ICANN seems to have changed its mind about requiring Uniform Rapid Suspension providers to sign enforceable contracts, angering the Internet Commerce Association.
As we reported in May, the ICA claimed a victory when ICANN said in a written answer to its persistent inquiries that URS providers would be bound by contract.
An ICANN Q&A, referring to a question the ICA’s Phil Corwin asked at the ICANN meeting in Beijing, said:
[Q] As regards Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) providers, will there be a contract developed that goes beyond the non-enforceable memorandum of understanding? Will there be other URS providers?
[A] Yes, a contract is being developed and additional URS providers will be added.
It’s difficult to interpret that as anything other than “Yes, a contract is being developed.” The fact that the question draws the distinction between a contract and an MoU seems to remove any ambiguity.
But at the ICANN 47 meeting in Durban last week, ICANN appeared to backtrack on this position.
During a URS demo session, gTLD registry services director Krista Papac said that URS providers will only have to agree to an MoU.
“This breach of a written commitment is unacceptable,” Corwin later said at the Public Forum on Thursday.
In response, ICANN deputy general counsel Amy Stathos said:
An MoU is a contract. I recognize that you don’t necessarily recognize that as the full contract that you were contemplating or that had been contemplated. But that is a contract. And it calls and requires the URS providers to comply with all the rules and procedures that are in the Guidebook.
On Friday, ICANN then published a (hastily written?) document that sought to spell out its position on contracts for URS and UDRP providers. It says:
ICANN has carefully considered whether the introduction of contracts is feasible or useful in the scope of UDRP proceedings, and has determined that contracts would be a cumbersome tool to assert to reach the same outcome that exists today.
It goes on to address some of the concerns that the ICA and others have put forward in the past. The organization, which represents big-volume domainers, is worried that some UDRP providers find more often in favor of complainants in order to secure their business. Enforceable contracts, it says, would help prevent that.
ICANN said in its new position statement (pdf) that it has never seen behavior from UDRP providers that would require it to take action, but added:
Of course, there is always the future possibility that an issue of non-compliance will arise that will require corrective action. In recognition of that potential, ICANN commits that substantiated reports of UDRP provider non‐compliance with the UDRP or the Rules will be investigated.
Contracts, it said, would not stop forum shopping.
The International Chamber of Commerce came in for quite a bit of criticism at ICANN 47 last week over claims that it is asking for deposits in excess of a million dollars to handle new gTLD objections.
Critics are worried that these high fees to arbitrate Community Objections will create a “chilling effect” that will dissuade communities affected by new gTLDs from objecting.
During a session early during the Durban meeting, Neustar VP Jeff Neuman said that the company had been “shocked” to receive a bill from the ICC for $190,000 for a single objection.
“Each one of the bidders had to put up $190,000,” he said. “It’s nothing better than extortion.”
Responding, ICANN new gTLD program manager Christine Willett said that ICANN has heard concerns from other applicants affected and has asked the ICC for a detailed rationale for its fees, which it will publish.
The ICC, she said, is “utilizing preeminent jurists to arbitrate and manage these cases” and that the estimated €450 per hour wage is “probably lower than what some of these jurists get in public fees”.
As we’ve noted previously, at €450 per hour it works out that each judge in the three-person panel would have to work on nothing but the objection, full-time, for over two weeks to justify the fee.
Later last week, during the Public Forum on Thursday, Mark Partridge of Partridge IP Law — who is WIPO panelist dealing with new gTLD Legal Rights Objections — had similar criticisms.
He said he was aware of a consolidated proceeding — where multiple objections have been bundled into the same case — where the ICC was asking for a total of €1.13 million.
A bit of back-of-the-envelope math suggests that the panelists in that case would have to work on the case full-time for a month at €450 an hour.
Partridge, noting that WIPO charges substantially less for LRO objections, said:
I’m also aware of not-for-profit associations that have found the amount of the required deposit to be prohibitive for that not-for-profit association to advance.
I’m still very concerned about the chilling effect that these high fees have going forward.
In response, Willett said that the Community Objection is substantially more complex than the LRO, and reiterated that
The prevailing party in a new gTLD gets its money back from the ICC. This may reduce the chilling effect, but only if a community is willing to put its money — if it even has the funds — on the line.
As we haven’t yet had any Community Objection decisions handed down yet, it’s pretty difficult to judge going into a case what the likely outcome would be. This may change in future rounds.
The ICC is also handled Limited Public Interest Objections, many of which have been filed by the ICANN-selected Independent Objector. If the objector loses his cases, the cost comes out of his budget, which was paid for by new gTLD applicants.
Google and other members of the New gTLD Applicant Group are happy to let ICANN put their applications on hold in response to security concerns raised by Verisign.
During the ICANN 46 Public Forum in Durban on Thursday, NTAG’s Alex Stamos — CTO of .secure applicant Artemis — said that agreement had been reached that about half a dozen applications could be delayed:
NTAG has consensus that we are willing to allow these small numbers of TLDs that have a significant real risk to be delayed until technical implementations can be put in place. There’s going to be no objection from the NTAG on that.
While he didn’t name the strings, he was referring to gTLDs such as .home and .corp, which were highlighted earlier in the week as having large amounts of error traffic at the DNS root.
There’s a worry, originally expressed by Verisign in April and independent consultant Interisle this week, that collisions between new gTLDs and widely-used internal network names will lead to data leakage and other security problems.
Google’s Jordyn Buchanan also took the mic at the Public Forum to say that Google will gladly put its uncontested application for .ads — which Interisle says gets over 5 million root queries a day — on hold until any security problems are mitigated.
Two members of the board described Stamos’ proposal as “reasonable”.
Both Stamos and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade indirectly criticised Verisign for the PR campaign it has recently built around its new gTLD security concerns, which has led to somewhat one-sided articles in the tech press and mainstream media such as the Washington Post.
What we do object to is the use of the risk posed by a small, tiny, tiny fraction — my personal guess would be six, seven, eight possible name spaces that have any real impact — to then tar the entire project with a big brush. For contracted parties to go out to the Washington Post and plant stories about the 911 system not working because new TLDs are turned on is completely irresponsible and is clearly not about fixing the internet but is about undermining the internet and undermining new gTLDs.
Later, in response to comments on the same topic from the Association of National Advertisers, which suggested that emergency services could fail if new gTLDs go live, Chehade said:
Creating an unnecessary alarm is equally irresponsible… as publicly responsible members of one community, let’s measure how much alarm we raise. And in the trademark case, with all due respect it ended up, frankly, not looking good for anyone at the end.
That’s a reference to the ANA’s original campaign against new gTLDs, which wound up producing not much more than a lot of column inches about an utterly pointless Congressional hearing in late 2011.
Chehade and the ANA representative this time agreed publicly to work together on better terms.
ICANN has published its weekly run-down of new gTLD Initial Evaluation results and this week 90 applications have passed.
There have also been two withdrawals, both made by Uniregistry. It’s withdrawn its bids for .media and .country, leaving Tucows and Donuts duking it out for .media and Top Level Domain Holdings as the sole remaining applicant for .country.
TLDH and Uniregistry previously inked a deal that would see them go 50:50 on .country, the only question remaining was which applicant would drop out.
These are this week’s passing applications:
.ecom .doctor .cpa .forum .aco .mba .mom .sbs .frogans .rip .changiairport .tirol .homesense .swatch .hotel .ice .realty .web .fun .clubmed .ril .creditcard .datsun .netbank .jmp .ferrero .hockey .contact .avianca .gold .beauty .audi .cheap .bet .uconnect .map .cooking .pics .network .madrid .garden .zone .expert .cfa .trv .review .forum .pizza .dabur .pay .app .bingo .home .ryukyu .agency .tdk .xfinity .nokia .raid .hoteles .tube .school .win .gmbh .faith .show .radio .pizza .wtf .juniper .xerox .rehab .global .cloud .docs .life .fun .brother .intel .place .photo .christmas .wine .dupont .run .home .ping .boutique .mortgage .store
Intellectual property interests got a wake-up call at ICANN 47 in Durban this week, when it became clear that they can no longer rely upon the Governmental Advisory Committee as a natural ally.
The GAC’s decision to file a formal consensus objection against Amazon’s application for the .amazon gTLD prompted a line of IP lawyers to queue up at the Public Forum mic to rage against the GAC machine.
As we reported earlier in the week, the GAC found consensus to its objection to .amazon after the sole hold-out government, the United States, decided to keep quiet and allow other governments to agree.
This means that the ICANN board of directors will now be presented with a “strong presumption” that .amazon should be rejected.
With both previous consensus objections, against .africa and .gcc, the board has rejected the applications.
The objection was pushed for mainly by Brazil, with strong support from Peru, Venezuela and other Latin American countries that share the Amazon region, known locally as Amazonas.
During a GAC meeting on Tuesday, statements of support were also made by countries as diverse as Russia, Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago.
Brazil said Amazon is a “very important cultural, traditional, regional and geographical name”. Over 50 million Brazilians live in the region, he said.
The Brazilian Congress discussed the issue at length, he said.
The Brazilian Internet Steering Committee was also strongly against .amazon, he said, and there was a “huge reaction from civil society” including a petition signed by “thousands of people”.
All the countries in the region also signed the Montevideo Declaration (pdf), which resolves to oppose any attempts to register .amazon and .patagonia in any language, in April.
It doesn’t appear to be an arbitrary decision by one government, in other words. People were consulted.
The objection did not receive a GAC consensus three months ago in Beijing only because the US refused to agree, arguing that governments do not have sovereign rights over geographic names.
But prior to Durban, without changing its opinion, the US said that it would not stand in the way of consensus.
It seems that there may have been bigger-picture political concerns at play. The NTIA, which represents the US on the GAC, is said to have had its hands tied by its superiors in Washington DC.
Did the GAC move the goal posts?
With the decision to object to .amazon already on the public record before the GAC’s Durban communique was formally issued yesterday, Intellectual Property Constituency interests had plenty of time to get mad.
At the Public Forum yesterday, several took to the open mic to slam the GAC’s decision.
Common themes emerged, one of which was the claim that the GAC is retroactively changing the rules about what is and is not a “geographic” string for the purposes of the Applicant Guidebook.
Stacey King, senior corporate counsel with Amazon, said:
Prior to filing our applications Amazon carefully reviewed the Applicant Guidebook; we followed the rules. You are now being asked to significantly and retroactively modify these rules. That would undermine the hard-won international consensus to the detriment to all stakeholders. I repeat, we followed these rules.
It’s true that the string “amazon” is not on any of the International Standards Organization lists that ICANN’s Geographic Names Panel used to determine what’s “geographic”.
The local-language string “Amazonas” appears four times, representing a Brazilian state, a Colombian department, a Peruvian region and a Venezuelan state; Amazon isn’t there.
But Amazon is wrong about one thing.
By filing its objection, the GAC is not changing the rules about geographic names, it’s exercising its entirely separate but equally Guidebook-codified right to object to any application for any reason.
That’s part of the Applicant Guidebook too, and it’s a part that the IPC has never previously objected to.
Amazon was not alone making its claim about retroactive changes. IPC president Kristina Rosette, wearing her hat as counsel for former .patagonia applicant Patagonia Inc, said:
Patagonia is deeply disappointed by and concerned about the breakdown of the new gTLD process. Consistent with the recommendations and principles established in connection with that process, Patagonia fully expected its .patagonia application to be evaluated against transparent and predictable criteria, fully available to applicants prior to the initiation of the process.
Yet, its experience demonstrates the ease with which one stakeholder can jettison rules previously agreed upon after an extensive and thorough consultation.
That’s not consistent with the IPC’s position.
The IPC just last month warmly welcomed (pdf) the GAC’s Beijing advice, stating that the after-the-fact “safeguards” it demanded for all new gTLDs should be accepted.
Apparently, it’s okay for the GAC to move the goal posts for gTLD applicants when its advice is about Whois accuracy, but when it files an objection — perfectly compliant with the GAC Advice section of the Guidebook — that interferes with the business objectives of a big trademark owner, that’s suddenly not cool.
The IPC also did not challenge the GAC Advice process when it was first added to the Applicant Guidebook in the April 2011 draft.
At that time, the GAC had responded to intense lobbying by IP interests and was fighting their corner with the ICANN board, demanding stronger trademark protections in the new gTLD program.
If the IPC now finds itself arguing against the application of the GAC Advice rule, perhaps it should consider whether speaking up earlier might have been a good idea.
Rosette tried to substantiate her remarks by referring back to previous GAC advice, specifically a May 26, 2011 letter in which she said the GAC “formally accepted” the Guidebook’s definition of geographic strings.
However, that letter (pdf) has a massive caveat. It says:
Given ICANN’s clarifications on “Early Warning” and “GAC Advice” that allow the GAC to require governmental support/non-objection for strings it considers to be geographical names, the GAC accepts ICANN’s interpretation with regard to the definition of geographic names.
In other words, “The GAC is happy with your list, as long as we can add our own strings to it at will later”.
Rosette’s argument that the GAC has changed its mind, in other words, does not hold.
It wasn’t just IP interests that stood up against the .amazon decision, however. The IPC found an unlikely ally in the Registries Stakeholder Group, represented at the Public Forum by Verisign’s Keith Drazek.
Drazek sought to link the “retroactive changes” on geographic strings to the “retroactive changes” the GAC has proposed in relation to the so-called Category 1 strings — which would have the effect of demanding that hundreds of regular gTLD bids convert into de facto “Community” applications. He said:
While different stakeholders have different views about particular aspects of the GAC advice, we have a shared concern about the portions of that advice that constitute retroactive changes to the Applicant Guidebook around the issues of sovereign rights, undefined and unexplained geographic sensitivities, sensitive industry strings, regulated strings, etc.
This appears to be one of those rare instances where the interests of registries and the interests of IP owners are aligned. The registries, however, have at least been consistent, complaining about the GAC Advice process as soon as it was published in April 2011.
There’s also a big difference between the substance of the advice that they’re currently complaining about: the objection against .amazon followed the Guidebook rules on GAC Advice almost to the letter, whereas the Category 1 advice came completely out of the left field, with no Guidebook basis to cling to.
The GAC in the case of .amazon followed the rules. The rules are stupid, but the time to complain about that was before paying your $185,000 to apply.
If anyone is trying to change the rules after the fact, it’s Amazon and its supporters.
Is the GAC breaking the law?
Another recurring theme throughout yesterday’s Public Forum commentary was the idea that international trademark law does not support the GAC’s right to object to .amazon.
I’m going to preface my editorializing here with the usual I Am Not A Lawyer disclaimer, but it seems to be a pretty thin argument.
Claudio DiGangi, secretary of the IPC and external relations manager at the International Trademark Association, was first to comment on the .amazon objection. He said:
INTA strongly supports the recent views expressed by the United States. In particular, that it does not view sovereignty as a valid basis for objecting to the use of terms, and we have concerns about the effect of such claims on the integrity of the process.
J Scott Evans, head of domains at Yahoo, who left the IPC for the Business Constituency recently (apparently after some kind of disagreement) was next. He said:
There is no international recognition of country names as protection and they cannot trump trademark rights. So giving countries a block on a name violates international law. So you can’t do it.
There were similar comments along the same lines.
Heather Forrest, a senior lecturer at an Australian university and former AusRegistry employee, said she had conducted a doctoral thesis (available at Amazon!) on the rights of governments over geographic names, with particular reference to the Applicant Guidebook.
She told the Public Forum:
My study was comprehensive. I looked at international trade law, unfair competition law, intellectual property law, geographic indications, sovereign rights and human rights. As the board approved the Applicant Guidebook, I completed my study and found that there is not support in international law for priority or exclusive right of states in geographic names and found that there is support in international law for the right of non-state others in geographic names.
Kiran Malancharuvil, whose job until recently was to lobby the GAC for special protections for her client, the International Olympic Committee, now works for MarkMonitor. Calling for the ICANN board to reject the GAC’s advice on .amazon, she said at the Public Forum:
To date, governments in Latin America including the Amazonas community countries have granted Amazon over 130 trademark registrations that have been in continuous use by Amazon since 1994 without challenge. Additionally, Amazon has used their brand within domain names including some registered by MarkMonitor and including registrations in Amazonas community ccTLDs without objection.
Amazonas community countries and all other nations who have signed the TRIPS agreement have obligated themselves to maintain and protect these trademark registrations. Despite these granted rights, members of the community signed the Montevideo declaration and resolved to reject Amazon and Patagonia in any language as well as any other top-level domains referring to them. This declaration appears inconsistent with national and international law.
Having read TRIPS — the World Trade Organization’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights treaty — this morning, I’m still none the wiser how it relates to .amazon.
It’s a treaty that sought to create some uniformity in how trademarks and other types of intellectual property are handled globally, and domain names are not mentioned once.
As far as I can tell, nobody is asking Amazon to change its name and nobody’s trying to take away its trademarks. Nobody’s even trying to take away its domain names.
If the international law argument is simply that the GAC and/or ICANN cannot prevent a company with a trademark from getting its mark as a TLD, as Yahoo’s Evans suggested, it seems to me that quite a lot of the new gTLD program would have to be rewritten.
We’re already seeing Legal Rights Objections in which an applicant with a trademark is losing against an applicant without a trademark.
Is that illegal too? Was it illegal for ICANN to create an LRO process that has allowed Donuts (no trademark) to beat Express LLC (with trademark) in a fight over .express?
What about other protections in the Guidebook?
ICANN already bans two-character gTLDs, on the basis that they could interfere with future ccTLDs — protecting the geographic rights of countries that do not even exist — which disenfranchises companies with two-letter trademarks, such as BT and HP.
What about 888, the poker company, and 3, the mobile phone operator? They have trademarks. Should ICANN be forced to allow them to have numeric gTLDs, despite the obvious risks?
The Guidebook already bans country names outright, and says thousands of other geographic terms need government support or will be rejected. Is this all illegal?
If the argument is that trademarks trump all, ICANN may as well throw out half the Guidebook.
Unlike .patagonia, which dropped out of the new gTLD program last week (we’ll soon discover whether that was wise), the objection to .amazon will now go to ICANN’s board of directors for consideration.
While the Guidebook calls for a “strong presumption” that the board will then reject the application, board member Chris Disspain said yesterday that outsiders should not assume that it will simply rubber-stamp the GAC’s advice.
In both previous cases, the outcome has been a rejection of the application, however, so it’s not looking great for Amazon.