An 80-year-old seller of party supplies, owned by Warren Buffett, has won the rights to the new gTLD .fun, after the other two applicants withdrew.
Oriental Trading Company plans to operate the gTLD as a “restricted” space where only the company and its partners can register, according to its application.
Quite why this isn’t on hold as a “closed generic”, I don’t know.
The application states .fun will be:
an authoritative Internet space for OTC, its affiliates and partners where OTC can develop an unlimited number of domain names dedicated and relevant to “fun” and to provide Internet users with content, services and products they need, while being assured of brand authenticity.
The other two applicants were Google and Dot Strategy. Both applications have now been withdrawn.
OTC sells balloons, party hats, banners and such. It was acquired by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2012 after filing for bankruptcy protection.
In other withdrawal news, games maker Konami today became the latest company to dump its plans for a dot-brand, in this case .konami.
A self-professed geek from Australia is running a campaign to raise awareness of new gTLDs by naming and shaming big companies that don’t provide comprehensive TLD support on their web sites.
SupportTheNew.domains, run by university coder Stuart Ryan, has been around since last June and currently indexes support problems at dozens of web sites.
The likes of Facebook, Amazon, Adobe and Apple are among those whose sites are said to offer incomplete support for new gTLDs.
It’s the first attempt I’m aware of to list “universal acceptance” failures in any kind of structured way.
Ryan says on the site that he set up the campaign after running into problems signing up for services using his new .email email address.
The site relies on submissions from users and seems to be updated whenever named companies respond to support tickets.
Universal acceptance is a hot topic in the new gTLD space, with ICANN recently creating a steering group to promote blanket TLD support across the internet.
Often, sites rely on outdated lists of TLDs or regular expressions that think TLDs are limited to three characters when they attempt to verify domains in email addresses or URLs.
Network Solutions is charging a total of $57.17 for renewing the .xyz domain names and associated services it gave away for free as part of .xyz’s controversial launch last year.
A little over a year ago, NetSol found controversy when it pushed hundreds of thousands of .xyz domain names into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.
The offer, which required customers to opt out if they didn’t want it, included a year of private registration and a year of email.
The move allowed XYZ.com, the .xyz registry, to report itself as the largest new gTLD registry.
It’s been the subject of some speculation how renewals would be treated by NetSol, but now we know.
Customers, at least in cases reported by DI readers, are being sent renewal notices for their .xyz bundles in the same mailshots as for their .com domains.
Clicking the “Renew” button in these emails takes registrants to a NetSol page on which they can select which of their products they would like to renew.
All, including the .xyz products, are pre-selected for renewal but may be deselected.
Pricing is set at $15.99 for the .xyz domain, $15.99 for the private registration and $25.19 for the email service. That’s a total of $57.17.
Here’s a screenshot of the shopping cart with the pricing (I’ve redacted the domain). Click to enlarge.
The original email sent by NetSol to customers last June, said:
We want to show you how much we appreciate your loyalty by rewarding you with complimentary access to a 1-year registration of a .XYZ domain, one of the hottest new domain extensions. .XYZ domains are proving to have broad appeal and also be extremely memorable. In addition to your complimentary domain, you’ll also receive Professional Email and Private Registration for your .XYZ domain – free of charge.
If you choose not to keep this domain no action is needed and you will not be charged any fees in the future. Should you decide to keep the domain after your complementary first year, simply renew it like any other domain in your account.
The fine print read:
Offer applies to first year of new registrations only. The offer is not transferable and is only available to the recipient. After the complimentary first year the .XYZ domain name and its related services shall expire unless you actively renew the .XYZ domain name and its related services at the then-current rates.
Please note that your use of this .XYZ domain name and/or your refusal to decline the domain shall indicate acceptance of the domain into your account, your continued acceptance of our Service Agreement located online at http://www.networksolutions.com/legal/static-service-agreement.jsp, and its application to the domain.
There’s concern from some registrants that customers may renew their .xyz services without really understanding how they ended up in their account in the first place.
.xyz currently has over 857,000 domains in its zone file.
XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari was recently quoted as saying that roughly 500,000 of those were not freebies.
The company is being sued by .com registry Verisign for using its reg numbers in “false advertising” that seeks to compare .xyz to .com.
ICANN is playing its cards close to its chest when pressed on what it thinks Vox Populi may have done wrong with its .sucks launch pricing and policies.
The organization told DI in a statement that it is currently “fact-finding”, and will not speculate on what parts of the Registry Agreement may have been breached.
ICANN on Thursday reported Vox Pop to the US and Canadian trade regulators, asking them to judge whether the registry’s $2,000 sunrise fee broke any laws.
Its Intellectual Property Constituency reckons the launch, which also places thousands of trademarks on permanent, high-priced “Sunrise Premium” list amounts to nothing more than a “shakedown” of brand owners.
Vox Pop CEO John Berard told DI last week that the referral to the US Federal Trade Commission, despite that fact that the company and its owners are Canadian, amounted to “appeasement” of the IPC.
In response, ICANN told DI in a statement:
The registry is offering domain name registrations to registrants located in jurisdictions around the world. It¹s possible that a registry’s activities could violate the law in the registry’s own jurisdiction; it is also possible that a registry’s activities could violate the law in the jurisdiction of a registrar or registrant where the registry offers domain name registrations. In this case, the IPC letter was signed by an attorney based in New York City, and ICANN thought it appropriate to ask both U.S. and Canadian authorities to consider the IPC allegations.
ICANN seems to be saying on the one hand that registries are beholden to the laws of wherever their registrants are based and on the other hand that the jurisdiction of the IPC’s current president, Greg Shatan, somehow has a bearing on what laws gTLD registries are obliged to obey.
I await correction from more knowledgeable readers, but I don’t think either of those statements is accurate.
If the latter is true, then perhaps the IPC should in future elect its leaders from only the countries with the most trademark-friendly regimes.
In ICANN’s letters to the FTC and IPC, the organization said it was “evaluating other remedies”. From the context, it seems that ICANN is thinking it could initiate some kind of compliance action against .sucks regardless of the what governmental regulators say.
Asked to explain this, ICANN told DI:
We¹re currently doing some fact-finding and analysis to assess whether there has been any breach by the registry of its obligations, and, based on the results of that analysis, we will try to determine what remedies, if any, may be available. Obviously, it will depend on all the facts and circumstances. Beyond that, since we haven¹t finished that evaluation process it would be inappropriate to speculate about possible remedies.
That’s not saying much, but it leaves the door open for ICANN Compliance to do something even if the FTC and Office of Consumer Affairs deem that no laws have been broken.
One possible “breach” that has been floated relates to the differential pricing created by the Sunrise Premium list. However, my take on this is that, under the new gTLD contracts, it’s not massively different to other kinds of premium pricing program.
Differential pricing protections only apply to renewal fees. If the registrant is told at the point of sale that their renewal fees will be high, that enables registries to put different fees on different domains.
There have also been theories put forward about ICANN’s motivation for referring .sucks to regulators.
The idea that ICANN can defer to the FTC and others on legal matter is not entirely new. In cases where registries intend to merge, ICANN is allowed under its contracts to refer the deals to regulators before approving them.
But this is the first time ICANN has referred new gTLD pricing to competition authorities.
Is it a case of ICANN ass-covering?
ICANN is taking unique fees worth up to $1 million extra from Vox Populi and, as I wrote two weeks ago, the optics of this are bad for ICANN, which could look like it is profiteering from .sucks.
ICANN has explained that the extra fees related to entities that were owned by Vox Pop parent Momentous, the Canadian registrar that had many subsidiaries go out of business owing ICANN a tonne of cash.
By punting the IPC’s complaint to regulators, ICANN could deflect criticism that it is not doing enough to protect rights holders and registrants while avoiding having to make a tricky decision itself.
Regardless, the FTC referral and the fact that ICANN is charging Vox Pop special fees sends a strong message that ICANN does not trust the registry one bit.
ICANN has referred .sucks registry Vox Populi to the US Federal Trade Commission over concerns from intellectual property owners that its pricing is “predatory”.
The organization has asked the FTC and the Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs to determine whether Vox Pop is breaking any laws.
It asks both agencies to “consider assessing and determining whether Vox Populi is violating any laws or regulations enforced by your respective offices”.
If it is determined that laws are being broken, ICANN said it would be able to “enforce remedies” in the .sucks registry agreement.
ICANN goes on to say that it is “evaluating other remedies” in the registry’s contract.
The shock news comes two weeks after the Intellectual Property Constituency of ICANN complained that Vox Pop’s $2,000 sunrise fee is just a “shakedown scheme”.
The IPC said March 27 it was:
formally asking ICANN to halt the rollout of the .SUCKS new gTLD operated by Vox Populi Registry Inc. (“Vox Populi”), so that the community can examine the validity of Vox Populi’s recently announced plans to: (1) to categorize TMCH-registered marks as “premium names,” (2) charge exorbitant sums to brand owners who seek to secure a registration in .SUCKS, and (3) conspire with an (alleged) third party to “subsidize” a complaint site should brand owners fail to cooperate in Vox Populi’s shakedown scheme.
The IPC is also pissed off that there’s a Sunrise Premium fee that applies to the most famous brands, regardless of when they register.
Vox Pop CEO John Berard told DI tonight that the company’s pricing and policies are “well within the rules”, meaning both ICANN’s rules and North American laws.
He asked why ICANN has referred the matter to the FTC, given that Vox Populi is a Canadian company.
He said that a senior ICANN executive had told him it was because many IPC members are US-based. He described this as “appeasement” of the IPC interests.
Greg Shatan, president of the IPC, whose letter sparked ICANN’s outreach to the FTC and OCA, said that the word “justice” is more appropriate than “appeasement”. He told DI tonight:
We’re looking forward to the FTC and OCA taking a look at Vox Populi’s behavior. And there’s lots to look at. The punitive TMCH Sunrise, where a “rights protection mechanism” intended to protect trademark owners has been turned into a scheme to extort $2,500 and up… The eternal Sunrise Premium of the far-from-spotless .SUCKS registry. The mysterious “everybody.sucks” — purportedly a third party, purportedly providing a “subsidy” to registrant — would anyone be surprised if that was a sham?
With reference to the FTC referral, Shatan also told DI tonight:
I don’t think ICANN wants to waste the FTC’s time. It’s far more rational to think that ICANN informed the FTC because Vox Populi’s activities are within the jurisdiction of the FTC. Mr. Berard’s remarks seem to indicate that he believes that Vox Populi operates beyond the reach of US laws.
With a tech contact in Bermuda and an admin contact in the Caymans, that may have been Vox Pop’s intention. Vox Pop may be operating outside US laws, but I doubt they are operating beyond their reach.
Vox Populi is incorporated in Canada, hence ICANN’s outreach to the Canadian regulator. According to its gTLD application, its only 15%+ owner is Momentous, another Canadian company.
But its IANA record lists an address in Bermuda for its technical contact and Uniregistry’s office in Grand Cayman as its administrative address.
There’s been rumors for months that Uniregistry or CEO Frank Schilling helped bankroll Vox Populi’s participation in the .sucks auction, which saw it splash out over $3 million.
ICANN is asking the US and Canadian agencies to respond to its letter with “urgency”, as .sucks is currently in sunrise and is due to go to general availability May 29.
Trademark owners and celebrities are already registering their names in the .sucks sunrise period.
ICANN confirmed in a separate letter today to IPC chair Greg Shatan that Vox Pop has paid ICANN a unique $100,000 start-up fee, and has promised to pay an extra $1 per transaction, due to now-defunct Momentous subsidiaries defaulting on “substantial payments”.
As DI reported last week, ICANN says that the fee is “not related to the nature” of .sucks, but it could give the appearance that ICANN is a beneficiary of the .sucks business model.
This article was published quite quickly after the news broke. It was updated several times on April 9, 2015. It was updated with background material. It was then updated with comments from Vox Pop. It was then updated with comments from the IPC. Later commenters had the benefit of reading earlier versions of this post before they submitted their comments.