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Go Daddy to sell .xxx domains

Go Daddy has become the latest registrar to agree to sell .xxx domain names.

It’s a bit of a big deal for ICM Registry, given how dominant Go Daddy is in the registrar channel.

There are about 50 .xxx registrars on this ICANN web page, which lists all the accredited registrars along with which top-level domains they’re approved to sell.

Go Daddy isn’t listed as a .xxx registrar yet, but its accreditation was just announced in a press release.

Read more at The Register.

Final call for .xxx policy volunteers

The International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which will set policies for the .xxx top-level domain, has issued its final call for Policy Council volunteers.

The deadline for nominations for the nine PC seats has been set at July 5, and IFFOR plans to announce the successful candidates in late August.

Five of the seats are reserved for members of the porn industry. Another will represent privacy/security interests, one will be drawn from the world of child protection, and one will be a free speech advocate.

The final seat will be occupied by ICM Registry, the .xxx manager.

My understanding is that a front-runner for the child protection role is Sharon Girling, a former British police officer who played a key role in child abuse stings including Operation Ore.

I know of a few people who have applied for the free speech spot. Most recently, outspoken .xxx critic “DarkLady”, author of the Dot-XXX Opposition blog, revealed she had put herself forward for the job.

While the PC members are ostensibly volunteers, they do get a $15,000 annual stipend and their travel expenses paid for.

IFFOR will receive $10 from ICM for every .xxx domain that is registered.

Survey shows .xxx is the Marmite TLD

The forthcoming .xxx top-level domain is accepted and hated by equal numbers of adult entertainment industry operators, according to a new survey.

Xbiz reports today that 35% of its members plan to buy .xxx domain names. Equally, 35% said they would not buy in .xxx because they do not want to support the TLD.

Marmite, if you’re puzzled about the headline, is a strongly flavored yeast-based sandwich spread sold primarily here in the UK. It’s cleverly marketed using the frank slogan “Love it or hate it”.

Just like .xxx, it’s banned in some countries.

It may not be an entirely apt simile, however. The Xbiz survey showed that a paltry 13% of the respondents planned to develop sites. The other 22% are only planning to defensively register their brands.

Xbiz, which surveyed 400 of its members, speculates that defensively registered domains “may be key to the TLD’s revenue stream and perhaps its survival”.

I’m not so sure. If ICM gets 22,000 defensive registrations from pornographers (twice as many sunrise registrations as .co reportedly got last year), that works out to only $1.1 million per year for ICM.

We’re likely to get our first indication of adult industry support when ICM announces its Founders Program partners – pornographers that are prepared to publicly endorse .xxx before it launches.

Like any new TLD launch, anchor tenants will to a large extent determine acceptance of .xxx – ICM will need its o.co moment.

Last week, I attended an ICM-sponsored event at a strip joint in London, at which executives from a large British porn publisher expressed enthusiasm about the TLD, so it does seem to have some quiet support in the business.

Don’t rush to defensively register .xxx domains

Trademark owners trying to figure out how to protect their brands in the .xxx top-level domain should wait for ICM Registry to reveal its full suite of anti-cybersquatting measures before deciding whether to defensively register a large portfolio of domains.

With registrar prices for sunrise trademark blocks currently hovering around the $300 mark, an especially aggressive enforcement strategy could rack up six-figure bills for large brand holders.

But it may turn out to be more cost-effective to use ICM’s post-launch enforcement mechanisms to fight cybersquatting.

So far, all we’ve seen from ICM is a white paper, prepared by its partner IPRota, that outlines the policies that will be in place during the pre-launch sunrise period.

But the company plans to have some of the most Draconian post-launch IP rights protections mechanisms of any new TLD to date.

If, as a registrant, you think the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy ICANN plans to enforce on new TLDs is tough, you’ll likely have a bigger problem with Rapid Takedown.

Rapid Takedown is expected to be modeled on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It will use UDRP experts, but will only take 48 hours to suspend a domain name. ICM has described it like this:

Rapid Takedown
Analysis of UDRP disputes indicates that the majority of UDRP cases involve obvious variants of well-known trademarks. ICM Registry does not believe that the clearest cases of abusive domain registration require the expense and time involved in traditional UDRP filings. Accordingly, ICM Registry will institute a rapid takedown procedure in which a response team of independent experts (qualified UDRP panelists) will be retained to make determinations within 48 hours of receipt of a short and simple statement of a claim involving a well-known or otherwise inherently distinctive mark and a domain name for which no conceivable good faith basis exists. Such determinations will result in an immediate termination of resolution of the domain name, but will not prejudice either party’s election to pursue another dispute mechanism. The claim requirements will be modeled after the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

It remains to be seen how much this will cost complainants (assuming there is a cost), and there are other unanswered questions such as the duration of the suspension, the ability of the complaint to have the domain transferred and the registrant’s right of appeal.

But it’s clear that trademark holders will very likely have cheaper options than UDRP, which can cost as much as $1,500 for a single domain name.

In addition, ICM plans to permanently ban cybersquatters that are “found to have repeatedly engaged in abusive registration”. Abusers will lose their .xxx portfolios, even their non-infringing domains, and will not be able to register any more.

Combined with Rapid Takedown, and the high price of .xxx domains ($75 a year minimum so far), this will likely make cybersquatting a much less attractive proposition in .xxx than .com.

Trademark holders should wait for their full range of options to be revealed before panicking about high sunrise fees.

It may turn out to be more cost-effective to block just a few primary brands, and leave enforcement of other brands to post-launch mechanisms.

How to protect your trademark in .xxx

ICM Registry today revealed the details of its policies for trademark holders that want to defensively register or block their .xxx domain names.

The company plans to kick off its sunrise period in early September. It will last 30 days, and will be followed a few weeks later by a 14-day landrush.

The date for general availability has not been set in stone, but is likely to be in early December.

Two sunrise periods will run concurrently. Sunrise A is for the adult entertainment industry, those who want to actually set up porn sites at .xxx domains. Sunrise B is for everyone else.

ICM is trying something new with .xxx, in response to non-porn brands that are worried about cybersquatting and also don’t want to actually own a .xxx domain name.

Under Sunrise B, non-porn trademark owners can pay a one-time fee to have their brand essentially turned off in .xxx.

These domains will all resolve to a standard placeholder page, informing visitors that the domain has been blocked.

Because the domains resolve, they will usually not be picked up by any ISP system whereby non-existent domains show advertisements instead of an error message.

The fees we’ve seen so far from registrars for this service range from $299 to $648, but ICM seems to think $200 to $300 is more realistic.

The blocks are expected to last forever, but because ICM’s registry agreement with ICANN only lasts for 10 years, it can only guarantee the blocks for that amount of time.

So while it looks like a $30 to $65 annual fee, over the lifetime of the TLD it may well steadily approach a negligible sum, if you’re thinking super-long-term.

To qualify for Sunrise B, you need a nationally registered trademark for the exact string you want to block. To use an example, Lego could block lego.xxx, but not legoporn.xxx.

ICM is currently planning a post-launch block service for brands that emerge in future, but it probably won’t have the flat one-time pricing structure, due to the registry’s own annual per-domain fees.

If you’re in the porn business, Sunrise A allows you to claim your brand if you have a trademark that is registered with a national effect.

It will also enable the “grandfathering” of porn sites in other TLDs that do not have a registered trademark. If you own example.com or example.co.uk, you’d qualify for example.xxx.

Lego could, for example, register legoporn.xxx using Sunrise A, because it already owns legoporn.com, but only if it actually intended to publish Lego-based pornography.

If it were to register legoporn.xxx in this way, and use it for non-porn purposes, it would be at risk of losing the domain under ICM’s planned Charter Eligibility Dispute Resolution Policy (CEDRP).

In the event that a Sunrise A applicant and a Sunrise B applicant both apply for the same string, the Sunrise A (porn) applicant will be given the option to withdraw their application.

If they don’t withdraw, they will be able to register the domain, trumping their non-porn rival.

Two Sunrise A applicants gunning for the same .xxx domain will have to fight it out at auction.

It’s probably worth mentioning, because many cybersquatters seem to think it’s a .com-only deal, that the UDRP does of course also apply to .xxx domain names.

If you own, for example, the string “virgin” in another TLD, and use it for a porn site, you will actually be able to use it in Sunrise A to secure virgin.xxx, but you risk losing it to Virgin in a UDRP.

If you’ve “pre-registered” a domain with ICM already, it doesn’t seem that you’ll have any notable advantages during sunrise or landrush.

The registry plans to email these pre-registrants soon with instructions. More info on the new ICM site: XXXempt.com.

The sunrise policies were devised by IPRota.

Pricing competition begins in .xxx

DomainMonster plans to charge between $75 and $300 for .xxx domain names, a fair bit cheaper than the only other registrar to so far disclose its prices.

A single .xxx domain will cost $99.99, dropping to $89.99 and $74.99 if the customer has more than 10 or more than 25 items in their cart when they check out, according to CEO Matt Mansell.

DomainMonster’s pricing scheme offers discounts on all products – including non-domain services – when more than 10 are purchased at the same time, and this will also apply to .xxx.

For trademark holders wanting to register or block their names during the sunrise period, the company will charge $299.99, $289.99 and $249.99, all but $50 of which is non-refundable.

Grandfathering prices for existing porn sites without trademarks will cost $199.99, $179.99 and $149.99, with the same non-refundable component. Landrush fees will be the same.

The only other registrar I’m aware of to announce prices so far is Key-Systems. Regular .xxx names will cost $133 there, with landrush names checking in at about $250.

ICM Registry, the .xxx manager, will charge $60 for domains during general availability. I hear through the grapevine that its fee to “block” a trademark for 10 years is $162.

According to ICM, the ratio of pre-registered domain names to registrants works out to between 20 and 30 names per person, so it’s seems possible DomainMonster’s volume pricing has a market.

About 60 registrars have been approved to sell .xxx domain names so far.

Europe and US to meet on .xxx and new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2011, Domain Policy

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes is to meet with the US Department of Commerce, a month after she asked it to delay the launch of the .xxx top-level domain.

Tomorrow, Kroes will meet with Larry Strickling, assistant secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, according to a press release:

This follows the controversial decision of the ICANN Board in March to approve the “.XXX” Top Level Domain for adult content. Ms Kroes will make clear European views on ICANN’s capacity to reform. In particular, Ms Kroes will raise ICANN’s responsiveness to governments raising public policy concerns in the ICANN Governmental Advisory Council [Committee] (GAC) , the transparency and accountability of ICANN’s internal corporate governance and the handling of country-code Top Level Domains for its most concerned public authorities.

In April, Kroes asked Strickling’s boss, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, to put a hold on the addition of .xxx to the domain name system root until the GAC had chance to discuss it further.

Strickling declined, saying that for the US to take unilateral action over the root would provide ammunition to its critics in the international community.

The US and EC are two of the most active and vocal participants in the GAC – at least in public. Whatever conclusions Strickling and Kroes come to tomorrow are likely to form the basis of the GAC’s short-term strategy as negotiations about new TLDs continue.

ICANN’s board is scheduled to meet with the GAC on May 20, for an attempt to come to some final conclusions about the new gTLD program, particularly in relation to trademark protection.

ICANN wants to approve the program’s Applicant Guidebook on June 20, but is likely to face resistance from governments, especially the US.

Strickling has indicated that he may use the upcoming renewal of ICANN’s IANA contract as leverage to get the GAC a stronger voice in ICANN’s decision-making process.

First .xxx domain name prices revealed

New .xxx domain name registrations could retail for as much as $158 a year, a markup of almost $100 over the wholesale registry fee, it has emerged.

Key-Systems, one of the first registrars approved to sell .xxx names, plans to charge €92.44 ($133), or €110.00 ($158) including VAT, per name per year during general availability.

The prices were revealed on the German company’s consumer-facing web site, DomainDiscount24.com.

ICM Registry’s wholesale fee is $60 per year. Excluding VAT, Key-Systems stands to make a whopping $73 margin on .xxx domains.

For comparison, the registrar’s margin on .com domains is less than $10.

Prices for trademark holders that wish to register .xxx names defensively will be even higher.

In the first sunrise period, reserved for porn companies with trademarks, the company will charge a non-refundable application fee of €134.95 ($194), plus €130.90 ($188) per name per year.

In a second sunrise, which “grandfathers” registrants of porn domains in other TLDs, domains will cost €95.20 ($137) in non-refundable application fees, with the same again for the first year’s registration.

If you’re a non-porn trademark holder, and you want to block your brand from the .xxx namespace – say you’re Disney and you want disney.xxx permanently reserved – it will cost €450 ($648).

That’s a “one-time fee”, but it’s not yet clear how many years it covers for 10 years, which works out to €45 per year.

Landrush fees, for non-trademark holders, will be €80 ($115) per application, non-refundable, plus €95 ($137) per domain per year.

Key-Systems is the first registrar to disclose its pricing plans. It’s possible other registrars will offer lower (or, I suppose, higher) prices.

ICANN tries to dodge .jobs legal fees

“Please don’t sue us!”

That’s the message some are taking away from the latest round of published correspondence between lawyers representing ICANN and .jobs registry Employ Media.

Employ Media last week said it will take ICANN to the International Chamber of Commerce, after they failed to resolve their dispute over the company’s controversial Universe.jobs venture.

Now ICANN has asked the registry’s executives to return to the negotiating table, apparently to reduce the risk of having to spend millions of dollars on lawyering.

In a letter (pdf) to Employ Media’s attorneys, ICANN outside counsel Eric Enson of Jones Day said that ICANN wishes to avoid “costly legal fees associated with arbitration or litigation”:

I again request a meeting among the business persons involved in this matter to discuss potential resolutions before spending more of ICANN’s funding on unnecessary litigation.

The latest round of published correspondence, like the last one, and the one before that, seems to contain a fair bit of legal posturing, with both sides accusing the other of conducting negotiations in “bad faith” for various reasons.

Filing the arbitration notice with the ICC might turn out to be a smart move by Employ Media, knowing how risk-averse and cash-conscious ICANN is.

ICANN is still smarting from the last time it headed to arbitration, for its Independent Review Panel over ICM Registry’s .xxx top-level domain.

ICANN lost that case in February 2010, and had to cover the panel’s almost $500,000 in costs, as well as its own legal fees. The overall price tag is believed to have comfortably made it into seven figures.

But that may well turn out to be small beer compared to the price of losing arbitration against the .jobs registry.

Unlike the IRP, in which both parties pay their own lawyers no matter who wins, Employ Media’s contract states that the losing party in arbitration must pay the legal fees of the winner.

To go up against .jobs at the ICC and lose could hit ICANN’s coffers harder than the .xxx dispute, in other words. That’s not to say it would lose, but with matters as complex as this there is that risk.

It’s worth noting that Employ Media’s lead attorney has form when it comes to reaching into ICANN’s pockets – Crowell & Moring’s Arif Ali also represented ICM Registry in the .xxx IRP case.

Europe asked the US to delay .xxx

Kevin Murphy, May 5, 2011, Domain Policy

European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes asked the US Department of Commerce to delay the introduction of the .xxx top-level domain after ICANN approved it, I can reveal.

In an April 6 letter to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, a copy of which I have obtained, Kroes expressed dismay with ICANN’s decision, and wrote (my emphasis):

I would therefore consider it necessary for the [ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee] to reflect, at a senior level, on the broader implications of the Board’s decision on .XXX, and to do so before the TLD is introduced into the global Internet. I assume that the United States government would appreciate the opportunity to hear the views of other countries on this important issue, and I very much hope therefore that I can count on your support for such an initiative.

The letter was sent after ICANN had approved .xxx, but nine days before the National Telecommunications and Information Administration instructed VeriSign to add it to the DNS root.

It seems to be an implicit request for the NTIA to delay .xxx’s go-live date to give the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN time to regroup and consider how best to continue to oppose the domain.

As I reported this morning, assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling replied to Kroes later in April, agreeing with her in principle but saying that to intervene could do more harm than good.

Kroes objected on the grounds that GAC had “no active support” for .xxx, that national-level blocking of the TLD could threaten internet stability, and that parents will be given a “false sense of security” if they choose to filter .xxx domain names.

She also didn’t buy ICANN’s rationale for its decision, saying it contained “mostly procedural arguments that do not adequately reflect the significant political and cultural sensitivities” created by .xxx.

She additionally noted that:

Most importantly, perhaps, are the wider consequences that we have all have to deal with as a result of this decision. We are both aware of the broader geo-political Internet governance debate that continues regarding the legitimacy of the ICANN model. I am concerned therefore that ICANN’s decision to reject substantive GAC advice – of which there is also an apparent risk in relation to the new generic TLD process – may be detrimental to the multi-stakeholder, private sector-led model which many of us in the international community have been stoutly defending for years.

This seems to be a reference to the longstanding debate over whether the International Telecommunications Union, or another intergovernmental body, may be better suited to overseeing domain name system policy.

In his reply to Kroes, Strickling offered to meet her by teleconference or in person in Brussels, in order to discuss how to proceed.

The fallout from .xxx’s approval may not be over by a long shot.

UPDATE: Read the Kroes letter: Page One, Page Two.