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New hires at Donuts, DomainDiction and 101domain

Kevin Murphy, March 14, 2013, Domain Services

It’s been a busy week in the industry for executive switcheroos, with Donuts, DomainDiction and 101domain all announcing senior-level hires.

Today it emerged that Elaine Pruis, a long-time key member of the Minds + Machines team, has jumped to rival new gTLD applicant Donuts, where she’s now director of operations.

That’s quite a surprising move, coming so soon before gTLDs start getting delegated and — perhaps more importantly — contention set resolution deadlines start closing in.

DomainDiction, the gTLD-focused PR agency, has meanwhile lost one top expert and gained two others.

Pinky Brand, an alum of .mobi, Verisign and Iron Mountain, has gone solo, launching his own consulting business under the name [ PINKY ] • BRAND.

Former NetNames strategy director Stephane Van Gelder, an occasional DI guest poster, has been brought on as lobbyist and copywriter, while IP lawyer Bart Lieben has been hired for his considerable expertise in sunrise periods.

Neither man is on DomainDiction’s exclusive payroll, and continue to have other projects.

Finally, 101domain yesterday announced that it’s hired Joe Alagna as head of channel development. Alagna until recently worked in the registry world, as CentralNic’s general manager for North America.

Fight over new sports gTLDs gets real ugly

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2013, Domain Registries

The battle for contested new gTLDs .rugby and .basketball is turning nasty.

Roar Domains, a New Zealand marketing firm whose gTLD applications are backed by the official international bodies for both sports, is promising to pull out all the stops to kill off its competition.

The company, which is partnered with Minds + Machines on both bids, has told rival portfolio applicant Donuts that it will attack its applications for the two TLDs on at least three fronts.

Notably, Roar wants Donuts disqualified from the entire new gTLD program, and plans to lobby to have Donuts fail its background check.

The company told Donuts last month:

while we have no desire to join the chorus of voices speaking out against Donuts, it is incumbent on us to pursue the automatic disqualification of Applicant Guidebook Section 1.2.1, and every opposition and objection process available to us.

Applicant Guidebook section 1.2.1 deals with background checks.

Donuts came under more scrutiny than most on these grounds during the new gTLDs public comment period last year due to its co-founders being involved at the sharp end of domain investment over the last decade.

Demand Media and eNom, where founder Paul Stahura was a senior executive, have lost many UDRP cases over the years.

A mystery lawyer who refuses to disclose his clients started pursuing Donuts last August, saying the company is “unsuited and ineligible to participate in the new gTLD program.”

Separate (pseudonymous?) public comments fingered a former Donuts director for allegedly cybersquatting the Olympics and Disney.

While Roar has not claimed responsibility for these specific previous attacks, it certainly seems to be planning something similar in future.

In addition, Roar and International Rugby Board, which supports Roar’s application for .rugby, say they plan to official objections with ICANN about rival .rugby bids.

The IRB told Donuts, in a letter shortly before Christmas:

As the global representative of the sport and the only applicant vested with the trust and representation of the rugby community, we are unquestionably the rightful steward of .RUGBY.

Without the support of the global rugby community your commercialization efforts for .RUGBY will be thwarted. We are also preparing an objection to file against your application in accordance with ICANN rules to which you will be required to dedicate resources to formulate a response.

Roar and the IRB are also both lobbying members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which has the power to file potentially decisive GAC Advice against any application.

Roar told Donuts recently:

Roar serves as the voice and arm for FIBA [the International Basketball Federation] and IRB in the New gTLD area. We are pleased to have obtained four Early Warnings on behalf of our applications, and fully expect the GAC process to be completed to GAC Advice.

The Early Warnings against the two other .rugby applicants were filed by the UK government — the only warnings it filed — while Greece warned the two non-Roar .basketball applicants.

Roar is also involved with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) on its .basketball bid.

While commercial interests obviously play a huge role, there’s a philosophical disagreement at the heart of these fights that could be encapsulated in the following question:

Should new gTLDs only be delegated to companies and organizations most closely affiliated with those strings?

In response to the UK’s Early Warning, Donut has written to UK GAC representative Mark Carvell asking for face-to-face talks and making the case for a “neutral” registry provider for .rugby.

Donuts told Carvell:

We believe gTLDs should be run safely and securely, and in a manner that is fair to all law-­abiding registrants, not only those predetermined as eligible. A neutral third party, such as Donuts, can be best capable of achieving this outcome.

Donuts believes a neutral operator is better able to ensure that the gTLD reflects the full diversity of opinion and content of all Internet users who are interested in the term “rugby.”

As the IRB is a powerful voice in rugby, an IRB‐managed registry might not be neutral in its operations, raising questions about its ability to impartially oversee the gTLD. For example, will IRB/Roar chill free speech by censoring content adversarial to their interests? How would they treat third parties who are interested in rugby but aren’t part of the IRB? What about IRB critics or potential rival leagues?

Despite these questions, no .rugby applicant has said it plans to operate a restricted registry. There are no applications for .basketball or .rugby designated as “Community” bids.

The IRB/Roar application specifically states “anyone can register a .rugby domain name.”

Both .basketball and .rugby are contested by Roar (FIBA/IRB/M+M), Donuts (via subsidiaries) and portfolio applicant Domain Venture Partners (aka Famous Four Media, also via subsidiaries).

Roar is a sports marketing agency that is also involved in bids for .baseball, .soccer, .football and .futbol. The New Zealand national team football captain, Ryan Nelsen, is on its board.

Here are the letters (pdf).

TLDH hires ICANN’s former new gTLDs head

Kevin Murphy, December 3, 2012, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has hired Michael Salazar, former head of the new gTLD program at ICANN, as its chief financial officer.

The hire, which is still subject to some regulatory checks, will also see Salazar become an executive director of the company, which has applied for dozens of new gTLDs.

Salazar was at ICANN for three years, before leaving this June in the wake of the TLD Application System and Digital Archery messes.

Before ICANN, he was with KPMG for 16 years, according to TLDH.

It’s the second time TLDH has brought a former ICANNer on board to fill a senior role.

Former chair Peter Dengate Thrush controversially joined the company as executive chairman in July 2011, but recently announced that he will be leaving the company in January.

Salazer replaces David Weill, CFO as well as a founding director of the company, who is leaving. He’s the second original director, after Clark Landry, to quit in as many months.

Dengate Thrush quits TLDH

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2012, Domain Registries

Peter Dengate Thrush, executive chairman of new gTLD portfolio applicant Top Level Domain Holdings, has decided to quit not much more than a year into the job.

According to a press release, Dengate Thrush will leave the company in January 2013, to be replaced by original chair Fred Krueger.

No reason for the departure was given.

When he joined TLDH, his share option package envisaged him sticking around until at least July 2014.

Dengate Thrush will continue to advise some of TLDH’s new gTLD applicant clients after he leaves, according to the press release.

His decision to join TLDH in July 2011, just a few weeks after helping to push through approval of the new gTLD program as ICANN’s chairman, was a nodal point in ICANN’s recent evolution.

It led directly to strict conflict of interest rules being put in place on ICANN’s board, which are now being criticized by some contracted parties for removing vital expertise from the board.

It also gave plenty of ammunition to those who criticize ICANN for being too focused on enriching its insiders.

TLDH has applied for 70 gTLDs, and its Minds + Machines subsidiary is the named back-end provider for several more.

TLDH signs another city gTLD – .budapest

Top Level Domain Holdings has been backed by the city of Budapest as the official applicant for the .budapest generic top-level domain.

If the application is approved, TLDH subsidiary Minds + Machines will run the back-end registry and the city will receive a share of the revenue.

TLDH has previously announced deals with local governments for .london, .bayern (Bavaria), .miami and .nrw (North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state).

The company does not list its two announced Indian city gTLD bids – .mumbai (for which city approval may have been withdrawn) and .bangaluru (which appears to be a typo) — on its web site, but a spokesperson indicated that they’re both still active applications.

TLDH also seems to be confirming on its web site that it is in fact applying for .horse, an application I’d long suspected was nothing more than a red herring. Guess I was wrong.

Budapest is of course Hungary’s capital city. Wikipedia says it has about 1.74 million inhabitants, making it Europe’s seventh-largest city.

TLDH wins .london contract, gets hacked

Kevin Murphy, April 11, 2012, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has won the exclusive contract to apply to ICANN for the .london generic top-level domain, it has just been announced.

The deal was awarded by Dot London Domains, a subsidiary of official city PR agency London & Partners, to Minds + Machines Ltd, TLDH’s London-based subsidiary.

M+M will assist with the application and, assuming ICANN delegates .london, the registry infrastructure for at least seven years, with a three-year renewal option.

The application fees will be paid by L&P, according to TLDH chairman Peter Dengate Thrush.

The good news was soured slightly by an apparent hacking of TLDH’s web site by Viagra spammers this morning. According to the Google Cache, when the news broke, tldh.org looked like this:

TLDH

TLDH is listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market.

It also has an office here, though its senior executives are based in the US and the company is registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.

I’d previously tagged .uk registry Nominet as the favorite to win the contract, but the company said today that it withdrew its bid last week.

APRIL 12 UPDATE

TLDH denies it got hacked yesterday. According to a spokesperson, there was an incident last August that may have been responsible for the Google Cache continuing to show Viagra spam for tldh.org yesterday.

From the explanation provided, it sounds like it was probably what’s sometimes known as a “conditional hack”, a difficult-to-detect attack whereby only the GoogleBot sees the spam SEO links.

The TLDH web site itself apparently never showed the links to visitors. Indeed, I only looked at the cache because tldh.org refused to load up for me yesterday morning.

The spokesperson maintained that the problem was sorted out last August and that TLDH has no idea why the Google Cache was showing the spam links in its cached page dated April 11, 2012.

Three-way legal fight over .eco breaks out

Planet.eco, an emergent .eco gTLD applicant with a trademark on “.eco” is suing two rival applicants for trademark infringement and cybersquatting in a California court.

The company sued DotEco (affiliated with Minds + Machines and Top Level Domain Holdings), along with CEO Fred Krueger, and Canada-based Big Room on March 2.

It’s looking for millions of dollars of damages and an injunction preventing both rival applicants from applying for .eco.

In late March, DotEco filed a counter-suit, alleging that Planet.eco’s .eco trademark was fraudulently obtained and that the company is trying to illegally stifle competition for the .eco gTLD.

That’s the short version. It’s a complex story with a great deal of history and more than a little bogus behavior.

DomainIncite PRO subscribers can read the full DI analysis, along with more PDFs than you could ever possibly need, here.

(Thanks to reader Tom Gilles for the tip)

M+M joins .music fight

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2012, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines parent Top Level Domain Holdings has become the third company to publicly confirm an application for the .music top-level domain.

TLDH has partnered with “music industry figures including artists, managers, music producers and lawyers” going by the name of LHL TLD Investment Partners on a joint-venture bid.

M+M will provide the technical back-end for the applicant.

The other two known applicants for .music are Far Further, which has the backing of most major music trade groups, and the long-running MyTLD/Music.us/Roussos Group campaign.

Assuming Roussos and TLDH can each pull one plausible public comment objection out of the bag, Far Further’s Community Priority Evaluation is probably scuppered.

With two objections, a CPE candidate needs a perfect 14/14 score on the remaining criteria, which is likely going to be pretty difficult when you’re applying for such a generic term.

In other new gTLD applicant news…

.miami — TLDH also announced today that it plans to apply for .miami, having secured the support of City of Miami in a 4-0 vote of its commissioners.

.nyc – The city of New York has reportedly granted its consent to Neustar to apply for .nyc, apparently beating out other wannabe applicants including TLDH.

.vlaanderen – The Flemish government has awarded the right to apply for .vlaanderen (.flanders) to DNS.be. The registry will reportedly work with Nic.at on the application.

.nagoya – GMO Registry has announced a bid for the Japanese city gTLD .nagoya, with the backing of the local government. Nagoya is Japan’s third-largest city.

M+M in bizarre Bengaluru gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, February 29, 2012, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines is to apply to ICANN for .bangaluru, a top-level domain for the Indian city of Bengaluru.

Parent Top Level Domain Holdings announced today that M+M will enter into a joint venture with local partner India TL Domain for the application.

Confusingly, the proposed gTLD appears to be a misspelling – or at least a very uncommon spelling – of the name of the city in question.

The city is still often known by its old colonial name, Bangalore. But in 2006 it officially renamed itself Bengaluru, its original Kannada name.

But a TLDH spokesperson has confirmed that the company is applying for .bangaluru, with an A, which does not appear to be an official name for the city in any language.

The application has the support of the Bengaluru’s mayor’s office, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, which is a prerequisite for city gTLD applications.

On its web site, BBMP calls the city “Bengaluru”, but in its letter of support for the M+M/ITLD bid it refers to “Bangaluru” and “dot Bangaluru”.

Is the city going to get a gTLD with a confusing Latin spelling? It certainly appears that way.

Bengaluru is India’s third most-populous city, with six million citizens. It’s known as India’s tech hub.

M+M and ITLD have also previously been linked to a joint-venture bid for .mumbai, though a question mark was raised over its governmental support last August.

M+M registers for another 20 gTLD applications

Kevin Murphy, February 21, 2012, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines parent Top Level Domain Holdings has registered for another 20 new gTLD application slots with ICANN, bringing its total to date to 40.

The TLD Application System slots are for filing gTLD applications for itself and on behalf of M+M clients, the company said this morning.

A week ago, ICANN said that 100 registrations had been made with TAS.

TLDH is known to be involved in applications for .gay and .eco, among others. It registered its first 20 application slots during the first week of the application window, mid-January.