ICANN may be able to provide registrars, intellectual property interests and others with clarity about when domain names should be suspended as early as next month, according to compliance chief Allen Grogan.
With ICANN 53 kicking off in Buenos Aires this weekend, Grogan said he intends to meet with a diverse set of constituents in order to figure out what the Registrar Accreditation Agreement requires registrars to do when they receive abuse complaints.
“I’m hopeful we can publish something in the next few weeks,” he told DI. “It depends to some extent on what direction the discussions take.”
The discussions center on whether registrars are doing enough to take down domains that are being used, for example, to host pirated content or to sell medicines across borders.
Specifically at issue is section 3.18 of the 2013 RAA.
It requires registrars to take “reasonable and prompt steps to investigate and respond appropriately” when they receive abuse reports.
The people who are noisiest about filing such reports — IP owners and pharmacy watchdogs such as LegitScript — reckon “appropriate action” means the domain in question should be suspended.
The US Congress heard these arguments in hearings last month, but there were no witnesses from the ICANN or registrar side to respond.
Registrars don’t think they should be put in the position of having to turn off what may be a perfectly legitimate web site due to a unilateral complaint that may be flawed or frivolous.
ICANN seems to be erring strongly towards the registrars’ view.
“Whatever the terms of the 2013 RAA mean, it can’t really be interpreted as a broad global commitment for ICANN to enforce all illegal activity or all laws on the internet,” Grogan told DI.
“I don’t think ICANN is capable of that, I don’t think we have the expertise or resources to do that, and I don’t think the ICANN multistakeholder community has ever had that discussion and delegated that authority to ICANN,” he said.
Grogan notes that what kind of content violates the law varies wildly from country to country — some states will kill you for blasphemy, in some you can get jail time for denying the Holocaust, in others political dissent is a crime.
“Virtually everybody I’ve spoken with has said that is far outside the scope of ICANN’s remit,” he said.
However, he’s leaving some areas open for discussion,
“There are some constituents, including some participants in the [Congressional] hearing — from the intellectual property community and LegitScript — who think there’s a way to distinguish some kinds of illegal activities from others,” he said. “That’s a discussion I’m willing to have.”
The dividing line could be substantial risk to public health or activities that are broadly, globally deemed to be illegal. Child abuse material is the obvious one, but copyright infringement — where Grogan said treaties show “near unanimity” — could be too.
So is ICANN saying it’s not the content police except when it comes to pharmacies and intellectual property?
“No,” said Grogan. “I’m saying I’m willing to engage in that dialogue and have that conversation with the community to see if there’s consensus that some activities are different to others.”
“In a multistakeholder model I don’t think any one constituency should control,” he said.
In practical terms, this all boils down to 3.18 of the RAA, and what steps registrars must take to comply with it.
It’s a surprisingly tricky one even if, like Grogan, you’re talking about “minimum criteria” for compliance.
Should registrars, for example, be required to always check out the content of domains that are the subject of abuse reports? It seems like a no-brainer.
But Grogan points out that even though there could be broad consensus that child abuse material should be taken down immediately upon discovery, in many places it could be illegal for a registrar employee to even check the reported URL, lest they download unwanted child porn.
Similarly, it might seem obvious that abuse reports should be referred to the domain’s registrant for a response. But what of registrars owned by domain investors, where registrar and registrant are one and the same?
These and other topics will come up for discussion in various sessions next week, and Grogan said he’s hopeful that decisions can be made that do not need to involve formal policy development processes or ICANN board action.
The Defending Internet Freedom Act of 2015, introduced to the US Congress last month, contains a provision that could be interpreted as pro-pron, pro-piracy or even just pro-crime.
The act is designed to prevent the US giving up its oversight of ICANN/IANA unless certain quite strict conditions are met.
It’s a revised version of a bill that was introduced last year but didn’t make it through the legislative process.
Like the 2014 version, it says that the US cannot sever ties with ICANN until its bylaws have been amended in various ways, including:
ICANN is prohibited from engaging in activities unrelated to ICANN’s core mission or entering into an agreement or modifying an existing agreement to impose on a registrar or registry with which ICANN conducts business any condition (such as a condition relating to the regulation of content) that is unrelated to ICANN’s core mission.
It’s the “regulation of content” bit that caught my eye.
Presumably written as a fluffy, non-controversial protection against censorship, it ignores where the real content regulation conversations are happening within the ICANN community.
It’s a constant mantra of ICANN that is “doesn’t regulate content”, but the veracity of that assertion has been chipped away relentlessly over the last several years by law enforcement, governments and intellectual property interests.
Today, ICANN’s contracts are resplendent with examples of what could be argued is content regulation.
Take .sucks, for a timely example. Its Registry Agreement with ICANN contains provisions banning pornography, cyber-bulling and parked pages.
That’s three specific types of content that must not be allowed in any web site using a .sucks domain.
It’s one of the Public Interest Commitments that were voluntarily put forward by .sucks registry Vox Populi, but they’re still enforceable contract provisions.
Using a dispute resolution process (PICDRP), ICANN would be able to levy fines against Vox Pop, or terminate its contract entirely, if it repeatedly allows porn in .sucks web sites.
This sounds quite a lot like content regulation to me.
It’s not just .sucks, of course. Other registries have PICs that regulate the content of their gTLDs.
And every contracted new gTLD registry operator has to agree to this PIC:
Registry Operator will include a provision in its Registry-Registrar Agreement that requires Registrars to include in their Registration Agreements a provision prohibiting Registered Name Holders from distributing malware, abusively operating botnets, phishing, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement, fraudulent or deceptive practices, counterfeiting or otherwise engaging in activity contrary to applicable law, and providing (consistent with applicable law and any related procedures) consequences for such activities including suspension of the domain name.
It’s convoluted, but it basically indirectly forces (via registrars) new gTLD domain registrants to, for example, agree to not infringe copyright.
The PIC is paired with a provision (3.18) of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement that requires all registrars to investigate and “take necessary and appropriate actions” in response to abuse reports within 24 hours of receipt.
Section 3.18 is essentially the RAA mechanism through which ICANN can enforce the PIC from the RA.
This is currently one of the most divisive issues in the ICANN community, as we witnessed during the recent Congressional hearings into ICANN oversight.
On the one hand, big copyright owners and online pharmacy watchdogs want ICANN to act much more ruthlessly against registrars that fail to immediately take down sites that they have identified as abusive.
On the other hand, some registrars say that they should not have to engage in regulating what content their customers publish, at least without court orders, in areas that can sometimes be amorphously grey and fuzzy.
Steve Metalitz, from a trade group that represents the movie and music industies at ICANN, told the US Congress that registrars are dismissing piracy reports without investigating them, and that “unless registrars comply in good faith, and ICANN undertakes meaningful and substantive action against those who will not, these provisions will simply languish as empty words”.
John Horton from pharmacy watchdog used the same Congressional hearing to out several registrars he said were refusing to comply with 3.18.
One Canadian registrar named in Horton’s testimony told DI that every complaint it has received from LegitScript has been about a web site that is perfectly legal in Canada.
In at least some cases, it seems that those pushing for ICANN to more stringently regulate content may have “internet freedom” as the least of their concerns.
If the Defending Internet Freedom Act becomes law in the US, perhaps it could prove a boon to registries and registrars upset with constant meddling from rights owners and others.
On the other hand, perhaps it could also prove a boon for those operating outside the law.
One of the most popular sites for finding copyright-infringing BitTorrent files is reportedly heading to Costa Rica after its latest choice of ccTLD banned it.
KickAssTorrents, which is about the 100th most-popular site on the web, had moved to kickasstorrents.im yesterday, but found its new domain deleted by the Isle of Man registry in a matter of hours.
The site’s owners have TorrentFreak said they now plan to move to kat.cr, in the Costa Rican ccTLD.
KAT has previously been hosted in Somalia’s .so, Tonga’s .to and the Philippines’ .ph.
Here in the UK, major ISPs are obliged to block access to the site after a court ruling.
Law enforcement and IP owners were dealt a setback last week when the National Arbitration Forum ruled that they cannot block domain transfers unless they have a court order.
The ruling could make it more difficult for registrars to acquiesce to requests from police trying to shut down piracy sites, as they might technically be in breach of their ICANN contracts.
NAF panelist Bruce Meyerson made the call in a Transfer Dispute Resolution Policy ruling after a complaint filed by EasyDNS against Directi (PublicDomainRegistry.com).
You’re probably asking right about now: “The what policy?”
I had to look it up, too.
It’s designed for disputes where one registrar refuses to transfer a domain to another. As part of the IRTP, it’s a binding part of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.
It seems to have been rarely used in full over the last decade, possibly because the first point of complaint is the registry for the TLD in question, with only appeals going to a professional arbitrator.
Only NAF and the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre are approved to handle such cases, and their respective records show that only one TDRP appeal has previously filed, and that was in 2013.
In the latest case, Directi had refused to allow the transfer of three domains to EasyDNS after receiving a suspension request from the Intellectual Property Crime Unit of the City of London Police.
The IPCU had sent suspension requests, targeting music download sites “suspected” of criminal activity, to several registrars.
The three sites — maxalbums.com, emp3world.com, and full-albums.net — are all primarily concerned with hosting links to pirated music while trying to install as much adware as possible on visitors’ PCs.
The registrants of the names had tried to move from India-based Directi to Canada-based EasyDNS, but found the transfers denied by Directi.
EasyDNS, which I think it’s fair to say is becoming something of an activist when it come to this kind of thing, filed the TDRP first with Verisign then appealed its “No Decision” ruling to NAF.
NAF’s Meyerson delivered a blunt, if reluctant-sounding, win to EasyDNS:
Although there are compelling reasons why the request from a recognized law enforcement agency such as the City of London Police should be honored, the Transfer Policy is unambiguous in requiring a court order before a Registrar of Record may deny a request to transfer a domain name… The term “court order” is unambiguous and cannot be interpreted to be the equivalent of suspicion of wrong doing by a policy agency.
To permit a registrar of record to withhold the transfer of a domain based on the suspicion of a law enforcement agency, without the intervention of a judicial body, opens the possibility for abuse by agencies far less reputable than the City of London Police.
That’s a pretty unambiguous statement, as far as ICANN policy is concerned: no court order, no transfer block.
It’s probably not going to stop British cops trying to have domains suspended based on suspicion alone — the Metropolitan Police has a track record of getting Nominet to suspend thousands of .uk domains in this way — but it will give registrars an excuse to decline such requests when they receive them, if they want the hassle.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said today that all new gTLD applicants, even those that have not already been hit by government warnings, should submit Public Interest Commitments to ICANN.
In a rare comment sent to an ICANN public forum today, the NTIA suggested that applicants should use the process to help combat counterfeiting and piracy.
The agency, the part of the US Department of Commerce that oversees ICANN and participates in its Governmental Advisory Committee, said (emphasis in original):
NTIA encourages all applicants for new gTLDs to take advantage of this opportunity to address the concerns expressed by the GAC in its Toronto Communique, the individual early warnings issued by GAC members, and the ICANN public comment process on new gTLDs, as appropriate.
PICs were introduced by ICANN earlier this month as a way for applicants to voluntarily add binding commitments — for example, a promise to restrict their gTLD to a certain user base — to their registry contracts.
The idea is to let applicants craft and agree to stick to special terms they think will help them avoid receiving objections from the GAC, GAC members and others.
NTIA said that applicants should pay special attention in their PICs to helping out the “creative sector”.
Specifically, this would entail “ensuring that WHOIS data is verified, authentic and publicly accessible”.
They should also “consider providing an enforceable guaranty that the domain name will only be used for licensed and legitimate activities”, NTIA said, adding:
NTIA believes that these new tools may help in the fight against online counterfeiting and piracy and is particularly interested in seeing applicants commit to these or similar safeguards.
The PICs idea isn’t going down too well in the applicant community, judging by other submissions this week.
The Registries Stakeholder Group of ICANN, for example, says its members are feeling almost “blackmailed” into submitting PICs, saying the timing is “completely unreasonable”.
As DI noted when PICs was first announced, applicants have been given until just March 5 to submit their commitments, raising serious questions about the timetable for objections and GAC advice.
The RySG has even convened a conference call for March 4 to discuss the proposal, which it says “contains so many serious and fundamental flaws that it should be withdrawn in