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.phone will be restricted after Dish gTLD auction win

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .phone is going to be tightly restricted, after Dish DBS won the contested string at auction.

The American satellite communications firm beat Donuts to the gTLD, judging by Donuts’ withdrawal from the two-horse on Friday.

This means that if you’re not a licensed telecoms or voice-over-IP service provider, you won’t be able to register a .phone domain, at least at first.

Dish originally applied for .phone as what became known as a “closed generic” — a non-trademark, dictionary word that would nevertheless be operated as a dot-brand, with a single eligible registrant.

Due to Governmental Advisory Committee advice against such business models, Dish changed its application this September to describe .phone instead as a “controlled” gTLD.

Its application states that only Dish, its affiliates and “Qualified Applicants” will at first be able to register .phone domains.

“Qualified Applicants” basically means any company licensed to run a telecommunications service anywhere in the world. The eligibility gate appears to be the “license”.

The application says Dish will reserve the right to open up the gTLD to further classes of registrants at a later date.

While it also says that Dish will not give itself or friendly registrars any “undue preference”, the telecoms industry is suspicious.

USTelecom, the industry body representing large and small US-based telecoms companies, wrote to ICANN in November to say Dish’s volte face was “unconvincing” and its proposals “simply fail to satisfy” ICANN’s rules banning closed generics.

It said in its letter (pdf):

While Dish purports in its amended application that the .phone gTLD will be operated as a “controlled gTLD,” it is in reality an exclusive generic TLD, prone to discriminatory and subjective determinations on which entities are “Qualified Applicants,” and a discretionary reservation “to open this TLD to additional classes of registrants in the future,” who “will not be considered members.”

USTelecom says it negotiated with Dish, in an attempt to resolve its earlier formal objection against the bid, to have Dish include some reassuring Public Interest Commitments in its application, but Dish refused.

ICANN, responding to USTelecom, said that any Registry Agreement Dish signs for .phone will include the clauses that prevent it operating as a closed generic.

Now that the contention set has been settled, Dish’s next step is to proceed to contract negotiations with ICANN.

Tata’s bid for .tata gTLD scuppered by Morocco

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2015, Domain Registries

Tata Group, the humongous Indian conglomerate, has been told its flagship application for a dot-brand gTLD has been refused.

ICANN on Friday changed the status of the application for .tata from “On Hold” to “Will Not Proceed”, a limbo state that is usually expected to lead to the application being withdrawn.

It is believed that Tata’s row with Morocco is to blame.

While Tata Group is a 150-year-old, $100 billion-a-year company, Tata is also a province of Morocco with a population of about 120,000.

Under the rules of the ICANN new gTLD program, the string “tata” is therefore a protected geographic name, for which the applicant needs to show the unequivocal support or non-objection of the relevant government.

Tata was the last applicant to pass its ICANN evaluation, when in July 2014 it finally managed to pass its Geographic Names Review on the basis of a letter from a Moroccan official.

However, in September last year the Moroccan’s government’s digital economy minister denied that the letter indicated support for .tata.

This February, ICANN threw Tata back into a Geographic Names Review, where the onus was on the company to prove that it really did have support.

That support has evidently not been forthcoming.

Morocco has indicated in letters to ICANN that it may want the .tata gTLD itself in future.

Tata unit Tata Motors has already been delegated the dot-brand gTLD .tatamotors.

Porn firm wins .cam after years of objections

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2015, Domain Registries

The controversial new gTLD .cam has been won at auction by Dutch porn site operator AC Webconnecting, putting an end to over two years of back-and-forth objections.

Rival applicants Rightside and Famous Four Media both withdrew their applications earlier this week.

The contest for .cam was marked by several objections and appeals.

In 2013, Verisign filed and lost String Confusion Objections against AC Webconnecting and Famous Four, but won its near-identical objection against Rightside.

Verisign had claimed that .cam and .com are so similar-looking that confusion among internet users is bound to arise.

Because the SCO panels in the three cases returned differing opinions, Rightside was one of two applicants given the right to appeal by ICANN in October 2014.

I never quite understood why Verisign wasn’t also given the right to appeal.

Rightside won the right to stay in the .cam contention set almost a year later.

Despite all that effort, it did not prevail in the resulting auction.

Separately, back in 2013, AC Webconnecting filed and lost Legal Rights Objections against its two rivals, based on a “.cam” trademark it acquired purely for the purpose of fighting off new gTLD competitors.

I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about the soon-to-be registry.

Based in Rotterdam, its web site comes across as a wholly safe-for-work web design firm.

However, it seems to be mainly in the business of operating scores, if not hundreds, of webcam-based porn sites.

Its application for .cam states that it will be for everyone with an interest in photography, however.

When it goes live, its most direct competitor is likely to be Famous Four’s .webcam, which already has an 18-month and 70,000-domain head start.

It remains to be seen whether its clear similarity to .com will in fact cause significant confusion.

Radiohead backs .music community bid

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2015, Domain Registries

Ed O’Brien, guitarist with the band Radiohead, has become the latest musician to throw his support behind DotMusic’s community-based application for the new gTLD .music.

In a letter to ICANN today (pdf), O’Brien said that if DotMusic loses its ongoing Community Priority Evaluation, it will “be setting back the world’s chances of a Fair Trade Music Industry by many years”.

“I challenge The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers views that the global music community to which I belong does not exist,” he wrote.

He’s arguably the highest-profile musician to support DotMusic to date. Radiohead have sold over 30 million records and a few years ago O’Brien was ranked by Rolling Stone as the 59th greatest guitarist of all time.

The phrase “Fair Trade Music Industry” appears to have been coined last week at TechCrunch Disrupt by Grammy-nominated musician Imogen Heap, another one of DotMusic’s celebrity supporters.

It refers to the notion that artists should be fairly compensated for their work, opposing services such as Spotify, which reportedly pays artists less than a tenth of a cent every time one of their songs is played.

Both Heap and Radiohead are noted for their innovative uses of technology in their music (for example, listen to Radiohead’s incredible 1997 album OK Computer, bootlegs of which are available to stream for free on YouTube).

Radiohead is also known for its love-hate relationship with internet-based music business models.

In 2007, Radiohead released a new album for free on its web site, allowing fans to set their own price. But in 2013, it pulled its back catalog from Spotify, with lead singer Thom Yorke calling the service “the last desperate fart of a dying corpse”.

Its music is back on Spotify now.

But you can see why the band would support DotMusic’s application for .music, which proposes a number of novel rights protection mechanisms covering not just trademarks, but also copyright.

One interesting proposal is to ban any domain name from .music if a matching domain in another TLD has received over 10,000 copyright infringement notices from a big music industry body. This is to prevent TLD “hopping” affecting .music.

So, for example, if thepiratebay.com had received 10,000 notices, thepiratebay.music would be permanently blocked from registration.

The company is proposing a somewhat restricted namespace too, where only “community members” are allowed to register domains.

But prospective registrants merely need to self-identify as a member of one of the community’s dozens of subsets — which includes “fans” and “bloggers” — in order to register.

Parking will be prohibited, however, which would cut down on domain investor speculation.

Quite how .music will enhance the move for “fair trade” for artists is not entirely clear from O’Brien’s letter. After .music launches, there will still be hundreds of other TLDs that do not have DotMusic’s rules in place.

It’s also unlikely that the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is currently handling the CPE, will even see O’Brien’s letter.

ICANN told DotMusic (pdf) recently that the EIU “may not consider” any support letters received after October 13, which was two months after the official deadline for letters to be submitted.

DotMusic has letters of support — mostly the same letter with a different signature — from literally hundreds of musicians, trade groups, producers and publishers.

CEO Constantine Roussos told DI last week that it has more support letters than all the other “Community” gTLD applicants combined.

He said he’s confident that DotMusic’s CPE will be successful, citing positive precedent set by EIU panels in .osaka, .hotel and .radio CPE cases.

But the closest precedent we have so far is the Far Further application for .music, which comprehensively lost its CPE a year ago, scoring just three points out of the available 16, well short of the 14-point passing score.

There are differences between the applications, but Far Further’s CPE panel told it that there was no such thing as “the music community”, which sets a pretty high bar for DotMusic to leap.

If DotMusic wins its CPE, the remaining seven competing applications for the string get kicked out of the program. If it loses, it goes to an auction it has little chance of winning.

Twitter and Justin Timberlake targeted by This.sucks

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2015, Domain Registries

This.sucks, a company with close ties to .sucks registry Vox Populi, has started registering domain names matching famous brands to itself.

Twitter, along with singer Justin Timberlake, software maker Adobe and investment bank Goldman Sachs all saw their matching .sucks domains registered by This.sucks on Friday, according to the .sucks zone file and Whois queries.

The domains twitter.sucks, goldmansachs.sucks, justintimberlake.sucks and adobe.sucks currently resolve in browsers, but only to a password-protected web site.

New York-based This.sucks says its service is in beta. It plans to give 10,000 .sucks domains away for free, and to sell them for as little as $12 per year. Its business model has not been revealed.

That’s a deep discount from their regular $250 suggested retail price, which rises to $2,500 for domains matching famous brands.

Technically, the company should have just paid around $10,000 for the four brand-matching domains it has just registered.

But it is broadly suspected that This.sucks shares ownership with Vox Populi, the .sucks registry operator, which would make this a case of the right hand paying the left.

As we uncovered in October, Vox Populi originally hosted This.sucks’ web sites and the CEO of Momentous, which founded Vox Pop, paid for its web site to be developed.

The two companies also share a physical address and a Cayman Islands lawyer.

Vox Pop has denied any involvement in This.sucks, saying it’s just another customer.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for one of the four affected brands to file a UDRP or URS complaint on these new domains.

As far as I can tell, the .sucks namespace currently has an unblemished UDRP record.

Unlike rival Top Level Spectrum, which runs .feedback, neither Vox Pop nor This.sucks has revealed any plans to use brands belonging to third parties as part of their services.

TLS has said it plans to sell 5,000 branded .feedback domains to a third party after its sunrise period ends next month.

It has already registered fox.feedback to itself as one of its special 100-domain pre-sunrise registry allowance.

Since we last reported on .feedback a month ago, the registry appears to have also registered the names of all the current US presidential candidates — such as donaldtrump.feedback and hillaryclinton.feedback — to itself.

The sites are all live, as is santaclaus.feedback, which seeks commentary on the “fictional” character.