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Battle over .jobs to drag on into 2013

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.

Employ Media demanded arbitration in May last year, but it has inexplicably taken until now for it, ICANN and the ICC to publish a draft timetable for the process.

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.

Anti-.jobs coalition keeps up pressure on ICANN

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.

.jobs takes ICANN to arbitration

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.

Registry avoids .jobs shut-down

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2011, Domain Registries

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.

Registry objects to .jobs shutdown threat

Employ Media will appeal ICANN’s threatened termination of its .jobs registry contract.

The company released a statement (pdf) late yesterday, following ICANN’s unprecedented threat, in which it said ICANN’s claims are “utterly without merit”.

“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.

ICANN threatens to shut down .jobs

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2011, Domain Registries

In an unprecedented move, ICANN has threatened to cancel a top-level domain registry operator’s contract.

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, faces losing its TLD if it does not shut down Universe.jobs, the controversial jobs board operated by its partner, the DirectEmployers Association.

In a letter to the company (pdf), ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey wrote:

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.

We are calling on Employ Media to take immediate actions to implement restricted registration policies that support the purpose for which the .JOBS top-level domain was established, and to cancel registrations and/or disavow themselves of the benefits of any registrations that are owned by related parties, if any.

The move comes following a complaint filed by the so-called .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of jobs board such as Monster.com and CollegeRecruiter.com.

They’re annoyed that the registry licensed 40,000 premium geographic and vocational .jobs domains to DirectEmployers for Universe.jobs, which has started to compete with them.

Jeffrey wrote:

It appears that Employ Media and SHRM, through the Direct Employers Association, intend to use the .JOBS TLD primarily to compete with other internet job boards. Such use is inconsistent with the purpose stated in the .JOBS Charter and represented to the ICANN community.

The deal came as a result of a change to the .jobs registry contract, made through ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process, that allowed Employ Media to lift a rule that restricted registered domain names only to the names of companies.

What the RSEP didn’t do was change the .jobs Charter, which restricts “who” may register .jobs domains. Yet, weirdly, the Charter is partly the basis for ICANN’s threat.

Jeffrey refers to the Charter restrictions, which are easily circumvented, as “specious” and “do not serve the international human resource management community”.

This is the Charter that ICANN approved back in 2005, and which hasn’t changed since, remember.

To come back into compliance, ICANN wants Employ Media to shut down Universe.jobs and get back to selling company-name registrations.

I think it’s likely Employ Media will appeal, possibly by taking the case to arbitration, as its contract allows.

Coalition complains to ICANN about Universe.jobs

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2011, Domain Registries

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition thinks Employ Media is violating its own policies by allowing Universe.jobs to be launched, and has complained to ICANN.

Coalition chief John Bell said the group, which comprises jobs sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com, “filed a formal notice” with ICANN’s compliance department December 17.

That was just one week after ICANN’s board of directors, at the Cartagena meeting, passed a resolution calling for ICANN staff to “closely monitor” the registry for charter violations.

“We are confident that ICANN is taking our claims seriously and we are looking forward to a favorable decision,” Bell said.

Universe.jobs was turned on by the DirectEmployers Association last week, using hundreds of generic domains, after ICANN give the registry the all-clear to start selling non-company-name domains.

The issue is whether this independent jobs board, which is fed traffic from domains such as usa.jobs, texas.jobs and marketing.jobs, is a permissible use of .jobs domains.

The Coalition thinks it isn’t. Employ Media thinks it is.

The Coalition has also apparently complained about NativeAmerican.jobs, another employer-independent jobs site, on behalf of NativeAmericanJobs.com.

Universe.jobs launches with hundreds of premium domains

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2011, Domain Registries

The controversial Universe.jobs project has soft-launched, offering jobs listings at hundreds of premium geographic and vocational .jobs domains.

Country and state domains such as usa.jobs, gbr.jobs and texas.jobs, as well as industry domains such as firefighter.jobs and journalist.jobs are live and resolving.

If you visit, say, usa.jobs or rus.jobs, you’ll be presented with a bunch of job listings from the USA or Russia. If you visit retail.jobs, you’ll be bounced to usa.jobs/retail (at least, I was).

Even combinations, such as texas.nursing.jobs, seem to work.

I’ve no idea how many domains have been activated this way, but since all the geographics seem to be active I’m guessing it’s at least several hundred at the second-level.

The site, which is presented as a service of the DirectEmployers Association’s National Labor Exchange, currently says it’s in beta.

But the big questions now are: is this legit, and who owns the domains?

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, had to fight ICANN and mainstream commercial jobs boards in order to drop the contractual restrictions that previously limited .jobs to company names.

But some argued that, despite the relaxation of the string restrictions, employer-independent jobs sites such as Universe.jobs would still be verboten under Employ Media’s charter.

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of newspaper associations and boards such as Monster.com, tried to get ICANN to reconsider its decision, but failed (kinda).

While the Coalition’s Reconsideration Request was unsuccessful, ICANN did say it will start to monitor Employ Media for compliance with its charter more closely.

More interestingly, perhaps, during the ICANN investigation Employ Media abruptly dropped plans to create a “self-managed” class of domains – names registered to itself, but “used” by third parties such as DirectEmployers.

Did it make good on its promise? It’s difficult to be certain, because the Whois for the many of the domains in question seems to be broken.

I’ve been able to establish that some older domains, such as usa.jobs and nursing.jobs, currently belong to DirectEmployers, but trying to figure out who owns some of the more recently registered geographical .jobs names is an excruciating process.

The Whois link buried at the bottom of the official Employ Media web site directs you to the Whois service provided by VeriSign (which runs the back-end registry infrastructure for .jobs).

VeriSign’s tool does not return the name of the registrant, only details such as the registration date, associated name servers, and the URL of the appropriate registrar’s Whois server.

In the case of all these geo domains, the registrar appears to be NameShare. The Whois server URL given by VeriSign points to a second tool, at whois.nameshare.com, that doesn’t work.

If you try to query, for example, usa.jobs (after filling out the Captcha) you get this message:

[r3] Error Message: Unsupported TLD .jobs

If you visit the NameShare homepage, you will be able to find a third .jobs Whois tool, at whois-jobs.nameshare.com/whois/. This doesn’t seem to work properly either.

This tool will tell you that the domain usa.jobs belongs to DirectEmployers.

However, almost every other Universe.jobs-related domain that I queried returned a “not found” message, even when the domain resolves and the VeriSign tools says it’s been registered for over a month.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Some kind of technical problem, no doubt.

Did .jobs win or lose in Cartagena?

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, had a victory in Cartagena last week, when the ICANN board voted not to overturn its August decision to allow .jobs to relax its registration policies.

The company will now be able to continue with its RFP process, allocate premium generic .jobs domains to its partners, auction them, and generally liberalize the namespace.

But the registry may not have got everything it wanted.

For at least a year, Employ Media, along with the DirectEmployers Association, has been pushing the idea of creating a massive free jobs board called universe.jobs.

The site would be fed traffic from thousands of premium geographic domains such as newyork.jobs, texas.jobs and canada.jobs, as well as vocational names such as nursing.jobs and sales.jobs.

Because Employ Media was previously only allowed to sell domains that corresponded to the names of companies, such as ibm.jobs and walmart.jobs, it asked ICANN to change its contract to allow these new classes of generic names to be registered.

The registry submitted a Registry Services Evaluation Process request, which was approved by the ICANN board in early August. The contract was amended shortly thereafter.

A few weeks later, a group of jobs sites including Monster.com, calling itself the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, filed a Reconsideration Request, asking ICANN to reverse its decision.

The Coalition was concerned that the contract changes would enable universe.jobs, creating a potentially huge competitor with an unfair SEO advantage, while continuing to prohibit independent jobs sites from registering .jobs domains.

While the .jobs contract had been amended, the .Jobs Charter, which restricts those who can register .jobs domains to members of the human resources community, was not.

This potentially presented a problem for universe.jobs, as DirectEmployers may not have qualified to be a registrant under the charter.

But Employ Media’s RSEP proposal talked about creating a “self-managed class” of domains – the domains would belong to the registry but would be shared with third parties such as DirectEmployers.

That would have created an interesting precedent – registries would be able to keep hold of premium generic domain names and allow them to be “used” by only partner companies that agree to enter into revenue-sharing agreements.

But that “implementation method was withdrawn” by Employ Media after the ICANN Board Governance Committee asked about it as part of its Reconsideration Request investigation.

The BGC, while rejecting the Coalition’s request (pdf), also asked ICANN’s compliance department to keep a close eye on Employ Media, to make sure it does not overstep the bounds of its charter:

the BGC recommends that the Board direct the CEO, and General Counsel and Secretary, to ensure that ICANN’s Contractual Compliance Department closely monitor Employ Media’s compliance with its Charter

Even though its Reconsideration Request was denied, the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition counted both of these developments as a big win for its campaign, saying in a press release:

Given the Board’s commitment to aggressively monitor Employ Media’s implementation of the Phased Allocation Program, the Coalition is highly confident that ICANN will not permit Employ Media to register domain names to “independent job site operators” for purposes of operating job sites.

So does this mean that universe.jobs is dead?

Apparently not. Talk in the halls at the ICANN Cartagena meeting last week leads me to believe that the registry has figured out a way to launch the service anyway.

And DirectEmployers this Monday published a white paper (pdf), dated January 2011, which says universe.jobs will launch early next year.

DirectEmployers declined to immediately comment on its plans when I inquired this week, and the white paper sheds little light on the technicalities of the plan.

Judging from a promotion currently being run by EnCirca, a .jobs registrar, it seems that companies will only be able to list their jobs on universe.jobs if they own their own companyname.jobs domain.

EnCirca’s offer, which alludes to the .jobs sponsor, the Society for Human Resources Management, a “SHRM special“, says:

NEWS ALERT: December 13, 2010: ICANN has RE-CONFIRMED the .Jobs registry’s plan to allocate generic occupational and geographic-related .jobs domain names. Register your companyname.jobs to be part of this new initiative.

It will be interesting to see how domain allocations are ultimately handled.

While Employ Media’s request for proposals is ostensibly open, it looks a little bit like a smokescreen for its plan to hand big chunks of the .jobs namespace to the universe.jobs project.

But who will be the registrant of these domains? And will the allocations violate the .jobs charter? Will the registry carry on with its plan to create new “self-managed” class of domain names?

I think we’re going to have to wait for the new year to find out.

Sponsor stonewalls .jobs critics

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2010, Domain Registries

The sponsor of the .jobs top-level domain appears to be giving opponents including Monster.com a hard time as they continue to challenge the liberalization of the domain.

In its most recent ICANN filing (pdf), the Society for Human Resource Management said it does not want to meet with the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition and ICANN to help resolve their differences.

Last week, SHRM declined to given ICANN a straight answer when it asked whether jobs sites like Monster.com will be able to register domains under the new .jobs rules.

The Coalition of jobs sites was assembled to oppose the “Phased Allocation Program”, which allows .jobs registry Employ Media to allocate thousands of premium geographic and vocational domains to its partners.

While the program has already been approved by ICANN’s board, the Coalition has filed a Reconsideration Request appeal in an attempt to get the ruling overturned.

This week, Coalition lawyer Becky Burr sent a letter (pdf) to ICANN asking for a face-to-face meeting with representatives of ICANN, the Coalition, Employ Media and SHRM.

In response, SHRM general counsel Henry Hart said the organization “does not believe that it should participate in such a meeting.”

Last week, SHRM threw its full support behind Employ Media, tersely responding (pdf) to a list of ICANN’s questions relating to the registry’s plans for the domain.

ICANN’s reconsideration committee wanted to know whether the allocation program violated the .jobs charter by allowing registrants from outside the human resources community.

SHRM said it did not, but it did confirm that it does expect .jobs – which has so far been reserved for companies to list their own job vacancies – to be used in future for aggregated jobs sites operated by Employ Media.

Did the SHRM PD Council intend to enable the Registry (Employ Media) to register domain names in the .JOBS sTLD for the purpose of allowing third-party job postings on those sites? If so, please explain how this consistent with the .JOBS Charter.

Yes. The PD Council concluded, based on input from the Community, that this would serve the needs of the international human resource management community.

But when ICANN asked whether this means Monster.com, for example, would qualify, SHRM response was more vague.

Are independent job site operators (such as Monster.com) engaged in “human resources management” for the purpose of the definition set forth in the .JOBS Charter if the job site operator is advertising for jobs outside its own organization?

Independent job site operators provide a highly valued service to the international human resource management community.

The Coalition, in Burr’s letter, said the answers “simply ignore the responses sought by the direct questions of the [Board Governance Committee”.

Hart disputed this characterization of the answers.

Employ Media plans to allocate premium domains at first via an RFP process. It’s believed that the DirectEmployers Association is set to receive the lion’s share of the good domains for its universe.jobs plan.

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