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.xxx reservations pass half a million

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has now taken over 500,000 reservations for .xxx domain names.

The counter on its web site ticked up by about 150,000 overnight. This was apparently due to the bulk uploading of large requests from several dozen enthusiastic potential registrants.

ICM tells me that these are all requests for unique domains, not counting duplicates, and that over 100,000 requests were not added because they did not appear to come from legit sources.

The counter was around the 200,000 mark last Friday, before ICANN approved ICM’s .xxx registry contract. The deal generated substantial media interest.

Again, it’s worth noting that none of these reservations are guaranteed to convert into sales, they’re basically just requests to be notified when the domains become available.

The price of a .xxx domain is expected to be at least $70 a year, which could scare off some buyers.

Still, coupled with landrush and Founders Program sales, I’m fairly confident that ICM, which spent about $12 million fighting ICANN for .xxx, will recoup its investment before the end of the year.

Canon’s sexy reason for .canon?

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2011, Domain Policy

Canon made headlines and gave a small amount of momentum to the idea of “.brand” top-level domains when it announced, a year ago, that it would apply to ICANN to manage .canon.

There are plenty of good reasons why the company would want the TLD.

Beyond the more obvious search-oriented branding opportunities, some say Canon could try to boost customer loyalty and create new revenue streams by offering camera buyers services such as photo hosting at personalized .canon domains.

But here’s another reason that doesn’t seem to have received many column inches: as I recently discovered from a few continental friends, “canon” also means “sexy” in French slang.

I expect this coincidence was the very least of Canon’s concerns when its executives met to discuss their .brand TLD strategy, but it does highlight a major issue that some companies will have to deal with when the ICANN new gTLD program gets underway.

They may think their brand is unique, but unless they’ve done their homework they may find themselves competing with, or blocked by, equally legitimate applicants from other nations.

Companies planning to participate in the program – even only as a challenger – will need to have done a fairly daunting audit of their key brands if they want to avoid nasty surprises.

Ensuring a brand is a unique, registered trademark in one’s home territory is only the beginning.

Companies need to also ask themselves what, if anything, their mark means in other languages, what it looks like in non-Latin scripts such as Arabic and Chinese, and whether it has similarity of “appearance, phonetic sound, or meaning” to any other potential new TLD string.

We already have at least one double entendre in the DNS – the ccTLD for the tiny Pacific island of Niue, .nu, means “.naked” in French, as the registry discovered to its benefit many years ago.

If Canon had not decided to apply for .canon, could a French-speaking pornographer have applied for the TLD instead, on the quite reasonable basis that it is also a “generic” string?

ICANN’s trademark protection policies would make such a delegation highly unlikely, but Canon would have found itself forced into a defensive fight to protect its mark.

Of more immediate concern to the company is of course the question of who gets to register canon.xxx.

It seems likely that ICM Registry’s sunrise policy is strong enough to ensure that this particular .xxx domain is never used for pornography, but only if a) no existing pornographer has a trademark on the string and b) Canon remembers to defensively register.

In the unlikely event that Canon forgets to defend its mark, a pornographer who registered canon.xxx for a legitimate French porn site could well find himself with a UDRP-winning domain.

And don’t get me started on Virgin…

US upset with ICANN over .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government has expressed disappointment with ICANN for approving the .xxx top-level domain, surprising nobody.

Fox News is reporting Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce and one of ICANN’s keynote speakers at the just-concluded San Francisco meeting:

We are disappointed that ICANN ignored the clear advice of governments worldwide, including the US. This decision goes against the global public interest, and it will open the door to more Internet blocking by governments and undermine the stability and security of the Internet.

As I reported Friday, ICANN used a literal interpretation of its Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice in order to make it appear that it was not disagreeing with it at all.

Essentially, because the GAC didn’t explicitly say “don’t delegate .xxx”, the ICANN board of directors was free to do so without technically being insubordinate.

Whether the GAC knew in advance that this was the board’s game plan is another question entirely.

Strickling is of course duty-bound to complain about .xxx – no government wanted to be seen to associate themselves with pornography – but he’s in a unique position to do something about it.

Strickling heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the named “Administrator” of the DNS root and ergo ICANN’s overseer.

It’s within his power to refuse to instruct VeriSign to inject .xxx into the DNS root system, but it’s a power few observers expect him to exercise.

As Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted yesterday:

If the US goes crazy and interferes with XXX’s entry into the root it will completely kill ICANN and open a Pandora’s box for governmental control of the DNS, a box that will never be closed.

Dire consequences indeed. It’s unlikely that the NTIA would risk killing off the ICANN project after so many years over a bit of T&A.

ICM sees 30,000 .xxx reservations in a day

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry is rapidly approaching the 250,000 mark for “pre-reserved” .xxx domain names, after racking up an extra 30,000 expressions of interest in less than 24 hours.

The counter on the ICM web site currently shows 243,972 domains have been reserved, compared to 211,942 at this time yesterday.

The counter ticked up by 2,000 domains in the 20 minutes it took me to write this post.

(UPDATE: The number of pre-reservations just passed 250,000, 24 hours after .xxx was approved.)

ICANN approved the .xxx top-level domain shortly after noon Pacific time yesterday, generating blogosphere buzz, a ton of Twitter traffic, and dozens of media stories worldwide.

An extra 30,000 domains is the same ball park as .CO Internet received following its commercial on Super Bowl Sunday last month.

But these free .xxx reservations will not necessarily translate into paid-for registrations, of course. Many people will be scared away from the fee, which I estimate is likely to be $70 to $100 a year.

But even if just one fifth convert, we’re talking about $2.5 million annually into ICM’s pocket, and another $500,000 to fund IFFOR, its sponsoring body. ICM expects to have at least 300,000 registrations in this first year.

How ICANN overruled governments on .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2011, Domain Registries

In approving the .xxx top-level domain, ICANN has for the first time explicitly overruled the wishes of international governments, as represented by its Governmental Advisory Committee.

In its rationale (pdf) for the decision, ICANN explains why it chose to disregard the GAC’s views.

There are two pieces of GAC advice that have been quite important. One was delivered in Wellington in 2007, the other was delivered yesterday

The Wellington GAC Communique noted that “several members of the GAC are emphatically opposed from a public policy perspective to the introduction of a .xxx sTLD.”

That was repeated during a terse, 10-minute “bylaws consultation” on .xxx yesterday, during which the the GAC also said “there is no active support of the GAC for the introduction of a .xxx TLD”.

ICANN chose to reject (kinda) both of those pieces of advice, on the basis of a quite literal interpretation — that GAC support was unnecessary and the advice was not specific enough:

There is no contradiction with GAC advice on this item. Active support of the GAC is not a required criteria in the 2004 sTLD round. Further, this is not advice from the GAC either to delegate .XXX or to not delegate .XXX, and therefore the decision to delegate .XXX is not inconsistent with this advice.

Unfortunately, this gives pretty much no clue to how the board will treat minority GAC positions in future, such as when some governments object to new gTLDs.

But companies planning to apply for potentially controversial TLDs can take heart from other parts of the rationale.

For example, the board did not buy the notion that .xxx should be rejected because some countries are likely to block it.

Saudi Arabia has already said it intends to filter out .xxx domains.

The GAC was worried that this kind of TLD blocking would lead to a fragmented root and competing national naming systems, but ICANN wasn’t so sure. The rationale reads:

The issue of governments (or any other entity) blocking or filtering access to a specific TLD is not unique to the issue of the .XXX sTLD. Such blocking and filtering exists today. While we agree that blocking of TLDs is generally undesirable, if some blocking of the .XXX sTLD does occur there’s no evidence the result will be different from the blocking that already occurs.

It’s been noted that some Muslim countries, for example, block access to Israel’s .il domain.

One director, George Sadowsky, dissented from the majority view, as is his wont. In a lengthy statement, he named stability as one reason he voted against .xxx.

He said “the future of the unified DNS could be at stake” and “could encourage moves to break the cohesiveness and uniqueness of the DNS”.

He drew a distinction between the filtering that goes on already and filtering that would come about as a direct result of an ICANN board action.

He was, however, in the minority, which makes proposed TLDs such a .gay seem likely to get less of a rough ride in future.