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Don’t rush to defensively register .xxx domains

Trademark owners trying to figure out how to protect their brands in the .xxx top-level domain should wait for ICM Registry to reveal its full suite of anti-cybersquatting measures before deciding whether to defensively register a large portfolio of domains.

With registrar prices for sunrise trademark blocks currently hovering around the $300 mark, an especially aggressive enforcement strategy could rack up six-figure bills for large brand holders.

But it may turn out to be more cost-effective to use ICM’s post-launch enforcement mechanisms to fight cybersquatting.

So far, all we’ve seen from ICM is a white paper, prepared by its partner IPRota, that outlines the policies that will be in place during the pre-launch sunrise period.

But the company plans to have some of the most Draconian post-launch IP rights protections mechanisms of any new TLD to date.

If, as a registrant, you think the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy ICANN plans to enforce on new TLDs is tough, you’ll likely have a bigger problem with Rapid Takedown.

Rapid Takedown is expected to be modeled on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. It will use UDRP experts, but will only take 48 hours to suspend a domain name. ICM has described it like this:

Rapid Takedown
Analysis of UDRP disputes indicates that the majority of UDRP cases involve obvious variants of well-known trademarks. ICM Registry does not believe that the clearest cases of abusive domain registration require the expense and time involved in traditional UDRP filings. Accordingly, ICM Registry will institute a rapid takedown procedure in which a response team of independent experts (qualified UDRP panelists) will be retained to make determinations within 48 hours of receipt of a short and simple statement of a claim involving a well-known or otherwise inherently distinctive mark and a domain name for which no conceivable good faith basis exists. Such determinations will result in an immediate termination of resolution of the domain name, but will not prejudice either party’s election to pursue another dispute mechanism. The claim requirements will be modeled after the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

It remains to be seen how much this will cost complainants (assuming there is a cost), and there are other unanswered questions such as the duration of the suspension, the ability of the complaint to have the domain transferred and the registrant’s right of appeal.

But it’s clear that trademark holders will very likely have cheaper options than UDRP, which can cost as much as $1,500 for a single domain name.

In addition, ICM plans to permanently ban cybersquatters that are “found to have repeatedly engaged in abusive registration”. Abusers will lose their .xxx portfolios, even their non-infringing domains, and will not be able to register any more.

Combined with Rapid Takedown, and the high price of .xxx domains ($75 a year minimum so far), this will likely make cybersquatting a much less attractive proposition in .xxx than .com.

Trademark holders should wait for their full range of options to be revealed before panicking about high sunrise fees.

It may turn out to be more cost-effective to block just a few primary brands, and leave enforcement of other brands to post-launch mechanisms.

.xxx introduces the 48-hour UDRP

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2011, Domain Registries

The forthcoming .xxx top-level domain will have some of the strictest abuse policies yet, including a super-fast alternative to the UDRP for cybersquatting cases.

With ICM Registry likely to sign its registry contract with ICANN soon, I thought I’d take another look at some of its planned policies.

I’d almost forgotten how tight they were.

Don’t expect much privacy

ICM plans to verify your identity before you register a .xxx domain.

While the details of how this will be carried out have not yet been revealed, I expect the company to turn to third-party sources to verify that the details entered into the Whois match a real person.

Registrants will also have to verify their email addresses and have their IP addresses recorded.

Whois privacy/proxy services offered by registrars will have to be pre-approved by ICM, “limited to services that have demonstrated responsible and responsive business practices”.

Registrants using such services will still have their full verified details stored by the registry, in contrast to TLDs such as .com, where the true identity of a registrant is only known to the proxy service.

None of these measures are foolproof, of course, but they would raise barriers to cybersquatting not found in other TLDs.

Really rapid suspension

The .xxx domain will of course abide by the UDRP when it comes to cybersquatting complaints, but it is planning another, far more Draconian suspension policy called Rapid Takedown.

Noting that “the majority of UDRP cases involve obvious variants of well-known trademarks”, ICM says it “does not believe that the clearest cases of abusive domain registration require the expense and time involved in traditional UDRP filings.”

The Rapid Takedown policy is modeled on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Trademark holders will be able to make a cybersquatting complaint and have it heard within 48 hours.

Complaints will comprise a “simple statement of a claim involving a well-known or otherwise inherently distinctive mark and a domain name for which no conceivable good faith basis exists”.

A “response team” of UDRP panelists will decide on that basis whether to suspend the domain, although it does not appear that ownership will be transferred as a result.

X strikes and you’re out

ICM plans to disqualify repeat cybersquatters from holding any .xxx domains, whether all their domains infringe trademarks or not.

The policy is not fully fleshed out, so it’s not yet clear how many infringing domains you’d have to own before you lose your .xxx privileges.

High-volume domain investors would therefore be advised to make sure they have clean portfolios, or risk losing their whole investment.

Gaming restrictions

ICM plans to allow IP rights holders to buy long-term, deep-discount registrations for non-resolving .xxx domains. As I’ve written before, Disney doesn’t necessarily want disney.xxx to point anywhere.

That would obviously appeal to volume speculators who don’t fancy the $60-a-year registry fee, so the company plans to create a policy stating that non-resolving domains will not be able to convert to normal domains.

There’s also going to be something called the Charter Eligibility Dispute Resolution Process, which which “will be available to challenge any resolving registration to an entity that is not qualified to register a resolving name in the .xxx TLD”.

This seems to suggest that somebody (think: a well-funded church) who does not identify as a member of the porn industry would be at risk of losing their .xxx domains.

The CEDRP, like most of the abuse policies the registry is planning, has not yet been fully fleshed out.

I’m told ICM is working on that at the moment. In the meantime, its policy plans are outlined in this PDF.