Employ Media’s fight to avoid losing its contract to run .jobs won’t be resolved this year, according to the latest batch of arbitration documents published by ICANN.
February 2013, two years after the the battle was joined, is now the absolute earliest the company could find out whether ICANN has the right to shut down .jobs due to an alleged contract breach.
As you may recall from deep in the mists of time (actually, February last year) ICANN threatened to terminate Employ Media’s contract due to the controversial .Jobs Universe project.
The registry gave thousands of .jobs domains, mostly geographic or vocational strings, to its partner, the DirectEmployers Association, which started competing against jobs listings sites.
A coalition of jobs sites including Monster.com complained about this on the basis that .jobs was originally designed for companies to list their own jobs, not to aggregate third-party listings.
The coalition believed that the .Jobs Universe project was essentially a fait accompli, despite Employ Media’s promise that all the names now allocated to DirectEmployers would be subject to an open RFP process.
ICANN eventually agreed with the coalition, issued a breach notice, and now it finds itself in arbitration under the auspices of the International Chamber of Commerce.
A face-to-face hearing has now been scheduled for January 28 to February 8, 2013. Between now and December, it’s paper filings – claims and counterclaims – all the way.
Arbitration clauses were added as standard to ICANN’s registry agreements in order to create a cheaper, faster option than fighting out disagreements in the courts.
However, with both sides lawyered up and a process now likely to last at least two years, it’s easy to wonder just how much more efficient it will be.
It won’t be an easy decision for the ICC panel.
While I still believe Employ Media was a bit sneaky about how it won ICANN approval for the .Jobs Universe project – and it certainly disenfranchised other jobs sites – there’s no denying that .jobs is now a much healthier gTLD for registrants as a result of DirectEmployers’ involvement.
An ICANN win might actually be a bad thing.
The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, which wants ICANN to rein in .jobs registry Employ Media, has sent a couple of stern letters to ICANN recently.
Neither are especially exciting, but as ICANN has yet to publish them on its correspondence page I thought I’d make them available here.
The first (pdf), sent July 5, demands to know why ICANN has not yet provided an update to its forthcoming arbitration with Employ Media, which was due a few weeks ago.
ICANN and the registry are set to face off at the International Chamber of Commerce over the disputed Universe.jobs service, which ICANN believes was launched in breach of the .jobs Charter.
My understanding is that the arbitration is going ahead, but that ICANN has been granted an extension to the deadline to file its reply.
The second letter (pdf) notes that .jobs’ IANA listing was recently updated with language more friendly to Employ Media’s position that not only human resources managers qualify for .jobs domains.
It asks why this change was made, invoking the Documentary Information Disclosure Policy.
The Coalition is made up of independent jobs site operators unhappy that Employ Media appears to be using its position as the .jobs registry to compete with them.
Employ Media, manager of the .jobs top-level domain, has become the first registry operator to take ICANN to arbitration to fight off a shut-down threat.
The company in the last hour said it has filed a Request for Arbitration with the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, after informal efforts to reach agreement with ICANN broke down.
Employ Media CEO Tom Embrescia said in a statement:
This filing was necessary to ward off ICANN’s unwarranted and unprecedented threat of contract termination. That action created immediate uncertainty about the .JOBS TLD on the Internet and caused significant duress on our business.
ICANN had threatened to terminate the .jobs registry agreement – which I believe is pretty much the only option available to it in the case of a perceived breach – in February.
The filing means .jobs can operate as normal until the situation is resolved.
The dispute is essentially about Universe.jobs, a jobs listing service operated by the DirectEmployers Association using tens of thousands of generic .jobs domain names granted to it by Employ Media.
The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of independent jobs boards, complained to ICANN that Universe.jobs went against the spirit and letter of the original .jobs Charter.
Employ Media says that Universe.jobs was essentially authorized when ICANN approved its Phase Allocation process for handing out generic domains last year.
Employ Media is represented by lawyers from Crowell & Moring, some of the same individuals responsible for ICM Registry’s defeat of ICANN at its Independent Review Panel last year.
The request for arbitration can be read here in PDF format.
Employ Media has come to a deal with ICANN to avoid having its .jobs registry contract revoked, at least for the next few weeks.
Following discussions with ICANN’s lawyers, the company plans to amend its Charter, and has agreed to stop allocating non-company-name .jobs domain names until May 6.
ICANN threatened to terminate the .jobs registry deal in February, after Employ Media started allocating thousands of premium vocational and geographic domains to a partner, the DirectEmployers Association, to act as entry points for Universe.jobs.
In a breach notice (pdf), ICANN said that this use of .jobs domains “is inconsistent with the purpose stated in the .JOBS Charter and represented to the ICANN community”.
The .JOBS Charter ostensibly restricts registrations to human resources professionals, but in practice there’s a great big loophole that allows anybody to cheaply qualify for a domain.
In February, ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey told Employ Media:
By not establishing any meaningful restrictions on who may register second level registrations in the .JOBS TLD, Employ Media put in operation a TLD where anyone can register names, thus defeating the purpose for which the sponsored TLD came into existence.
In its response, the registry noted that it had followed ICANN’s proper procedures for introducing new “registry services”, such as the Phase Allocation Plan that allowed it to seed Universe.jobs.
It accused ICANN of bending to the wishes of the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, a group of independent jobs sites operators that had objected to Universe.jobs.
Employ Media’s chief executive Brian Johnson wrote:
This is a sad day for both the Internet community and the international human resource management community. ICANN should be promoting competition and working cooperatively with its contractual parties, but instead is choosing to ignore the plain meaning of its contract with Employ Media in order to appease some apparently well‐financed and well‐connected provocateurs.
Since that letter (pdf) was sent, ICANN and the registry have been engaged in private discussions aimed at resolving the conflict, as allowed by the registry agreement.
In the latest set of correspondence, exchanged over the last week, it has emerged that ICANN has agreed to give Employ Media time to remedy the situation by amending its Charter.
The letters do not reveal whether the amendments will allow Employ Media to continue to offer Universe.jobs or not. I suspect they will.
The amendments may require the company to consult with its nominal sponsor, the Society for Human Resource Management.
ICANN wants a proposed Charter amendment on its desk by May 2. It has agreed to take no further action related to the breach of contract allegations until May 6.
Employ Media will appeal ICANN’s threatened termination of its .jobs registry contract.
“We view the substance of this notice to be a surprising reversal of position and contradictory to prior decisions issued by its Board of Directors,” the company said.
ICANN yesterday gave Employ Media until the end of the month to cancel its agreement to provide 40,000 .jobs domains to the DirectEmployers Association for its Universe.jobs employment board.
The organization said the allocation of the domains for non-human-resources purposes went against the letter, spirit and intent of the registry’s contract and Charter.
It essentially boils down to a claim that Employ Media hacked its contract to allow it to start making money on names beyond the limited scope of its original “sponsored” community TLD.
The .jobs TLD was originally pitched as a space for corporate HR pages, not independent jobs sites. With Universe.jobs, half of the namespace is an independent jobs site. Employ Media is believed to have a revenue-sharing arrangement with DirectEmployers.
The ICANN breach notice was welcomed by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, the ad hoc trade group formed by major commercial jobs sites to fight Universe.jobs.
Peter Weddle, executive director of the International Association of Employment Web Sites, said in a press release:
the Dot Jobs Universe was not an innovation but rather an unprecedented attempt by a registry operator to misappropriate an entire TLD for itself and its alliance partner in blatant disregard of ICANN’s rules.
Employ Media disagrees, of course, saying that Universe.jobs came about as a result of its “Phased Allocation” liberalization plan, which was approved by ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process and then survived a Reconsideration Request filed by the Coalition.
The company said: “it is imperative for registry operators to have predictability in the performance of duties and that ICANN has a responsibility to honor its commitments with contracted parties.”
Its registry contract contains a dispute resolution procedure that first calls for bilateral talks and, failing agreement, arbitration via the International Chamber of Commerce.