Should new gTLD objections have an appeals process?

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2013, Domain Policy

That’s the question the ICANN Ombudsman is asking today.

Several new gTLD applicants that have lost objections — many in decisions that appear to diverge from ICANN’s rules or are inconsistent with other decisions — have been in touch to ask for redress, Ombudsman Chris LaHatte blogged this morning. He wrote:

The real problem as it seems to me, is that apart from the internal review procedures, there is no ability to seek an appeal from the panel decisions. A number of complainants had mentioned the need for an appeal process, emphasising that some of the decisions were in their view, inconsistent or not following the majority views.

LaHatte noted that his role is to decide issues of fairness in ICANN’s own decisions. As objections are all handled by third-party arbitration bodies, it’s not at all clear whether he has any authority at all over objection decisions.

Applicants have also been invoking the Reconsideration process en masse in an attempt to have successful objections overturned, but all Reconsideration requests to date have been rejected.

Reconsideration generally requires that the requester provide ICANN with new evidence that was not considered at the time of the original decision.

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration, appears to be happy to leave objections in the hands of the arbitrators so far.

But the new gTLD objection process is a bit of a joke at the moment.

String Confusion Objection panelists have delivered inconsistent decisions, while Community Objection and Limited Public Interest Objection panels often seem to be making up rules as they go.

So should ICANN have an appeals process? If one is created it will undoubtedly be broadly used.

ICANN compliance not broken, Ombudsman rules

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2013, Domain Policy

Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has rejected a complaint from spam research firm KnujOn — and 173 of its supporters — claiming that ICANN’s compliance department is failing consumers.

In a ruling posted online today, LaHatte said there was “no substance” to complaints that a small number of “bad” registrars, notably BizCN, have been allowed to run wild.

KnujOn’s Garth Bruen is a regular and vocal critic of ICANN compliance, often claiming that it ignores complaints about bad Whois data and fails to enforce the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, enabling fake pharma spamming operations to run from domains sponsored by ICANN-accredited registrars.

This CircleID blog post should give you a flavor.

The gist of the complaint was that ICANN regularly fails to enforce the RAA when registrars allow bad actors to own domain names using plainly fake contact data.

But LaHatte ruled, based on a close reading of the contracts, that the Bruen and KnujOn’s supporters have overestimated registrars’ responsibilities under the RAA. He wrote:

the problem is that the complainants have overstated the duties of the registrar, the registrant and the role of compliance in this matrix.

He further decided that allegations about ICANN compliance staff being fired for raising similar issues were unfounded.

It’s a detailed decision. Read the whole thing here.

Rejected .gay gTLD objection ruled “unfair”

Kevin Murphy, June 27, 2013, Domain Policy

dotgay LLC could be hit by another formal new gTLD objection from gay Republicans.

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said that it was “unfair” that a community objection filed by GOProud, a gay lobby group, was rejected by the International Chamber of Commerce.

The ICC screwed up, it seems, judging by LaHatte’s decision.

Washington DC-based GOProud, which seeks to show that not all gay rights advocates have liberal views on other issues, had filed a community-based objection to dotgay’s .gay gTLD application.

While the substance of the objection is not known, I suspect it’s politically motivated. The other objection to dotgay’s application was filed by another gay Republican organization, the Metroplex Republicans of Dallas (formerly Log Cabin Republicans Dallas).

The ICC rejected the objection because it was about 500 words over the prescribed limit, but it sent the notification to the wrong email address, according to LaHatte’s blog.

Had GOProud received the notification, it would have had time to amend its objection to rectify the mistake. However, by the time it discovered the problem the filing deadline had passed.

LaHatte wrote:

there is some unfairness in the subsequent rejection given the apparent error in the use of the wrong email. It seems to me that it would be relatively easy to unwind that decision, and permit the late filing of the objection. I can of course only make a recommendation, but in this case where there is some unfairness I think the matter should be revisited.

The Ombudsman’s role is to handle complaints about unfairness in ICANN’s actions, so it’s not entirely clear what’s going to happen in this case, given that the ICC is an ICANN subcontractor.

LaHatte’s recommendation is certainly not binding in either case. Whether the ICC changes its mind may depend on whether ICANN asks it to or not.

dotgay is the New York-based applicant founded by Scott Seitz. It’s one of four companies applying for .gay.

The other three applicants — Top Level Domain Holdings, Top Level Design and Demand Media — have each received community objections from the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association, a dotgay supporter.

Late new gTLD objections “not unfair”

Kevin Murphy, June 10, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has ruled that the decision to accept formal new gTLD objections sent one minute after the filing deadline “does not create unfairness”.

The decision is a blow to at least one applicant, which had tried to have an objection against it kicked out for being late.

LaHatte received a complaint from the applicant, believed to be represented by Galway Strategy Group’s Jim Prendergast, last month.

The complainant said that an objection by a competing applicant was sent at 00:01:02 UTC on March 15, one minute and three seconds after the deadline laid out in ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

But the dispute resolution providers hired by ICANN to manage objections decided to give a little leeway, agreeing among themselves (with ICANN’s tacit consent) to a five-minute extension.

Now LaHatte has decided — entirely reasonably in my view — that this was not unfair.

He wrote: “It is my view that a five minute window is a proportionate response and does not create unfairness for the applicants, but does provide fairness given that it is only five minutes.”

He added that at least one other objection, which was filed much later, was rejected for its tardiness.

Ombudsman probing “late” new gTLD objections

Kevin Murphy, May 16, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has received complaints about some new gTLD objections that were apparently filed after the submission deadline but are being processed anyway.

Two companies have officially called on LaHatte to tell ICANN that “late complaints should not be received on the basis that the deadlines were well advertised and achievable”.

The issue seems to be that ICANN had set a deadline of 2359 UTC March 13 for objections to be filed, and some of them arrived slightly late.

The delays appear to have been a matter of mere minutes, and blamed on latency caused by heavy email attachments and other technical problems.

According to ICANN, the dispute resolution providers decided to give objectors a five-minute grace period, essentially extending the deadline from 2359 UTC to 0004 UTC the following day.

The recipients of these objections clearly now want to use this technicality to kill off the objections, avoiding the cost of having to defend themselves.

In a set of answers to questions posed verbally in Beijing last month, published last week (pdf), ICANN said:

ICANN is confident that the Dispute Resolution Service Providers are complying with the guidelines in the [Applicant Guidebook].

I don’t know which applications are affected by the issue, but the question at the Beijing public forum was posed by new gTLD consultant Jim Prendergast of the Galway Strategy Group.

He received applause, so I guess he wasn’t the only person in the room with an interest in the subject.

LaHatte, on his blog, is looking for feedback before making his decision.