Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Will Larry Flynt sue over .xxx domains?

The porn publisher Hustler is “prepared to take whatever legal action may be necessary” to stop ICM Registry letting people register its trademarks in .xxx, according to a report.

I’ve been hearing rumors for several weeks that some companies are so unhappy about having to pay to block their brands in .xxx that they may consider legal action.

Now Xbiz reports that Hustler has said it refuses to be “shaken down” by the registry, but that ICM has not responded to its written demands for protection.

But will the company sue ICM (and ICANN?) over what may amount to just a few thousand dollars in defensive registration fees? And on what grounds?

In the US, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, which has been on the books since 1999, is rather friendly to registries unless they behave really, really badly.

ICM will have some of the strongest trademark protection mechanisms of any gTLD, suggesting that it could have quite a strong defense to a cybersquatting claim.

Hustler could of course decide to sue based on a different law.

Threats of lawsuits are something that new gTLD applicants will need to bear in mind if they plan to apply for a TLD that encompasses an industry or community, as .xxx does.

Even if applicants manage to win the support of a portion of the affected industry, community members that think they’re likely to be cybersquatted or lose valuable real estate may well resort to the courts.

This is why about 30% of every new gTLD application fee goes into an ICANN war chest reserved in part for legal fees. ICANN knows what could be coming down the pike.

Xbiz quoted Hustler attorney Jonathan Brown saying: “We are constantly policing the registration and use of domain names that attempt to capitalize on Hustler’s trademarks.”

But the record shows that the company does not appear to be an especially aggressive enforcer of its marks in other top-level domains.

The magazine’s parent, LFP, has filed 29 UDRP complaints since 2002, all relating to Hustler and Barely Legal and, apart from hustler.tv, all for .com domains. The most recent filing was in 2009.

The company does not own the string “hustler” in .net, .org, .info, .biz or in a number of high-visibility ccTLDs that I checked. It does, however, own hustler.mobi.

Wiki to shake up the new gTLD market

Tens of thousands of dollars worth of registry secret sauce is set to be released under a Creative Commons license on a new wiki, courtesy of the International Telecommunications Union.

Applying for a new generic top-level domain could be about to get a whole lot cheaper.

Before October, the ITU plans to publish template answers to all 22 of the questions about registry technical operations demanded by ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

Because they will be published under a Creative Commons license, new gTLD applicants will be able to copy and paste the whole lot into their applications for free.

And because they will be on a wiki, approved contributors will be able to fine-tune the templates to increase their chances of passing ICANN’s technical evaluation.

Currently, gTLD applicants are generally paying registry back-end providers to take care of this part of their applications, paying $10,000 and up for the privilege.

I think the word that applies here is “disruptive”.

Consultant and former ICANN board member Michael Palage, who has worked on a number of previous TLD launches, is coordinating the creation of the templates with input from registries and engineers.

The resulting “best in class” material will also be used by the ITU and the League of Arab States in their bid for .arab and its Arabic equivalent, .عرب.

According to the Guidebook, applicants do not need hands-on experience running a registry in order to have their application approved. ICANN is trying to enable competition, after all.

But there is a period of pre-delegation testing that each successful applicant must endure before their new gTLD is added to the root, so a simple copy-paste of the ITU’s templates will not suffice.

I doubt this project will take a great deal of money out of the pockets of the incumbent registries – well-funded applicants will presumably be happy to pay the extra money for certainty – but it will provide a bit of flexibility for applicants not already in bed with a back-end.

It could also help open up the new gTLD market to companies that may not have otherwise considered it, such as those in the developing world.

Indeed, part of the rationale for the Creative Commons publication is to aid with “capacity building” in these nations, according to an ITU presentation delivered in Cairo this week.

We’ve already seen pricing competition hit the registry services market in the wake of the approval of the new gTLD program, now it appears we’re seeing the dawn of “free”.

ICANN has $750k to advertise new gTLDs

Don’t all rush at once.

ICANN is looking for an advertising agency to help it get the word out about the new generic top-level domains program, but it only has $750,000 to spend.

The organization published a request for proposals last night.

The budget is not much in the advertising world, especially considering that ICANN’s awareness program will have to be global and multilingual to be truly effective.

With such a limited budget, the RFP and accompanying FAQ acknowledges that it will need “creative solutions” from its ad agency.

This is likely to mean a big PR push for advertising equivalent editorial – lots and lots of news stories about new gTLDs.

To an extent, the word is already out by this measure. My standing Google News and Twitter searches for “ICANN” have been going crazy since the gTLD program was approved two weeks ago.

I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority deal of the coverage so far has been either neutral or negative, with much of the focus on potential legal, branding and security problems.

That’s pretty much par for the course in the domain name business, of course.

And ICANN does not necessarily need positive spin – it’s trying to raise awareness of the program’s existence, and negative coverage does that job just as well.

There is, as they say, no such thing as bad publicity.

ICANN’s job of promoting the program is already being done to a large extent by the registries, many of which were investing heavily in media outreach before new gTLDs were approved.

Will ITU object to phone number .tel domains?

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2010, Domain Registries

Should Telnic be allowed to let people register their phone numbers as .tel domain names?

That’s the question ICANN is currently posing to the internet-using public, after it determined that allowing numeric-only .tel domains does not pose a security and stability threat.

If you can register a phone number in almost every other gTLD (except VeriSign’s .name), then why not in .tel? On the face of it, it’s a no-brainer.

But Telnic’s request represents a huge U-turn, reversing a position it has held for 10 years, that runs the risk of drawing the attention of the International Telecommunications Union.

Telnic originally applied for .tel during ICANN’s very first new gTLD round, back in 2000.

The third-party evaluator ICANN hired to review the new TLD applications clearly assumed that .tel domains would be mainly text-based, noting that Telnic, unlike other .tel bids:

does not make use of phone numbers in the sub-domain name, but instead uses names to designate the intended destination of VoIP calls… the Telnic application appears to have the least impact on PSTN numbering.

The report added, parenthetically: “It should be noted that Telnic’s application does not explicitly renounce the future use of numbers”.

That all changed after November 2000, when the ITU wrote to ICANN to express concerns about the four proposed telephony-related TLDs:

it is the view of ITU that it would be premature for ICANN to grant any E.164-related TLD application as this may jeopardize these cooperative activities or prejudice future DNS IP Telephony addressing requirements.

E.164 is the international telephone numbering plan, which the ITU oversees. It also forms the basis of the ENUM protocol, which stores phone numbers in the DNS under e164.arpa.

ICANN’s board of directors used the ITU letter to reject all four telephony TLDs, which irked Telnic. The would-be registry filed a Reconsideration Request in an attempt to get the decision reversed.

In it, Telnic attempted to persuade ICANN that the ITU had nothing to worry about with its “text-based” and strictly non-numeric TLD. The company wrote (my emphasis):

* All-digit strings will be permanently embargoed.

* Broad terms and conditions and safeguards will be implemented covering any abuses that could possibly lead to any PSTN confusion, conflict or similarity.

* Measured use of numbers might be permissible where there is no direct, marginal, implied or similar confusions/conflicts with PSTN codes or numbers – and where digits form an incidental part of a text string (e.g. johnsmith11.tel).

ICANN’s reconsideration committee denied the request.

In 2004, when ICANN’s sponsored TLD round opened up, Telnic applied for .tel again. This time, it was careful to avoid upsetting the ITU from the very outset.

Indeed, the second paragraph of its application stated clearly:

Digits are to be restricted to maintain the integrity of a letters/words based top-level domain and to avoid interference with established or future national and international telephone numbering plans.

The application referred to the namespace as “text-based” throughout, and even used the need for policies regulating the use of digits to justify the sponsoring organization it intended to create.

The application stated:

The .Tel will not:

Allow numeric-only domains to be registered, and therefore will not conflict with any national or international telephone numbering plan.

It also said:

Domain name strings containing only digits with or without a dash (e.g. 08001234567, 0-800-1234567) will be restricted and reserved to maintain the integrity as a letters/words based top-level domain

Despite these assurances, it was obvious that the ITU’s concerns about numeric .tel domains continued to bother ICANN right up until it finally approved .tel in 2006.

During the board meeting at which Telnic’s contract was approved, director Raimundo Beca pressed for the inclusion of language that addressed the constraints on numeric domains and chair Vint Cerf asked general counsel John Jeffrey to amend the resolution accordingly.

While that amendment appears to have never been made, it was clearly envisaged at the moment of the board vote that .tel was to steer clear of numeric-only domains.

Telnic’s contract now specifically excludes such registrations.

Given all this history, one might now argue that Telnic’s request to lift these restrictions is kind of a Big Deal.

A Telnic spokesperson tells me that, among other things, the current restrictions unfairly exclude companies that brand themselves with their phone numbers, such as 118-118 in the UK.

He added that Telnic request has been made now in part because VeriSign has requested the lifting of similar restrictions in .name, which ICANN has also concluded is not a stability problem.

However, as far as I can tell .name was not subject to the same kinds of ITU-related concerns as .tel when it was approved in 2000.

Telnic proposes one safeguard against conflict with E.164, in that it will not allow the registration of single-digit domains, reducing the potential for confusion with ENUM strings, which separate each digit with a dot.

If the ITU does rear its head in response to the current .tel public comment period, it will come at a awkward time, politically. Some ITU members have said recently they want the ITU to form a committee that would have veto power over ICANN’s decisions.

But Telnic says, in its proposal, that it does not know of anybody who is likely to object to its request.

Perhaps it is correct.

dotSport complains to ICANN about other .sports

One of the companies that intends to apply for the .sport top-level domain has written to ICANN, begging that it does not approve any TLDs for individual sports.

dotSport’s Policy Advisory Committee, which appears to think it already has rights in the .sport string, said ICANN should respect “sport solidarity”.

In other words, please don’t allow .tennis or .golf to be approved.

The company wrote:

The PAC members reiterate our concern that ICANN may be prematurely entertaining a process that will allow proliferation of names in sub-categories or individual sports, which will lead to a number of detrimental effects

The detrimental effects, referenced in this letter last August, basically boil down to the potential for user confusion and the need for defensive registrations by sports teams and personalities.

You could apply the same arguments to pretty much any potential new TLD – what would .music mean for the .hiphop community?

The dotSport PAC is filled with high-level appointees from more than half a dozen sports federations, representing sports from basketball to rugby to archery, so its views are far from irrelevant.

Its position appears to be that the DNS hierarchy should be used for taxonomic purposes, at least when it comes to sports.

It’s an argument that was floated all the way back in the 2000 round of TLD applications, and probably before.

Purely from a marketing point of view, it seems like a self-defeating objective to mandate the use of www.example.hockey.sport when www.example.hockey is an option.

The main example of such a mandatory multi-level taxonomy, the old-style .us ccTLD, was a spectacular commercial failure.

Could it be that dotSport wants to be the registry for all .sports for the price of one? It certainly appears that way.