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Momentous pays over $3 million for .sucks

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Momentous Corp, whose .sucks application has been branded “predatory”, has won the three-way contention set for the new gTLD, according to sources with knowledge of the auction.

The company paid over $3 million for the string, one source said.

Momentous affiliate Vox Populi Registry beat Donuts and Top Level Spectrum, the other applicants, at a private auction I gather was managed by Applicant Auction.

It’s likely to be a controversial win.

Vox Populi has said it plans to charge $25,000 per year for a single Sunrise registration, leading some (myself included) to believe its business model is to exploit the fears of brand owners.

(UPDATE: The company has changed its mind about pricing. It says it won’t charge $25,000 after all.)

In March, US Senator Jay Rockefeller branded the plan nothing more than a “predatory shakedown scheme” with “no socially redeeming value”.

But the company’s CEO, John Berard, told DI last year that .sucks will be an “innovative part of customer service, retention and loyalty”.

Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a customer feedback tool that companies can budget alongside other pricey items such as retaining a PR agency, for example.

The registry plans to have strict rules against cyber-bullying. The proposed $300-a-year general availability price tag is likely to keep it out of the hands of most schoolyard bullies.

There will also be a “zero tolerance” policy toward parked domains and pornography, according to its web site.

That’s unlikely to calm the concerns of trademark owners, however.

.sucks is a gTLD that many advisers have been characterizing as a “must-have” for companies worried about their online image, rather like .xxx was a few years ago.

Vox Populi started accepting Sunrise pre-registrations for $2,500 on its web site last December, but that offer does not appear to be still available.

.wine applicants changing tune on geo protection?

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Aggressive lobbying of ICANN by the wine-making industries on both sides of the Atlantic may be about to bear fruit.

Applicants for .wine and .vin are talking to the organization about providing special protection for a list of “geographic indicator” terms, according to CEO Fadi Chehade.

In a letter to French secretary of state for digital Axelle Lemaire published last week, Chehade said:

The parties involved are now working on devising a mechanism which would offer protections to a reserved list of names, which would be contractually protected through ICANN’s registry agreement, along with a set of rules around how those names could be distributed to parties that have interests in and the rights to them. Once they are finalized, ICANN would be charged with monitoring and ensuring compliance with these commitments.

While the details have not yet been revealed, this appears to be what wine makers have been looking for.

GIs are terms such as “Napa Valley” and “Champagne”. While they are protected under various national and international laws, they don’t enjoy the same degree of global recognition as trademarks.

They do not qualify for inclusion in the Trademark Clearinghouse, so would not automatically be protected when .wine and .vin launch.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was unable to reach consensus on what should be done about GIs. European countries wanted protections, but the US, Canada and Australia were against the idea.

Wine makers presented a pretty unified front, however, even when they did not benefit from the support of their own governments.

Industry groups and the European Commission had separately started Cooperative Engagement Processes with ICANN — a prelude to filing Independent Review Process complaints.

These CEPs are evidently what kick-started the current negotiations.

There are three applicants for .wine — Donuts, Famous Four and Afilias. Only Donuts has applied for .vin.

Donuts declined to comment on the talks referred to in the Chehade letter.

DreamHost hit with big breach notice

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registrars

DreamHost, a web hosting provider which says it hosts over 1.3 million web sites, has been hit with a lengthy ICANN compliance notice, largely concerning alleged Whois failures.

The breach notice raises questions about the company’s popular free Whois privacy service.

Chiefly, DreamHost has failed to demonstrate that it properly investigates Whois inaccuracy complaints, as required by the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, according to ICANN.

The notice contains numerous other complaints about alleged failures to publish information about renewal fees, its directors and abuse contacts on its web site.

The domain highlighted by ICANN in relation to the Whois failure is senect.com

ICANN sent three compliance notices to DreamHost concerning a Whois inaccuracy report for the domain name and requested DreamHost demonstrate that it took reasonable steps to investigate the Whois inaccuracy claims. DreamHost’s failure to provide documentation demonstrating the reasonable steps it took to investigate and correct the alleged Whois inaccuracy is a breach of Section 3.7.8 of the RAA.

Weirdly, senect.com has been under private registration at DreamHost since the start of 2012.

ICANN seems to be asking the registrar to investigate itself in this case.

DreamHost offers private registration to its customers for free. It populates the Whois with proxy contact information and the registrant name “A Happy DreamHost Customer”.

DomainTools associates “A Happy DreamHost Customer” with over 710,000 domain names.

As an accredited registrar, DreamHost had over 822,000 gTLD domain names at the last count. According to its web site, it has over 400,000 customers.

The breach notice also demands the company immediately start including the real contact information for its privacy/proxy customers in its data escrow deposits.

ICANN has given the company until November 21 to resolve a laundry list of alleged RAA breaches, or risk losing its accreditation.

Oops! Cock-up reveals ICANN survey respondent emails

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2014, Domain Policy

An ICANN contractor accidentally revealed the email addresses of almost 100 people who responded to a survey related to a review of the Generic Names Supporting Organization.

An invitation to participate in a follow-up survey was sent out to respondents today with all the email addresses in the To:, rather than BCC:, field.

Westlake Governance, which is conducting the survey for ICANN, quickly sent an apology:

We have been sending invitations in batches, and regret that we included your address in the only set of invitations that was copied inadvertently in the “To” line as addressee, rather than as a “Bcc.”

We sincerely apologise for this breach of our internal protocols and potentially of your privacy.

The misfire revealed that 15 out of the 98 listed respondents have @icann.org email addresses, suggesting roughly 15% of the responses came from ICANN staffers.

While the survey certainly anticipated responses from within the organization — one question gives “staff” as an option for the respondent to state their affiliation — some are not happy anyway.

Neustar vice president Jeff Neuman tweeted:

The massive, 93-question survey (pdf) was designed to kick-start the next cycle in ICANN’s interminable reviews of its policy-making bodies, in this case the GNSO.

The results of the survey will be used to inform a review of the GNSO’s structure, which could potentially re-balance power within the organization.

ICANN board bill tops $2 million

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors cost the organization over $2 million in pay and expenses in its fiscal 2014, a document released last night shows.

The total bill for the year ended June 30 was $2,000,609, up 16% on FY13’s $1,721,191 and up 27% on the FY12 figure.

The majority of the expenditure went on travel and other expenses. Just $538,983 went on compensation.

ICANN directors get $35,000 per year basic, plus another $5,000 for each board committee they chair. Board chair Steve Crocker gets $75,000 and accumulated $149,000 in FY2014 expenses.

Six directors chose to receive no compensation whatsoever, though they all racked up travel expenses.

The $2 million total does not include any contribution from CEO Fadi Chehade.

Chehade’s salary was $559,999. He also received $253,826 in bonuses and accumulated expenses totaling $519,421.

FY14 was of course the year in which Chehade and members of the board traveled extensively for outreach related to the IANA stewardship transition process and the NetMundial initiative.