says that ICANN’s refusal to act on .wine jeopardizes GI talks in other fora, its opponents claim that if ICANN were to act it would jeopardize the same talks.

Chehade said during the Monday press conference that France had not yet run out of ways to challenge ICANN’s position on this, so the story probably isn’t over yet.

GAC rejects multistakeholderism, tells ICANN to ignore the GNSO

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2014, Domain Policy

The Governmental Advisory Committee has advised ICANN to do as it’s told and stop listening to the views of other stakeholders, on the issue of protection mechanisms for the Red Cross.

In a barely believable piece of formal advice to the ICANN board this morning, part of its London communique (pdf), the GAC said:

the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process

That’s the GAC telling the ICANN board to do what the GAC says without involving the rest of the ICANN community, specifically the multi-stakeholder Generic Names Supporting Organization.

Some in the GNSO have already informally expressed their anger about this. More, and more formal, responses are expected to follow.

It’s a baffling GAC move given that most governments have spent much of the ICANN 50 meeting this week professing how much they support the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance.

Now the GAC is explicitly telling ICANN to ignore anyone that isn’t the GAC, on this particular issue.

That’s unprecedented, though many would say that GAC statements often sound like the existence of other advisory committees and supporting organizations is little more than an annoyance to members.

During a meeting between the ICANN board and the GAC on Tuesday, UK GAC member Mark Carvell expressed some of that frustration, saying ICANN’s approach to the issue has been “completely unacceptable”.

Carvell said:

we’re talking about names that are protected under international law and implemented in national legislation

So, for example, if you go down Pride Street around the corner, you won’t find Red Cross Burgers. You won’t find Patisserie Croix Rouge in Paris anywhere, or in London, indeed, because it’s against the law to use those names.

So the response that we’ve had from the Board is equating these names to trademarks by referring to the GNSO response, saying that this is a matter for incorporation of policy development that would use the trademark clearinghouse.

So I just wanted to make the point here that this is completely unacceptable to us. We’re in a position as governments and administrations in implementing national law. So our advice continues to be that these names need to be protected and not subject to some policy development process that equates these names to trademarks
and brands.

That point of view seems to have translated directly into the GAC’s communique today.

The GAC statement is doubly baffling because the Red Cross and Red Crescent already enjoy protections in the new gTLD program, and the GNSO has voted to make these protections permanent.

The GAC has been pushing for protections for the Red Cross for years.

It’s a noble effort in principle, designed to help thwart fraudsters who would use the Red Cross brand to bilk money out of well-meaning internet users in the wake of human tragedies such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

The ICANN board of directors first agreed to adopt such protections in 2011, when it approved the new gTLD program.

Red Cross protections were added to the program rules then on a temporary basis, pending a formal GNSO policy on the matter.

The GNSO took a while to get there, but it formally passed a resolution in November last year that would protect a list of Red Cross organizations at both the top and second levels in the new gTLD program.

So what’s the GAC’s problem?

ICANN director Chris Disspain asked Carvell during the Tuesday GAC-board session. Carvell responded:

I’m talking about our advice with regard to protection of national entities at the second level. So, for example, British Red Cross dot whatever. That protection does not exist, and is not agreed as we understand it.

The original list of Red Cross/Red Crescent strings for which the GAC demanded protection includes strings like “redcross” and “croissant-rouge”, but it does not include strings such as “americanredcross”.

There are 189 national Red Cross organizations that are not currently protected, according to the GAC.

Why are these strings not on the list?

It appears to be because the GAC didn’t ask for such protections until March this year, six months after the GNSO concluded its PDP and close to three years after the temporary protections were originally implemented.

The GAC communique from the latest Singapore meeting (pdf) contains a request for national Red Cross organizations to be protected, but I can’t find any matching GAC advice that predates March 2014.

The GAC seems to have screwed up, in other words, by not asking for all the protections it wanted three years ago.

And now it’s apparently demanding that its new, very late demands for protection get implemented by ICANN without a PDP and with no input from any other area of the ICANN community.

The GAC spent a lot of time this week talking up the multistakeholder process, but now it seems prepared to throw the concept under a bus either in the name of expediency or to cover up the fact that it seriously dropped the ball.

Nobody can deny that its heart is in the right place, but is abandoning support for multistakeholderism really the best way to go about getting what it wants, at a time when everyone is claiming governments won’t control the newly liberated ICANN?

A million domains taken down by email checks

Over 800,000 domain names have been suspended since the beginning of the year as a result of Whois email verification rules in the new ICANN Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

That’s according to the Registrars Stakeholder Group, which collected suspension data from registrars representing about 75% of all registered gTLD domain names.

The actual number of suspended domains could be closer to a million.

The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify the email addresses listed in their customers’ Whois records. If they don’t receive the verification, they have to suspend the domain.

The RrSG told the ICANN board in March that these checks were doing more harm than good and today Tucows CEO Elliot Noss presented, as promised, data to back up the claim.

“There have been over 800,000 domains suspended,” Noss said. “We have stories of healthcare sites that have gone down, community groups whose sites have gone down.”

“I think we can safely say millions of internet users,” he said. “Those are real people just trying to use the internet. They are our great unrepresented core constituency.” 

The RrSG wants to see contrasting data from law enforcement agencies and governments — which pushed hard for Whois verification — showing that the RAA requirement has had a demonstrable benefit.

Registrars asked at the Singapore meeting in March that law enforcement agencies (LEA) be put on notice that they can’t ask for more Whois controls until they’ve provided such data and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said “It shall be done by London.”

Noss implied that the majority of the 800,000 suspended names belong to innocent registrants, such as those who had simply changed email addresses since registering their names.

“What was a lovely political win that we said time and time again in discussion after discussion was impractical and would provide no benefit, has demonstrably has created harm,” Noss said.

He was received with cautious support by ICANN board members.

Chair Steve Crocker wonder aloud how many of the 800,000 suspended domains are owned by bad guys, and he noted that LEA don’t appear to gather data in the way that the registrars are demanding.

“We were subjected, all of us, to heavy-duty pressure from the law enforcement community over a long period of time. We finally said, ‘Okay, we hear you and we’ll help you get this stuff implemented,’”, he added. “That creates an obligation as far as I’m concerned on their part.”

“We’re in a — at least from a moral position — in a strong position to say, ‘You must help us understand this. Otherwise, you’re not doing your part of the job’”, he said.

Chehade also seemed to support the registrars’ position that LEA needs to justify its demands and offered to take their data and concerns to the LEA and the Governmental Advisory Committee.

“They put restrictions on us that are causing harm, according to these numbers,” he said. “Let’s take this back at them and say, hey, you ask for all these things, this is what happened.”

“If you can’t tell me what good this has done, be aware not to come back and ask for more,” he said. “I’m with you on this 100%. I’m saying let’s use the great findings you seem to have a found and well-package them in a case and I will be your advocate.”

Director Mike Silber also spoke in support of the RrSG’s position.

“My view is if what you are saying is correct, the LEA’s have blown their credibility,” he said. “They’re going to have to do a lot of work before we impose similar disproportional requirements on actors that are not proven to be bad actors.”

So what does this all mean for registrants?

I don’t think there’s any ongoing process right now to get the Whois verification requirements overturned — that would require a renegotiation of the RAA — but it does seem to mean demands from governments and police are going to have to be much more substantiated in future.

Noss attempted to link the problem to the recommendations of the Whois Expert Working Group (EWG), which propose a completely revamped, centralized Whois system with much more verification and not much to benefit registrants.

To paraphrase: if email verification causes so much harm, what harms could be caused by the EWG proposal?

The EWG was not stuffed with LEA or governments, however, so it couldn’t really be characterized as another set of unreasonable demands from the same entities.

ICANN overturns new gTLD objection decision!

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has overturned a Community Objection decision, allowing a .med new gTLD applicant back into the game, after a Request for Reconsideration from the applicant.

It’s the first time ICANN has overruled an objection panel during the new gTLD program and the first time in over a decade any RfR of substance has been accepted by the ICANN board of directors.

Medistry lost a CO filed by the program’s Independent Objector, Alain Pellet, back in January.

Under program rules, that should have killed off its application for .med completely.

But the company filed an RfR — ICANN’s first and cheapest appeals mechanism — claiming that Pellet acted outside his jurisdiction by filing the objection when there was not at least one informal objection from a community member on the public record.

Its case, as outlined in its RfR, was quite compelling, as I outlined in a piece in March.

Medistry argued that the International Chamber of Commerce’s panelist, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, had cited two non-existent informal community objections in his decision.

One of them literally did not exist — and von Schlabrendorff went so far as to infer its existence from its absence — while the other was “advisory” in nature and was not intended as an objection.

In March, ICANN’s Board Governance Committee accepted Medistry’s RfR on a preliminary basis, to give it more time to consider whether the IO had acted outside of the new gTLD program’s rules.

Yesterday, the BGC came to its final decision (pdf):

The BGC concludes that, based on information submitted with this Request, there is substantial and relevant evidence indicating that the Objection was inconsistent with ICANN procedures, despite the diligence and best efforts of the IO and staff. Specifically, the Requester [Medistry] has provided the BGC with uncontroverted information demonstrating that the public comments on which the Objection was based were not, in fact, in opposition to the Requester’s application. Accordingly, the BGC concludes that ICANN not consider the Expert Determination at issue and that the Requester’s Application for .MED is therefore permitted to proceed to the next stage of process in the New gTLD Program.

In other words: 1) Pellet inadvertently acted outside of his remit 2) the ICC’s ruling on the objection is simply cast aside and 3) Medistry’s application is back in the .med contention set.

The main reason this RfR succeeded while all others to date have failed is that Medistry managed to provide new information, in the form of clarifying letters from the two non-existent informal objectors, that was not originally available.

The large majority of previous RfR’s have failed because the requester has failed to bring any new evidence to the table.

The public comments from [National Association of Boards of Pharmacies] and [American Hospital Association] that were the basis for the Objection were vague and open to a number of interpretations. Given that there is substantial and uncontroverted evidence from the authors of those public comments, indicating what NABP and AHA intended, the BGC cannot ignore this information in assessing the Request or reaching its determination.

I think ICANN is going easy on the ICC and von Schlabrendorff (how can something that does not exist be “open to a number of interpretations”?) but it seems that the RfR process has in this case nevertheless been a bit of a success, overturning an extremely dodgy decision.

The .med contention set also contains HEXAP and Google.

Euro govs livid as ICANN takes .wine off ice

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2014, Domain Policy

The new gTLD applications for .wine and .vin are now live again, raising the ire of European governments.

ICANN chair Steve Crocker has written to the European Commission, along with the governments of France, Spain and the US that the three applications are once again being processed.

That’s after a 60-day temporary freeze, ostensibly in order to give the governments more time to push applicants for geographic indicator protections, expired earlier this month.

Geographic indicators are terms such as “Champagne” and “Bordeaux” which are protected under European law — they have to be produced in those regions — but not in the US and other non-EU countries.

France is expected to point to the .wine controversy as evidence of how ICANN is deficient as an organization.

“The problem is it is totally opaque, there is no transparency at all in the process,” Axelle Lemaire, minister for digital affairs, told the Financial Times today.

France also reckons ICANN’s decision will impact transatlantic trade negotiations unrelated to the domain name industry, the FT reported.

Lemaire’s comments about transparency are odd, given that pretty much the entire debate — whether in person at ICANN meetings or through correspondence — has been put on to the public record by ICANN.

The issue seems to be rather than the ICANN process does not give national governments a means to push their agendas onto the industry unless all participating governments agree.

The Governmental Advisory Committee was unable to come to a consensus on .wine and .vin — EU states wanted strong protection for GIs, but the US, Canada and Australia disagreed.

Lacking GAC consensus, ICANN had no mandate to act on requests for individual government requests.

But when its board decided to move ahead on the new gTLDs in March, the GAC noted that its process for making the decision may have broken its bylaws.

The EC, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg and Switzerland then filed formal Requests for Reconsideration with ICANN, asking for the decision to be overturned.

Those RfRs were rejected by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee a month ago.

Last week Crocker wrote to governments on both sides of the debate to confirm that, with the 60 days expired and no outstanding GAC advice, .wine and .vin will proceed to contention resolution and contracting as normal.

The letters are all pretty much the same, with Crocker explaining the process to date and suggesting again that ICANN be not be the best forum for governments to hash our their disagreements over GI protections.

Crocker told (pdf) EC vice president Neelie Kroes:

should the GAC be in a position to provide any additional advice on this issue, we would welcome it. Similarly, should governments succeed in resolving these issues in other global trade fora such as the WTO [World Trade Organization] that, too, will be taken into account.

Expect the debate to continue this week at ICANN 50, the public meeting that kicked off in London yesterday.

The EU and its most-affected member states are not going to let this die.