.jobs gets its landrush windfall

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2010, Domain Registries

Is .jobs the newest generic top-level domain?

ICANN has approved changes to Employ Media’s .jobs registry contract, meaning the company is now free to start auctioning off premium generic .jobs domain names to the highest bidder.

The decision paves the way for the company to implement its deal with the DirectEmployers Association, under which the DEA plans to use thousands of geo.jobs and industry.jobs domains as portals to a massive free jobs board.

Currently, .jobs domains are only available in the format companyname.jobs, and there have been only about 15,000 registrations. The new contract removes that restriction.

Under the changes, whatever domains are left after the DEA takes its chunk could be auctioned, and then .jobs could be opened up to essentially any registration.

The .jobs contract still restricts who can register domains, however, to so-called Qualified Applicants.

That’s defined like this (my emphasis):

A qualified applicant (“Qualified Applicant”) is a person who is (a) a member of SHRM; or (b) engaged in human resource management practices that meet any of the following criteria: (i) possess salaried‐level human resource management experience; (ii) are certified by the Human Resource Certification Institute; or (iii) are supportive of the SHRM Code of Ethical and Professional Standards in Human Resource Management, as amended from time to time (the “Code”).

Looks like a check-out check-box to me.

ICANN’s resolution was made over the strong objections of many jobs web sites and the International Association of Employment Web Sites.

Stalemate reached on new TLD ownership rules

Kevin Murphy, July 26, 2010, Domain Policy

An ICANN working group tasked with deciding whether domain name registrars should be able to apply to run new top-level domains has failed to reach a consensus.

For the last several months, the Vertical Integration working group has been debating, in essence, the competitive ground rules of the new TLD market, addressing questions such as:

  • Should existing ICANN registrars be allowed to run new TLD registries?
  • Should new TLD registries be allowed to own and control ICANN registrars?
  • Should new TLD registries be allowed to sell domains directly to end users?
  • What if an approved registry can’t find a decent registrar willing to sell domains in its TLD?
  • Should “.brand” TLDs be forced to sell via ICANN accredited registrars?
  • Should “registry service providers” be subject to the same restrictions as “registries”?
  • Where’s the harm in allowing cross-ownership and vertical integration?

It’s an extraordinarily complex set of questions, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the working group, which comprised a whopping 75 people, has managed to reach agreement on very few answers.

Its initial report, described as a “snapshot” and subject to change, states:

It is impossible to know or completely understand all potential business models that may be represented by new gTLD applicants. That fact has been an obstacle to finding consensus on policy that defines clear, bright line rules for allowing vertical integration and a compliance framework to support it

Having lurked on the WG’s interactions for a few months, I should note that this is possibly the understatement of the year. However, the WG does draw four conclusions.

1. Certain new gTLDs likely to be applied for in the first round will be unnecessarily impacted by restrictions on cross-ownership or control between registrar and registry.

I believe the WG is referring here primarily to, for example, certain “cultural” TLDs that expect to operate in linguistic niches not currently catered for by registrars.

The operators of the .zulu and .kurd TLDs would certainly find themselves without a paddle if the rules obliged them to find an ICANN-accredited registrar that supports either of their languages.

There are other would-be registries, such as .music, that call themselves “community” TLDs and want to be able to sell directly to users, but my feeling is that many in the WG are less sympathetic to those causes.

2. The need for a process that would allow applicants to request exceptions and be considered on a case-by-case basis. The reasons for exceptions, and the conditions under which exceptions would be allowed, vary widely in the group.

There’s not a great deal to add to that: the WG spent much of the last couple of weeks arguing about “exceptions” (that they could not agree on) to a baseline rule (that they could not define).

3. The concept of Single Registrant Single User should be explored further.

An “SRSU” is a subset of what a lot of us have been calling a “.brand”. The proposed .canon TLD, under which Canon alone owns .canon domains, would likely fall into this category.

The WG’s report suggests that SRSU namespaces, should they be permitted, should not be subject to the same restrictions as a more open and generic TLD that sells to the average man on the street.

The alternative would be pretty crazy – imagine Canon owning the registry but being forced to pay Go Daddy or eNom every time it wanted to add a record to its own database.

I do not believe that a hypothetical .facebook, in which Facebook is the registry and its users are the registrants, falls into the SRSU category. Which is also pretty nuts, if you’re Facebook, forced to hand your brand over to the world’s domain name registrars.

4. The need for enhanced compliance efforts and the need for a detailed compliance plan in relation to the new gTLD program in general.

One principle that has come through quite clearly whilst lurking on the WG mailing list is that the degree of distrust between participants in this industry is matched only by the lack of confidence in ICANN’s ability to police bad actors effectively.

Domain name companies are masters of the loophole, and ICANN’s enforcement mechanisms have historically been slow enough that yesterday’s scandal often becomes today’s standard practice.

This sums it up pretty well:

Some members feel that loosening vertical integration/ownership controls may let the proverbial “genie out of the bottle that can’t be put back” should competitive harms result in the marketplace. Others believe that adopting restrictions on vertical integration or cross ownership is the wrong approach altogether, and that the focus should be on protecting against harms, and providing sanctions where harms take place.

The WG currently has six policy proposals on the table, which vary from the “no VI allowed” of the current Draft Applicant Guidebook to “some VI allowed” to “full VI allowed”.

There was a poll of WG members a few weeks back, to see which proposal had most support. It was inconclusive, but it left three proposals clearly in the lead.

The so-called Free Trade proposal, which advocates no limits on cross ownership, was originally authored by Sivasubramanian Muthusamy of ISOC India Chennai.

The proposal as it currently stands puts the focus on ICANN troubleshooting undesirable activities through compliance programs rather than ownership restrictions.

Opposed, a proposal known as RACK+, offered up primarily by Afilias, some of its partners, and Go Daddy, favours a much more restrictive policy that is more aligned with business models established under the last ten years of gTLDs dominated by .com.

RACK+ would impose a 15% ownership limit between registries, registrars and registry service operators, ostensibly in order to prevent registrars abusing privileged registry data.

But under RACK+, all TLDs, including .brands and obscure community TLDs, would be obliged to accept registrations only through ICANN registrars, on a non-discriminatory basis.

This would probably render the .brand TLD market stillborn, if adopted by ICANN, I reckon.

A third proposal, called JN2+, originally authored by representatives of NeuStar and Domain Dimensions, occupies a spot somewhere in the middle ground.

It also proposes 15% ownership caps between registrars, registries and registry service providers, but it contains explicit carve-outs for SRSU-style .brands and “community” TLDs.

Because I’m a wimp, and I have no desire to be drawn into the kinds of arguments I’ve been reading and listening to recently, I’m going to quote Milton Mueller here, saying JN2 “had the highest acceptability ranking of all the proposals” when the WG was polled.

(Sorry.)

I find it rather surprising that the WG seems to be calling for more policy work to be done on ICANN’s compliance programs before the issue of vertical integration can be fully resolved.

If anything, this seems to me to be yet another way to risk adding more delay to the new TLD program.

There’s a public comment period now open, here. And here’s the report itself (pdf)

UNICEF looking for a .brand TLD partner

The UN-backed charity UNICEF has become the second organization, after Canon, to confirm publicly it is planning to apply for a .brand top-level domain.

The organization has put its feelers out for a registry operator to apply for and manage .unicef, publishing a Request For Information on its web site this week.

The RFI says:

Taking the long view, as time goes on a name such as www.donations.unicef and www.cards.unicef will become more intuitive in a more crowded Internet, and thus more valuable because the name reflects exactly that of an organization and declares what it does.

With unscrupulous individuals frequently seeking to capitalize on global tragedies to bilk money out of people through bogus web sites, charities could very well see some anti-phishing benefits from having their own sufficiently publicized TLD.

As I noted yesterday, it looks like the Red Cross may be thinking about a similar initiative.

UNICEF appears to want an operator that will be able to both manage the ICANN application process and then, for at least two years, the operation of the registry.

The deadline is July 30, so vendors have just a week to fill out and submit a questionnaire outlining their capabilities.

The questions appear, to me, to betray a degree of unfamiliarity with the DNS business and the new TLD process in particular.

What are the timeframes for developing and provisioning the application including all necessary activities (i.e. obtaining ICANN’ registration, facilitating the transition of current domains to the top level domain etc) from the moment a contract is signed with the selected vendor?

Good luck answering that one.

(Hat tip: newTLDs.tv)

Brand owners drop hints about .brand TLD plans

The flood of negative comments to ICANN yesterday almost obscured the fact that a few companies have hinted that they will apply for their own “.brand” top-level domains.

As Antony Van Couvering first noted on the Minds + Machines blog, IBM’s comment on version four of the Draft Applicant Guidebook makes it pretty clear the idea of a .ibm is under consideration.

IBM’s filing raises concerns about the issues of sunrise periods and vertical integration, with particular reference as to whether .brand owners would be exempt from such things.

This suggests IBM is thinking about its own .brand.

If we make the (admittedly cheeky but probably realistic) assumption that the large majority of comments filed with ICANN are self-serving, we can infer that anyone taking in an interest in the nuts and bolts of running a new TLD has probably considered applying for one.

Other than IBM, I’ve notice two others so far: Microsoft and the American Red Cross.

Microsoft, while generally opposed to a large-scale new TLD launch, is very concerned about parts of the DAG that would allow ICANN to transfer a .brand delegation to a third party if the original registry were to shut down for whatever reason.

In other words, if Microsoft one day decided that running “.windows” was a waste of time and decided to shut it down, could ICANN appoint Apple to take it over?

I suggest that this is something that you only really worry about if you’re thinking about applying for a .brand TLD.

The American Red Cross comment contains references to a hypothetical scenario where it applies for its own TLD throughout.

It’s especially concerned that its administrative overheads would increase due to the high ICANN application fees, eating into the money it can spend on worthier causes.

To date, Canon is the only company I’m aware of to publicly state it will apply for a .brand.

Will new TLDs be delayed by the trademark owner outcry?

Yesterday’s flood of criticism from big trademark holders has put another question mark next to ICANN’s plan to finalize the new top-level domain application process this year.

Heavy-hitters including Microsoft, AT&T, Time Warner, Adobe and Coca-Cola filed strong criticisms of the trademark-protection mechanisms in version four of the Draft Applicant Guidebook, and urged ICANN to delay the new TLD launch until the perceived weaknesses are addressed.

The concerns were echoed by the Motion Picture Association of America, the International Olympic Committee, Nestle, the International Trademark Association, Lego, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the American Intellectual Property Law Association, News Corp, the BBC and the American Bankers Association, among others.

Two ICANN registrars, MarkMonitor and Com Laude, also threw in with the anti-DAGv4 crowd. Indeed, MarkMonitor appears to have orchestrated at least a part of the trademark owner commentary.

It’s clear that many IP owners feel they’re being ignored by ICANN. Some organizations, notably WIPO and Time Warner, filed scathing criticisms of how ICANN makes policy.

These aren’t insignificant entities, even if some of their comments read like cases of throwing toys out of the pram.

After conversations with others, I know I’m not the only one who believes that this outcry could add delay to the new TLD process.

It certainly casts doubt on comments made by ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush in Brussels last month to the effect that the trademark protection portions of the DAG were very close to being finalized.

Trademark owners, including most of the outfits listed above, are concerned that the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy, designed to create a faster and cheaper version of the UDRP, has become bloated and now in some cases could take longer than a UDRP proceeding.

They also don’t think the Trademark Clearinghouse, a database of brands maintained by ICANN that new TLD registries would be obliged to protect, goes far enough to protect their marks. The previously proposed Globally Protected Marks List seems like a preferred alternative.

ICANN currently hopes to have the final guidebook close to readiness by its public meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, this December. Its board of directors will meet over a weekend in September to try to knock the document into shape. I don’t envy that task.

There’s a possibility, of course, that ICANN will soldier on with its time-line regardless. Dengate Thrush indicated in an interview last month that he did not want trademark issues to delay the launch any more than they have already.

Asked about the IP lobby’s concerns with the speed of the URS, he told the World Trademark Review:

I have conceptually no problem with making sure that expedited processes are available. If this one turns out to be too slow, we’ll do something else. What we can’t have is the hold up of the entire process until this is resolved.

It’s wait and see time again, but at the very least I think it’s pretty clear that the new TLD launch timeline is more in doubt today than it was 24 hours ago.