The new gTLD .food went live in the DNS on Friday, but nobody except the registry will be able to register domains there.
In what I would argue is one of the new gTLD program’s biggest failures, .food will be a dot-brand, closed to all except the “brand” owner.
The registry is Lifestyle Domain Holdings, a subsidiary of US media company Scripps Networks.
Scripps runs the Food Network TV station in the States and the site Food.com. It has a trademark on the word “Food”.
Its registry agreement for .food, signed back in April, includes Specification 13, which allows registries to restrict all the second-level domains to themselves and their affiliates.
So food producers, restaurants, chefs and the like will never be able to use .food for their web sites.
ICANN signed the contract with Scripps despite objections from several entities including the Australian government, which warned “restricting common generic strings, such as .food, for the exclusive use of a single entity could have a negative impact on competition”.
Under ICANN rules hastily cobbled together after outrage over so-called “closed generics”, a registry cannot run as a dot-brand a gTLD that is:
a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.
Almost all applications flagged as closed generics were subsequently amended to make them restricted but not brand-exclusive. Scripps was the major hold-out.
The loophole that allowed .food to stay in exclusive hands appears to be that Scripps’ trademark on “Food” covers television, rather than food.
If .food winds up publishing content about food, such as recipes and healthy eating advice, I’d argue that it would go against the spirit of the rules on closed generics.
It would be a bit like Apple getting .apple as a Spec 13 dot-brand and then using the gTLD to publish content about the fruit rather than computers.
No sites are currently live in .food.
The future of the .food gTLD is up in the air after single-registrant applicant Lifestyle Domain Holdings won its contention set.
The applicant, a subsidiary of Scripps Networks, is the sole remaining .food applicant after withdrawals from Donuts and Dot Food LLC.
It’s also a recalcitrant “closed generic” applicant, which continues to insist it has the right to exclude all third-party registrants from the .food namespace.
The company seems to have won .food at auction, even though ICANN recently slapped a ban on closed generics in the current application round.
Scripps will not be able to launch .food any time soon, unless it changes its planned registration policies.
The company may have essentially just paid to have .food placed on hold until the next new gTLD round.
Scripps runs a cable TV station in the US called Food Network, which it says is famous. It also runs Food.com, which it describes as “the third largest food site on the web”.
The current version of its application states:
Applicant intends to function in such a way that all domain name registrations in the TLD shall be registered to and maintained by Applicant and Applicant will not sell, distribute or transfer control of domain name registrations to any party that is not an Affiliate of Applicant
When ICANN asked applicants if they would like to revise their closed generic applications to allow third-party registrants, due to adverse Governmental Advisory Committee advice, Scripps was one of half a dozen applicants to decline.
Audaciously, the company told ICANN that an open registration policy for .food would hurt its brand:
To open the top level domain means that anyone could register a domain for a small annual amount of money and exploit, confuse and infringe upon the brand equity and goodwill of the famous FOOD, FOOD NETWORK and FOOD.COM brands established by Scripps with more than twenty years and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.
Yes, Scripps thinks that when people think of “food”, they automatically think of the “third largest food web site” or a cable TV network that gets a 0.21% audience share in the UK.
A nonsense position, in other words.
So will Scripps get to run .food as a closed dot-brand? Probably not.
In June, ICANN ruled that the remaining closed generics applications (.food, .hotels, .grocery, .dvr, .data, and .phone) had the choice of either withdrawing, dropping their exclusivity plans, or carrying their applications over to the next gTLD application round.
Having just paid its competing applicants to go away, one assumes that Scripps’ withdrawal is off the cards.