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Famous Four bosses gave “forged documents” to court

Kevin Murphy, December 28, 2017, Domain Registries

The leaders of Famous Four Media produced “forged documents” during a lawsuit filed by the company’s former chief operating officer, according to Gibraltar’s top judge.

The new gTLD registry’s chairman and CEO were both, along with four other unidentified former employees, involved to some degree in “forging” invoices to an affiliated registrar and/or documents relating to a rights issue, according to a ruling by Chief Justice Anthony Dudley.

The ruling was made in October, but appears to have been published more recently.

Former Famous Four COO Charles Melvin is suing CEO Geir Rasmussen and Iain Roache, chair of parent Domain Venture Partners, over a rights issue that diluted his holdings in a related company, according to a court document.

There’s little in the public record about the specifics of the suit. The complaint is not available publicly and neither man wished to comment while the trial is still ongoing.

But Dudley’s ruling shows that the original claims seem to have been sidetracked by Melvin’s new allegations that the “forged” documents demonstrate that Roache, Rasmussen and others engaged in “fraud” and “conspiracy to pervert the course of justice”.

Nick Goldstone, a partner at Gordon Dadds and a lawyer for Rasmussen and Roache, told DI that they both deny any dishonest behavior and that there has been no finding of dishonesty by the court.

He said in an emailed statement: “both of the individual defendants deny (if it be alleged) that they are dishonest and both deny that they have been engaged in the creation of any forged documents in the wider sense, as alleged by counsel for the opponents in the Court case, or at all.”

According to Dudley’s ruling, the defendants’ trial lawyers have claimed that errors in the invoices provided to the court were the result of “honest incompetence”, which the judge said has “a ring of truth” to it.

Dudley, having decided Roache and Rasmussen “have historically been guilty of serious shortcomings in relation to their disclosure obligations” at some point ordered that metadata be gathered from various documents handed over during the disclosure phase of the trial.

This metadata showed that some documents “were created after (in some instances long after) the date on the face of the documents”, which led the judge to conclude they were technically “forged documents”.

But Goldstone told DI that the documents in question were “forged” only in “explicitly a narrow characterisation of the term”, adding that they had been created by former employees who have all since been fired.

The documents included 10 invoices from Famous Four to AlpNames, also based in Gibraltar, the affiliated registrar responsible for selling hundreds of thousands of cheap names in Famous Four gTLDs.

They also included documents concerning a rights issue in a company called Myrtle Holdings that reduced Melvin’s stake to a negligible amount. Again, dating seems to have been an issue.

Dudley wrote in his decision (pdf):

It is accepted by the respondents that the material produced by them contained inaccurate and misleading information; and that the forged documents have been deployed in the litigation and relied upon in pleadings and witness statements. It also formed part of the material provided to the expert witnesses, whose opinions are consequently tainted.

But Goldstone told DI: “no conclusion has been reached in the ruling as to any ‘dishonesty’ or ‘forgeries’ in the wider sense.”

The trial had been due to kick off in October, but it’s been delayed due to the fact that a lot of evidence and testimony has to be reevaluated.

Roache and Rasmussen had proposed to settle the case with a buy-out offer earlier this year, but that offer was rebuffed by Melvin, according to Dudley’s ruling.

Famous Four runs 16 new gTLDs including .science, .download, .loan and .bid.

Many of its TLDs have been offered at super-cheap prices that have boosted sales volumes but have often attracted high levels of abuse.

.mail, .home, .corp hopefuls could get exit plan in January

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2017, Domain Registries

The twenty remaining applicants for the gTLDs .corp, .home and .mail could get the option to bow out with a full refund as early as January.

The ICANN board of directors earlier this month discussed several options for how to treat the in-limbo applications, one of which was a refund.

According to minutes of its December 13 meeting:

Staff outlined some potential options for the Board to consider, which ranged from providing a full refund of the New gTLD Program application fee to the remaining .CORP, .HOME, and .MAIL applicants, to providing priority in subsequent rounds of the New gTLD Program if the applicants were to reapply for the same strings.

Applicants for these strings that already withdrew their applications for a partial refund were also discussed.

The three would-be gTLDs have been frozen for years, after a study showed that they receive vast amounts of error traffic already on a daily basis.

This means there would be likely a large number of name collisions with zones on private networks, should these strings be delegated to the authoritative root.

The ICANN board instructed the staff to draft some resolutions to be voted on at “a subsequent meeting”, suggesting directors are close to reaching a decision.

It seems possible a vote could even happen at a January meeting, given that the board typically meets up almost every month.

.club is the bestest new gTLD, .club survey finds

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2017, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains has published the results of some research it commissioned into media mentions of new gTLDs that show .club coming out on top.

It’s an interesting new way to compare the relative success of new gTLDs based on usage or eyeballs rather than registration volumes, even if the report has its flaws.

In a blog post, .CLUB chief marketing officer Jeff Sass wrote:

A business will invest their time and money to incorporate a domain name that they trust and value. Their domain becomes an active component of their branding, marketing, and PR activities.

When the press or media picks up announcements and/or writes articles about these businesses, the domain name typically gets mentioned in the articles and press releases. This leads to further awareness, familiarity, and trust built around the domain name extensions that are mentioned most frequently in the press.

The registry paid Meltwater, a media monitoring company, to dig up all the media references to domains using any of the top 10 largest new gTLDs over the first half of the year.

It found that .club had the most mentions both empirically and adjusted for TLD size, and that .club’s media mentions had the most positive slant.

From the report (pdf):

When tracking the number of press impressions (articles) in terms of raw numbers, the top 3 were: .CLUB, with 14,519 impressions; .XYZ, with 10,770 impressions; and .ONLINE, with 9,595 impressions. When looking at the impression data against topline registration numbers, the top 3 TLDs were: .CLUB, with 13.29 impressions for every 1,000 registrations; .ONLINE, with 12.87 impressions for every 1,000 registrations; and .SITE, with 6.55 impressions for every 1,000 registrations. As for positive sentiment, the top 3 TLDs were: .CLUB, with 4,300 articles; .ONLINE, with 2,200 articles; and .XYZ with 2,189 articles.

The definition of “article” used by Meltwater is pretty broad. It’s certainly not looking at only the mainstream media.

The survey included press releases as well as editorial, and seems to include a fair bit of user-generated content, such as posts on Medium.com and Sohu.com, too.

There’s even one “article” cited that is actually just a Kickstarter crowd-funding project page.

The survey also double-counts articles, so if a press release appears on multiple sites, or an article is syndicated to multiple publications, each appearance was counted separately.

One could argue that all of this is a fair enough way to conduct such a survey — .CLUB is looking for evidence of grassroots usage and awareness, not just of coverage by publications with rigorous editorial controls.

And the methodology also called for all articles produced by or written about the registries themselves to be disregarded, presumably reducing the number of hits per registry and the chance of the results being gamed.

But a lot of the 30 articles cited directly in the Meltwater report, particularly those coming out of China, appear to be rather spammy. Others are just odd. Others offer negative views of specific new gTLD domains.

One of them is an inexplicable Chinese translation of a warning about a UK company using a .loan domain to scam people, for example.

Another is a BuzzFeed article from Japan about a fake news site using a .xyz domain to target Koreans.

Other references are so minor that even though Meltwater’s spiders spotted them I doubt many human beings would.

One of .club’s big hits is just a tiny photo credit on an stock image used in a forgettable BuzzFeed listicle, another is the Daily Mail quoting an Instagram post by an American athlete who uses a .club domain in a hashtag, the third is a self-promotional blog post on Medium.com by the owner of minicomic.club.

If these are the most prominent citations Meltwater could dig up over six months, these new gTLDs still have a way to go in terms of awareness.

But my main issue with the research is that it was limited to the top 10 new gTLDs by registration volume: .xyz, .top, .loan, .club, .win, .online, .vip, .wang, .site and .bid.

As we all know by now, there’s a correlation (at least anecdotally) between volume, low price and low quality usage/abuse.

I’d love to see subsequent reports of this nature delve into smaller TLDs, including dot-brands, that may not have as many sales but may have greater engagement and more press coverage.

The full .CLUB/Meltwater report can be found here (pdf).

ICANN, with $143 million budget, running out of cash

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN is to tighten its belt over the coming year as lower than expected revenue from domain name registrations has caused a budget shortfall and dwindling reserves.

The organization is $1 million short so far in its fiscal 2018, which CEO Goran Marby says is forcing him to look at making cuts to staffing costs, travel expenses, and community-requested projects.

Meanwhile, chair Cherine Chalaby says the board of directors is worried that ICANN’s reserve fund is $80 million shy of where it ideally should be.

Both men outlined their priorities in separate end-of-year blog posts this week.

It does not yet appear that anyone’s job is on the line.

Marby indicated that headcount would be reduced through attrition — sometimes not replacing staff who leave — rather than lay-offs.

“The reality is, ICANN has a significant budget but not an infinite budget. We need to make some changes, and can’t do everything we are asked,” he wrote, before explaining some areas where “efficiencies” could be found.

For example, when someone leaves ICANN org, we are taking a close look at the vacancy, the team’s needs and other people’s availability and skills before deciding if we are going to fill the role. We are also looking at our staff travel practices for ICANN meetings and other ICANN org commitments, reviewing our language services support levels and offering, and trying to consolidate our collateral and the volume of reports. We are looking at what projects we could delay or stop

Some might say that this renewed focus on how ICANN manages its money is overdue. The organization has bloated fast over the last several years, as over 1,200 new gTLD registries became contracted parties and interest in ICANN’s work grew globally.

In its financial year ending June 2012, it budgeted for revenue of $69.7 million and expenses of $67 million.

For FY2017, which ended this June, it was up to revenue of $132.4 million and expenses of $126.5 million.

Over the same period, headcount swelled from 158 full-time equivalents to 365. That was anticipated to grow to 413 by next June.

For the financial year ending next June, ICANN had budgeted for $142.8 million revenue, growing from $135.9 million, but Marby said in his blog post today that it might actually be flat instead.

As much as 64% of ICANN’s revenue is driven by transaction volumes — registrations, renewals and transfers — in gTLDs. In the quarter to September, revenue was $1 million behind plan due to lower than expected transactions, Marby said.

The message is to expect cuts, possibly to projects you care about.

Adding complexity, the ICANN board has decided following public consultation at 12 months funding is the appropriate amount ICANN should be keeping in reserve — so it can continue to function for a year should its contracted parties all abruptly decide not to pay their dues.

Unfortunately, as Chalaby outlined in his post today, this reserve pool is currently at about $60 million — just five months’ worth — so the organization is going to have to figure out how to replenish it.

Building up reserves to the tune of an extra $80 million is likely to put more pressure on the regular annual budget, leeching cash from other projects.

Chalaby said that the board will discuss its options at its February 2018 workshop.

Marby, meanwhile, said that a new budget will be out for public comment in mid-January.

.kids auction is off

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN has postponed the planned auction of the .kid(s) gTLDs after an appeal from one of the applicants.

The last-resort auction had been penciled in for January 25, and there was a December 8 deadline for the three participants to submit their info to the auctioneer.

But DotKids Foundation, the shallowest-pocketed of the three, filed a Request for Reconsideration last Wednesday, asking ICANN to put the contention set back on hold.

The cancellation of the January auction appears to be to give ICANN’s board of directors time to consider the RfR under its usual process — it has not yet ruled on it.

DotKids and Amazon have applied for .kids and Google has applied for .kid. A String Confusion Objection won by Google put the two strings in the same contention set, meaning only one will eventually go live.

DotKids comprehensively lost a Community Priority Evaluation, which would negate an auction altogether, but it thinks the CPE got it wrong and wants to be treated the same way as other gTLD applicants whose CPE results are currently under review.

Reconsideration requests take between 30 and 90 days to process, and they rarely go the way of the requester, so the delay to the auction will likely not be too long.