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How one guy games new gTLD sunrise periods

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2014, Domain Registries

Wanna buy a SOCIAL brand pen for a dollar? No? How about social.web or cloud.guru or direct.flowers?

pensOne intellectual property lawyer closely associated with a number of new gTLD registries has been using a flimsy online pen-selling business in order to obtain potentially valuable domains during sunrise periods.

Thomas Brackey of Beverley Hills law firm Freund & Brackey has acquired dozens of premium domain names during sunrise periods. He was good enough to share some of the details with DI.

Brackey owns three trademarks on the terms “DIRECT”, “SOCIAL” and “CLOUD”. All three were registered in Switzerland in late 2012, having been applied for in July that year.

All three cover the category “stylos”, or pens.

If you want to buy a CLOUD brand pen, you can do so at pentm.ch, a web site Brackey seems to have thrown up rather quickly using Shopify.

All three marks appear to have been registered via Marcaria.com, which charges $960 for a Swiss trademark registration.

Brackey obtained Trademark Clearinghouse registrations for his three trademarks, which would have cost him at least $150 per mark.

He seems to have used the pentm.ch web site to fulfill the TMCH’s “proof of use” requirement.

With TMCH registrations, he’s able to participate in new gTLD sunrise periods, giving him the first opportunity to register social.tld, cloud.tld and direct.tld for the usual inflated sunrise prices.

The pens themselves, Brackey assures us, are real.

But he makes no attempt to pretend that the pen-selling business was in thriving need of brand protection under the new gTLD program’s brand protection mechanisms.

Brackey told DI:

In the course of preparing new gTLD applications, I came to be pretty familiar with the various policy developments surrounding the creation and implementation of the TMCH.

For the first time mark holders of all stripes, and from every country would be given a pre-emptive right to acquire domain names that had nothing to do with the substance of their brands.

Musing on that, I identified what I believed to be a legitimate opportunity to acquire some domain names in the newTLD landscape. More curious than anything, I decided to put my theory to the test and resolved to try buying some domain names.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the domains I’ve purchased. I’ve never been a domain investor before, and not confident I qualify as one now. It’s all a bit of an experiment at this point and is certainly fascinating territory from an IP perspective.

There will no doubt be a number of important international legal developments that arise from the gTLD process — new rules, new policies and new opportunities.

At least two of Brackey’s new gTLD clients — What Box? and Plan Bee, which use Brackey’s law firm as their mailing address — have also registered large numbers of sunrise names using this same method.

He’s even selling Plan Bee’s “CONSTRUCTION” and “BUILD” pens on his web site.

Brackey acknowledged that some people take a “pretty dim view” of what he’s doing.

I’d have to say I’m one of them.

In my view, while Brackey may not be strictly breaking the rules of the new gTLD program, he’s certainly not acting within their spirit.

Members of Intellectual Property Constituency and others fought hard for rights protection mechanisms that would help them protect their or their clients’ pre-existing brands from cybersquatters.

The RPMs were not designed to provide a way for investors to avoid landrush auctions or a mad scramble for nice names on the first days of general availability.

The “proof of use” requirement was added to the rules in order prevent the kind of debacle we saw with the European Union’s .eu launch, where bogus trademarks were used to game EurID’s sunrise period.

But the barrier is tissue-thin, requiring merely a screenshot of a web site to overcome.

Gaming new gTLD sunrise periods may not be cheap — it may not even be profitable — but I have to wonder what kind of reputational impact it will have on new gTLD registries that choose to participate.

If you’re a brand owner, would you be more likely or less likely to trust a new gTLD registry that chooses to participate in sunrise gaming?

Gripe sites and PPC banned in new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry Plan Bee expects to ban gripe sites in its forthcoming .build registry.

Its Acceptable Use and Takedown Policy (pdf), published this week, is among the strictest I’ve seen.

The gTLD was delegated last weekend. It’s going to be an open space targeted at the construction industry, but its AUP bans a lot of stuff.

As might be expected, any form of malicious hacking or spamming behavior is verboten, as is child abuse material.

Activities more often regulated today by registrar user agreements — such as piracy and counterfeiting — are also prohibited.

But the policy goes on to ban activities that are typically permitted in other TLDs, including “gripe sites” and “pay-per-click”. The AUP reads (I’ve emphasized some oddities):

Further abusive behaviors include, but are not limited to: cybersquatting, front-running, gripe sites, deceptive and⁄or offensive domain names, fake renewal notices, cross-gTLD registration scam, name spinning, pay-per-click, traffic diversion, false affiliation, domain kiting⁄tasting, fast-flux, 419 scams or if the domain name is being used in a manner that appears to threaten the stability, integrity or security of the Registry, or any of its Registrar partners and ⁄or that may put the safety and security of any registrant or user at risk.

Domains deemed abusive can be suspended or deleted by Plan Bee, under the policy.

I can see why a niche gTLD might want to build up loyalty in its associated industry by suspending gripe sites targeting construction companies, but banning “pay-per-click” is a baffling decision.

Will .build registrants be prohibited from using Google Adsense to support their sites?

The .build launch dates have not yet been revealed but it’s likely to be a matter of weeks.

New gTLDs bring back tiered renewal pricing

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2013, Domain Registries

Only one mass-market TLD used it, and it’s often considered a bad idea, but variable pricing for domain name renewals is making a comeback with the launch of new gTLDs.

What Box? and Plan Bee are the first two new gTLD registries to start selling domains with tiered renewal fees, in .menu and .build respectively, via Go Daddy.

If you pay Go Daddy $189.99 for a “Priority Rre-registration” in .build, your annual renewal fee if you secure the name will be be $149.99, instead of the $99.99 other pre-registrants will pay.

Similarly, a Priority Pre-registration in .menu will set you back $199.99 a year, forever, instead of $49.99.

I understand that the standard Go Daddy initial registration fee for these two TLDs during general availability will also be $99.99 and $49.99 respectively.

The other two new gTLDs with announced pricing, .uno and .luxury, do not appear to be charging tiered rates.

Go Daddy confirmed that the renewal pricing will be permanently higher in the .build and .menu, telling us:

The industry is starting to move toward a tiered pricing system. As such, some registries have elected to make renewals higher on domain names captured during the priority pre-registration period.

It’s actually permitted under ICANN’s standard Registry Agreement.

Generally, the RA prevents registries charging variable renewal fees. If you find yourself running a successful business in a new gTLD, the registry is not allowed to gouge you for higher renewals.

There’s a provision in section 2.10 of the contract that is designed to “prohibit abusive and/or discriminatory Renewal Pricing practices imposed by Registry Operator”.

But the rule does not apply if you’re told at the point of registration that your renewal pricing will be higher.

The contract states that “Registry Operator must have uniform pricing for renewals of domain name registrations”, but grants this huge exception:

if the registrar has provided Registry Operator with documentation that demonstrates that the applicable registrant expressly agreed in its registration agreement with registrar to higher Renewal Pricing at the time of the initial registration of the domain name following clear and conspicuous disclosure of such Renewal Pricing to such registrant

The only major TLD to try variable pricing before now was .tv, which Verisign currently operates.

The .tv registry held back thousands of desirable strings when it launched in 2000. Instead of auctioning them, it priced these names to sell, but with renewal prices matching the initial registration fee.

If you bought a premium .tv name 10 years ago for $10,000, you’ve been paying $10,000 a year ever since.

This proved very unpopular — especially with domain investors, who continue to moan about the high carrying cost of .tv names bought years ago — and Verisign scrapped the policy on new registrations in 2010.

Some say tiered renewal pricing is the main reason .tv isn’t nearly as popular as it arguably should be.

But will it work in 2014?

Tiered renewal fees seems like an excellent way to discourage domainers from participating in your launch.

Would you be willing to pay higher renewal fees ad infinitum just for the chance for first dibs on the new gTLD domain name you want?

NameJet and Afternic sign another gTLD launch

Kevin Murphy, April 3, 2013, Domain Services

NameJet and Afternic will provide launch auctions and premium name distribution for the .build gTLD, should it be approved, the two companies have announced.

The deal was inked with applicant Plan Bee LLC, which is affiliated with Minardos Group, a construction company.

The two companies will handle auctions under the sunrise and landrush phases, according to a press release.

It’s the second such deal to be announced by the Afternic/Namejet partnership to date, after WhatBox’s .menu. The companies are also working with Directi’s .pw registry.

Plan Bee has also applied for .expert and .construction, but these are both contested so there’s less certainty that they’ll end up approved.

The applicant reckons it will be able to bring .build to market in the fourth quarter of this year.

With a prioritization number of 1,049 in ICANN’s queue, this may prove optimistic, depending on how the remaining portions of the program — such as predelegation testing and contracting — pan out.