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US Congresspeople tell ICANN to ignore GAC “interference”

Kevin Murphy, June 12, 2015, Domain Policy

A bispartisan group of US Congresspeople have called on ICANN to stop bowing to Governmental Advisory Committee meddling.

Showing characteristic chutzpah, the governmental body advises ICANN that advice from governments should be viewed less deferentially in future, lest the GAC gain too much power.

The members wrote (pdf):

Recent reports indicate that the GAC has sought to increase its power at the expense of the multistakeholder system. Although government engagement in Internet governance is prudent, we are concerned that allowing government interference threatens to undermine the multistakeholder system, increasing the risk of government capture of the ICANN Board.

The letter was signed by 11 members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, which is one of the House committees that most frequently hauls ICANN to Capitol Hill to explain itself.

Most of the signatories are from the Republican majority, but some are Democrats.

It’s not entirely clear where they draw the line between “engagement” and “interference”.

The letter highlights two specific pieces of GAC input that the signatories seem to believe constitute interference.

First, the GAC’s objection to Amazon’s application for .amazon. The letter says this objection came “without legal basis” and that ICANN “succumbed to political pressure” when it rejected the application.

In reality, the GAC’s advice was consensus advice as envisaged by the Application Guidebook rules. It was the US government that succumbed to political pressure, when it decided to keep its mouth shut and allow the rest of the GAC to reach consensus.

The one thing the GAC did wrong was filing its .amazon objection outside of the window envisaged by the Guidebook, but that’s true of almost every piece of advice it’s given about new gTLD applications.

Second, the Congresspeople are worried that the GAC has seized for its members the right to ban the two-letter code representing their country from any new gTLD of their choosing.

I’ve gone into some depth into how stupid and hypocritical this is before.

The letter says that it has “negative implications for speech and the world economy”, which probably has a grain of truth in it.

But does it cross the line from “engagement” to “interference”?

The Applicant Guidebook explicitly “initially reserved” all two-letter strings at the second level in all new gTLDs.

It goes on to say that they “may be released to the extent that Registry Operator reaches agreement with the government and country-code manager.”

While the rule is pointless and the current implementation convoluted, it comes as a result of the GAC engaging before the new gTLD program kicked off. It was something that all registries were aware of when they applied for their gTLDs.

However, the GAC’s more recent behavior on the two-letter domain subject has been incoherent and looks much more like meddling.

At the ICANN meeting in Los Angeles last October, faced with requests for two-character domains to be released, the GAC issued formal advice saying it was “not in a position to offer consensus advice on the use of two-character second level domain names”.

ICANN’s board of directors accordingly passed a resolution calling for a release mechanism to be developed by ICANN staff.

But by the time February ICANN meeting rolled around, it had emerged that registries’ release requests had been put on hold by ICANN due to letters from the GAC.

The GAC then used its Singapore communique to advise ICANN to “amend the current process… so that relevant governments can be alerted as requests are initiated.” It added that “Comments from relevant governments should be fully considered.”

ICANN interpreted “fully considered” to mean an effective veto, which has led to domains such as it.pizza and fr.domains being banned.

So it does look like thirteenth-hour interference but that’s largely because the GAC is often incapable of making its mind up, rarely talks in specifics, and doesn’t meet frequently enough to work within timelines set by the rest of the community.

However, while there’s undoubtedly harm from registries being messed around by the GAC recently, governments don’t seem to have given themselves any powers that they did not already have in the Applicant Guidebook.

Canada shrugs over .sucks

The Canadian trade regulator has sent ICANN a big old “Whatever” in response to queries about the legalities of .sucks.

The response, sent by Industry Canada’s deputy minister John Knubley yesterday, basically says if the intellectual property lobby doesn’t like .sucks it can always take its complaints to the courts.

Other than opening and closing paragraphs of pleasantries, this is all Knubley’s letter (pdf) says:

Canada’s laws provide comprehensive protections for all Canadians. Canada has intellectual property, competition, criminal law and other relevant legal frameworks in place to protect trademark owners, competitors, consumers and individuals. These frameworks are equally applicable to online activities and can provide recourse, for example, to trademark owners concerned about the use of the dotSucks domains, provided that trademark owners can demonstrate that the use of dotSucks domains infringes on a trademark. Intellectual property rights are privately held and are settled privately by the courts.

There’s not much to go on in there; it could quite easily be a template letter.

But it seems that Vox Populi Registry has been cleared to go ahead with the launch of .sucks, despite IP owner complaints, at least as far as the US and Canadian regulators are concerned.

The Federal Trade Commission was equally noncommittal in its response to ICANN two weeks ago.

Vox Populi is based in Canada. It’s still not entirely clear why the FTC was asked its opinion.

ICANN had asked both agencies for comment on .sucks’ legality after its Intellectual Property Constituency raised concerns about Vox Pop’s “predatory” pricing.

Pricing for .sucks names in sunrise starts at around $2,000.

ICANN told DI in April that it was in “fact finding” mode, trying to see if Vox Pop was in breach of any laws or its Registry Agreement.

The .sucks domain is due to hit general availability one week from now, June 19, with a suggested retail price of $250 a year.

If anything, the $250 says much more about Vox Pop’s business model than the sunrise fees, in my opinion.

ICANN Compliance probing Hunger Games domain

ICANN’s Compliance department is looking into whether Donuts broke the rules by activating a domain name for the forthcoming The Hunger Games movie.

Following up from the story we posted earlier today, ICANN sent DI the following statement:

We are well aware of this issue and are addressing it through our normal compliance resolution process. We attempt to resolve compliance matters through a collaborative informal resolution process, and we do not comment on what happens during the informal resolution phase.

At issue is whether Donuts allowed the movie’s marketers to launch thehungergames.movie before the new gTLD’s mandatory 90-day “controlled interruption” phase was over.

Under a strict reading of the CI rules, there’s something like 10 to 12 days left before Donuts is supposed to be allowed to activate any .movie domain except nic.movie.

Donuts provided the following statement:

This is a significant step forward in the mainstream usage of new domains. One of the core values of the new gTLD program is the promotion of consumer choice and competition, and Donuts welcomes this contribution to the program’s success, and to the promotion of the film. We don’t publicly discuss specific matters related to ICANN compliance.

I imagine what happened here is that Donuts got an opportunity to score an anchor tenant with huge visibility and decided to grasp it with both hands, even though distributor Lion’s Gate Entertainment’s (likely immovable) launch campaign schedule did not exactly chime with its own.

It may be a technical breach of the ICANN rules on name collisions — which many regard as over-cautious and largely unnecessary — but it’s not a security or stability risk.

Of course, some would say it also sets a precedent for other registries to bend the rules if they score big-brand backing in future.

.bank doing surprisingly well in sunrise

The forthcoming .bank gTLD has received over 500 applications for domains during its sunrise period, according to the registry.

fTLD Registry Services tweeted the stat earlier this week.

Its sunrise period doesn’t even end until June 17. Sunrise periods tend to be back-weighted, so the number could get a lot higher.

Five hundred may not sound like a lot — and applications do not always convert to registrations — but in the context of new gTLDs it’s very high.

Discounting .porn and .adult, both of which racked up thousands of names across their various sunrise phases, the previous high for a sunrise was .london, with just over 800 names registered.

It’s not unusual for a sunrise to get under 100 names. A year ago, I calculated that the average was 144.

The 500+ .bank number is especially surprising as it’s going to be a very tightly controlled gTLD where the chance of cybersquatting is going to be virtually nil.

All .bank registrants will be manually vetted to ensure they really are banks, substantially mitigating the need for defensive registrations.

Could this be an indication that .bank will actually get used?

.wine no longer blocked after EU drops complaint

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2015, Domain Policy

Donuts and ICANN are currently in the process of signing new gTLD agreements for .wine and .vin, after the European Union and wine sellers dropped objections.

As of today, both gTLDs are “In Contracting” rather than “On Hold”, according to ICANN’s web site.

ICANN revealed earlier this week that the European Union and various wine trade associations have both dropped their Cooperative Engagement Process complaints.

CEP is less formal precursor to a much more expensive and lawyer-hungry Independent Review Process complaint.

With the CEPs out of the way, Donuts is now free to sign its contracts.

Donuts won the auction for .wine back in November, but its application was frozen due to ongoing arguments about the protection of “geographic indicators” representing wine-making regions.

Governments, particularly in Europe and Latin America, had protested that .wine and .vin should not be allowed to launch until areas such as Rioja and Champagne were given special privileges.

Last October, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade told the French government that it was negotiating with applicants to get these protections included in the contracts.

Either Donuts has agreed to such protections, or the EU and wine-makers have gotten bored of complaining.

My feeling is the former is probably more likely, which may be controversial in itself.

There is no international agreement on GI protection — the US and Australia opposed the EU’s position on .wine — so this may be seen as a case of ICANN creating new rights where none previously existed.