Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Panel slaps ICANN in .africa case

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2014, Domain Policy

A panel of arbitrators had some stern words for ICANN as it handed controversial .africa gTLD applicant DotConnectAfrica another win in its Independent Review Process case.

In a 33-page procedural ruling (pdf) published by ICANN late Friday, the IRP panel disagreed with ICANN’s lawyers on almost every argument they made, siding with DCA instead.

The panel strongly indicated that it believes ICANN has attempted to render the IRP toothless, after losing the first such case against ICM Registry a few years ago.

The ruling means that ICANN’s top executives and board may have to face hostile cross-examination by DCA lawyers, rather than simply filing written statements with the panel.

It also means that whatever the IRP panel ultimately decides will in all likelihood be binding on ICANN.

DCA filed the IRP with the International Center for Dispute resolution after ICANN, accepting Governmental Advisory Committee advice, rejected the company’s application for .africa.

The ICDR panel has not yet ruled on the merits of the case — personally, I don’t think DCA has a leg to stand on — but last week’s ruling is certainly embarrassing for ICANN.

On a number of counts, ICANN tried to wriggle out of its accountability responsibilities, the ruling suggests.

Primarily, ICANN lawyers had argued that the eventual outcome of the IRP case should be advisory, rather than binding, but the panel disagreed.

The panel noted that new gTLD applicants sign away their rights to sue when they apply for a gTLD, meaning IRP is their last form of appeal against rejection.

It also called into question ICANN’s ability to police itself without a binding decision from an independent third party, pointing to previously reported accountability problems (my emphasis):

The need for a compulsory remedy is concretely shown by ICANN’s longstanding failure to implement the provision of the Bylaws and Supplementary Procedures requiring the creation of a standing panel. ICANN has offered no explanation for this failure, which evidences that a self-policing regime at ICANN is insufficient. The failure to create a standing panel has consequences, as this case shows, delaying the processing of DCA Trust’s claim, and also prejudicing the interest of a competing .AFRICA applicant.

Moreover, assuming for the sake of argument that it is acceptable for ICANN to adopt a remedial scheme with no teeth, the Panel is of the opinion that, at a minimum, the IRP should forthrightly explain and acknowledge that the process is merely advisory. This would at least let parties know before embarking on a potentially expensive process that a victory before the IRP panel may be ignored by ICANN.

The decision is the opposite of what the IRP panel found in the ICM Registry case, which was ruled to be “non-binding” in nature.

While deciding that its own eventual ruling will be precedential, the panel said it did not have to follow the precedent from the ICM case, due to changes made to the IRP procedure in the meantime.

ICANN had also argued against the idea of witnesses being cross-examined, but the panel again disagreed, saying that both parties will have the opportunity “to challenge and test the veracity of statements made by witnesses”.

The hearing will be conducted by video ink, which could reduce costs somewhat, but it’s not quite as streamlined as ICANN was looking for.

Not only will ICANN’s top people face a grilling by DCA’s lawyers, but ICANN’s lawyers will, it seems, get a chance to put DCA boss Sophia Bekele on the stand.

I’d pay good money for a ticket to that hearing.

YouPorn challenges new gTLDs with review demand

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2011, Domain Registries

YouPorn operator Manwin is demanding a review of .xxx, and ICANN’s top-level domains program by association, in a new Independent Review Panel request.

It becomes only the second company ever, after .xxx manager ICM Registry, to file an IRP request with ICANN. The filing came at the same time as Manwin sued ICANN and ICM in California.

The IRP demand ostensibly focuses on .xxx, but it also suggests that the forthcoming new gTLD program has many of the same flaws as the process that led to .xxx’s approval.

IRP is the final, and most expensive, appeals process available within ICANN for companies that believe they’ve been wronged by the organization’s decisions.

It was first used by ICM in 2008-2009 to have the rejection of its .xxx application overturned.

To win an IRP, complainants have to convince an International Centre for Dispute Resolution panel (probably three retired judges) that ICANN violated its own bylaws when it made a harmful decision.

The only reason .xxx is in the root today is that an IRP decided by majority that ICANN broke the bylaws when it approved and then rejected the .xxx bid filed in the 2004 new gTLD round.

Manwin’s IRP claims that ICANN failed to “adequately address issues including competition, consumer protection, malicious abuse and rights protection prior to approving the .xxx TLD”.

It also claims that ICANN failed to enforce ICM’s compliance with its registry contract, allowing it to engage in “anticompetitive conduct” and help violate IP rights.

The company is basically miffed that it felt it was being forced to spend money in ICM’s sunrise period, and that it was not allowed to block its trademarks and variations of its trademarks.

One of its oddest claims, which is in the IRP as well as the lawsuit, is that ICM was selected in a “closed process” that did not consider alternative .xxx operators.

The 2004 gTLD round was of course open to any applicant, so there was nothing stopping anybody else from applying for .xxx. One gTLD, .tel, did in fact have multiple bidders.

Essentially, the IRP demand cuts to the heart of the domain name industry and the new gTLD concept in general, challenging many practices that have become norms.

Sunrise

Sunrise is “extortion”, according to Manwin.

As well as being opposed to the idea of paying for defensive registrations in general, Manwin also thinks that typos and brand+keyword domains should be eligible for blocking, presumably for free.

It also believes that porn companies should have been able to defensively block some .xxx domains (which ICM called “Sunrise B”) and register others for active use (“Sunrise A”).

Speculation

Manwin’s IRP says that ICM did not act in the best interests of its sponsored community (ostensibly the porn industry) when it sold premium .xxx domains to “known domain name speculators”.

Well-known domainers Frank Schilling and Mike Berkens have invested millions in .xxx, but Manwin says their profit motives show ICM broke its commitment to serve the adult industry only.

Schilling, who signed up to buy domains 33 domains including amateur.xxx before ICM’s registry contract had even been approved, is reportedly already leasing out some of his .xxx names to porn companies for five figures a month.

New gTLDs

Manwin seems to support what you might call a ‘string first, registry later’ model for delegating gTLDs.

It states in its lawsuit and IRP that ICANN should have opened up .xxx for competitive bidding, apparently ignoring the fact that the .xxx string was proposed by ICM, not ICANN.

In the IRP demand, it suggests that allowing gTLD applicants to select their own strings is in violation of ICANN’s bylaws. The complaint states:

[ICANN] gave ICM a permanent monopoly over the .XXX TLD without considering other candidates for registry operator and without making provision for considering other potential registry operators at the end of the initial term of the .xxx Registry Agreement.

If Manwin wins, ICANN could be forced into a situation where it must ask for string proposals from new gTLD applicants and then open up each proposed string to competitive bidding.

That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but it’s pretty much exactly the opposite of how the ICANN-approved new gTLD program is going to work.

The IRP and the lawsuit are also notable in that they target the alleged lack of economic studies that support .xxx and new gTLDs in general.

It states that ICANN “failed to conduct proper economic studies of the impact of the introduction of new TLDs, including the .xxx TLD”.

This is a frequent criticism leveled at ICANN by opponents such as the Association of National Advertisers and the newly formed Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight.

Manwin is being represented in the suit and IRP by the law firm Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, the employer of Steve Metalitz, a well-known figure in ICANN’s intellectual property constituency.