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EFF becomes second to appeal new .org contract

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2019, Domain Registries

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has appealed ICANN’s decision to add stronger trademark protection rules to .org.

The civil liberties organization has filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, saying that the new .org contract should not oblige Public Interest Registry to implement the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

URS is a swifter, cheaper version of the anti-cybersquatting UDRP policy. It can lead to clear-cut cases of trademark-infringing domains being relatively quickly suspended, but not transferred.

But the EFF is worried that it could be abused to curtail free speech.

It said URS is “particularly dangerous for the many .org registrants who are engaged in an array of noncommercial work, including criticism of governments and corporations”.

URS was created via ICANN’s bottom-up, community-led policy-making process to apply to new gTLDs applied for in 2012, not legacy gTLDs such as .org, EFF argues,

Adding more rights protection to a legacy gTLD “should be initiated, if at all, through the multistakeholder policy development process, not in bilateral negotiations between a registry operator and ICANN staff”, the RfR states.

The EFF is also concerned that the new contract allows PIR to unilaterally create its own additional rights protection mechanisms.

I don’t think this is a new power, however. Remember when PIR proposed a “Copyright UDRP” a couple of years ago, evidently as a way to turf out The Pirate Bay? That plan was swiftly killed off after protests from, among others, the EFF.

The EFF’s reconsideration request (pdf) does not address the issue of price increase caps, which were removed in the new contract.

That more-controversial provision is already the subject of an RfR, filed by NameCheap last month.

Both RfRs will be dealt with by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee before being passed to the full board.

Can NameCheap reverse .org price cap scrap?

Kevin Murphy, July 25, 2019, Domain Policy

NameCheap has taken it upon itself to fight ICANN’s decision to remove price increase caps on .org. But does it stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning?

The registrar has filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, appealing the organization’s signing of a Registry Agreement with Public Interest Registry that allows PIR to raise prices by however much it wants, more or less whenever that it wants.

NameCheap, which had over 390,000 .org domains under management at the last count, says it is fighting for 700-odd of its customers whose comments, filed with ICANN, were allegedly not taken into account when the decision was made, along with registrars and everyone else that may be adversely impacted by unfettered .org price increases.

NameCheap thinks its business could be harmed if price increases are uncapped, with customers perhaps letting their domains expire instead of renewing. It’s RfR states:

The decision by ICANN org to unilaterally remove the price caps when renewing legacy TLDs with little (if any) evidence to support the decision goes against ICANN’s Commitments and Core Values, and will result in harm to millions of internet users throughout the world.

Unrestricted price increases for legacy TLDs will stifle internet innovation, harm lesser served regions and groups, and significantly disrupt the internet ecosystem. An incredible variety of public comments was submitted to ICANN from all continents (except Antarctica) imploring ICANN to maintain the legacy TLD price caps — which were completely discounted and ignored by ICANN org.

Before the new contract was signed, PIR was limited to a 10% increase in its .org registry fee every year. It didn’t always exercise that right, and has said twice in recent months that it still has no plans to increase its prices.

The new contract — which has already been signed and is in effect — was subjected to a public comment period that attracted over 3,200 comments, almost all of them expressing support for maintaining the caps.

Despite not-for-profit PIR’s protestations, many commenters came from the position that giving PIR the power to increase its fee without limit would very possibly lead to price gouging.

That ICANN allegedly “ignored” these comments is the key pillar of NameCheap’s RfR case.

The public comment period was a “sham”, the registrar claims.

But is this enough to make ICANN change its mind and (somehow) unsign the .org contract?

There are three ways, under ICANN’s bylaws, to win an RfR.

Requestors can show that the board or staff did something that contradicts “ICANN’s Mission, Commitments, Core Values and/or established ICANN policy(ies)”

They also win if they can show the decision was was taken “without consideration of material information” or with “reliance on false or inaccurate relevant information”.

It’s quite a high bar, and most RfRs are rejected by the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which is the court of first instance for reconsideration requests.

Requestors rarely show up with sufficient new information sufficiently persuasive to kick the legs from under ICANN’s original decision, and the question of something contradicting ICANN’s core principles is usually a matter of interpretation.

For example, in this case, NameCheap is arguing that failing to side with the commenters who disagreed with the removal of price caps amounts to a breach of ICANN’s Core Value to make all decisions in consultation with stakeholders:

The ICANN org will decide whether to accept or reject public comment, and will unilaterally make its own decisions — even if that ignores the public benefit or almost unanimous feedback to the contrary, and is based upon conclusory statements not supported by the evidence. This shows that the public comment process is basically a sham, and that ICANN org will do as it pleases in this and other matters.

But one of ICANN’s stated reasons for approving the contract was to abide by its Core Value to depend “on market mechanisms to promote and sustain a competitive environment in the DNS market”. It doesn’t want to be a price regulator, in other words.

So we have a clash of Core Values here. It will be pretty easy for ICANN’s lawyers — who drafted the contract and will draft the resolutions of the BAMC and the full board — to argue that the Core Values were respected.

I think NameCheap is going to have a hard time here.

Even if it were to win, how on earth does one unsign a contract? As far as I can tell, ICANN has no termination rights that would apply here.

Where the RfR will certainly succeed is to force the ICANN board itself to take ownership, on the record, of the .org contract decision.

As ICANN explained to DI earlier this month, while the board was very much kept in the loop on the state of negotiations, it was senior staff that made all the calls on the new contract.

But an RfR means that the BAMC, which comprises five directors, will first have to raise their hands to confirm the .org decision was kosher.

NameCheap will then get a chance to file a rebuttal before the BAMC decision is handed to the full ICANN board for a confirmatory vote.

While the first two board discussions of the .org contract were not minuted, the bylaws contain an interesting feature related to RfRs that I’d never noticed before today:

If the Requestor so requests, the Board shall post both a recording and a transcript of the substantive Board discussion from the meeting at which the Board considered the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee’s recommendation.

I sincerely hope NameCheap invokes this right, as I think it’s pretty important that we get some additional clarity on ICANN’s thinking here.

.amazon frozen AGAIN as endless government games continue

Kevin Murphy, June 25, 2019, Domain Policy

Amazon’s application for the .amazon gTLD has yet again been frozen, after a South American government invoked ICANN’s appeals process.

The bid, as well as applications for the Chinese and Japanese versions, were returned to “on-hold” status at the weekend, after Colombia filed a formal Request for Reconsideration, an ICANN spokesperson confirmed to DI.

“The processing toward contracting of the .AMAZON applications has been halted pending the resolution of Request 19-1, per ICANN organization’s normal processes,” the spokesperson said.

This means the applications could remain frozen for 135 days, until late October, while ICANN processes the request. It’s something that has happened several times with other contested gTLDs.

Colombia filed RfR 19-1 (pdf) on June 15. It demands that ICANN reverses its board’s decision of May 15, which handed Amazon a seemingly decisive victory in its long-running battle with the eight governments of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

ACTO’s members believe they should have policy control over .amazon, to protect the interests of their citizens who live in the region they share.

To win an RfR — something that hardly ever happens — a complainant has to show that the ICANN board failed to consider pertinent information before it passed a resolution.

In Colombia’s case, it argues that the board ignored an April 7 letter (since published in PDF format here) its Governmental Advisory Committee representative sent that raises some interesting questions about how Amazon proposes to operate its TLDs.

Because .amazon is meant to be a highly restricted “dot-brand” gTLD, it would presumably have to incorporate Specification 13 into its ICANN registry agreements.

Spec 13 releases dot-brands from commitments to registrar competition and trademark protection in exchange for a commitment that only the brand itself will be able to own domains in the TLD.

But Colombia points out that Amazon’s proposal (pdf) to protect ACTO governments’ interests would give the eight countries and ACTO itself “beneficial ownership” over a single domain each (believed to be names such as co.amazon, .br.amazon, etc).

If this means that Amazon would not qualify for Spec 13, it could follow that ICANN’s board made its decision to continue processing .amazon on faulty assumptions, Colombia argues.

Colombia points to the case of .sas, a dot-brand that is apparently shared by two companies that have the same brand, as a possible model for shared management of .amazon.

RfRs are handled by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee.

BAMC took just a couple of days to rule out (pdf) Colombia’s request for “urgent reconsideration”, which would reduce its regular response time from 90 days to 7 days.

The committee said that because the .amazon applications were being placed back on-hold as part of normal procedure during consideration of an RfR, no harm could come to Colombia that would warrant “urgent” reconsideration.

According to ICANN’s spokesperson, under its bylaws the latest the board can respond to Colombia’s request is October 28.

At a GAC session at the ICANN 65 meeting in Marrakech, taking place right now, several ACTO governments have just spent over an hour firmly and publicly protesting ICANN’s actions surrounding .amazon.

They’re still talking as I hit “publish” on this post.

In a nutshell, they believe that ICANN has ignored GAC advice and reneged on its commitment to help Amazon and ACTO reach a “mutually acceptable solution”.

Yanks beat Aussies to accountancy gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2019, Domain Registries

The contention set for .cpa has been resolved, clearing the way for a new accountancy-themed gTLD.

The winner is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which submitted two bids for the string — one “community”, one vanilla, both overtly defensive in nature — back in 2012.

Its main rival, CPA Australia, which also applied on a community basis, withdrew its application two weeks ago.

Commercial registries Google, MMX and Donuts all have withdrawn their applications since late December, leaving only the two AICPA applications remaining.

This week, AICPA withdrew its community application, leaving its regular “single registrant” bid the winner.

AICPA is the US professional standards body for accountants, CPA Australia is the equivalent organization in Australia. ACIPA has 418,000 members, CPA Australia has 150,000.

Both groups failed their Community Priority Evaluations back in 2015 on the basis that their communities were tightly restricted to their own membership, and therefore too restrictive.

AICPA later amended its community application to permit CPAs belonging to non-US trade groups to register.

Both organizations were caught up in the CPE review that also entangled and delayed the likes of .music and .gay. They’ve also both appealed to ICANN with multiple Requests for Reconsideration and Cooperative Engagement Process engagements.

CPA Australia evidently threw in the towel after a December 14 resolution of ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee decision to throw out its latest RfR. It quit its CEP January 9.

It’s likely a private resolution of the set, perhaps an auction, occurred in December.

The winning application from AICPA states fairly unambiguously that the body has little appetite for actually running .cpa as a gTLD:

The main reasons for which AICPA submits this application for the .cpa gTLD is that it wants to prevent third parties from securing the TLD that is identical to AICPA’s highly distinctive and reputable trademark

So don’t get too excited if you’re an accountant champing at the bit for a .cpa domain. It’s going to be an unbelievably restrictive TLD, according to the application, with AICPA likely owning all the domains for years after delegation.

ICANN puts deadline on .amazon talks

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has voted to put a March deadline on talks over the future of the .amazon gTLD.

Late last week, the board formally resolved to “make a decision” on .amazon at ICANN 64, which runs in Kobe, Japan from March 9 to March 14.

It would only do so if Amazon the e-commerce giant and the eight governments of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization fail to come to a “mutually agreed solution” on their differences before then.

CEO Goran Marby is instructed to facilitate these talks.

Here are the relevant resolved clauses from the resolution:

Resolved (2019.01.16.03), the Board hereby reiterates that Resolution 2018.10.25.18 was taken with the clear intention to grant the President and CEO the authority to progress the facilitation process between the ACTO member states and the Amazon corporation with the goal of helping the involved parties reach a mutually agreed solution, but in the event they are unable to do so, the Board will make a decision at ICANN 64 on the next steps regarding the potential delegation of .AMAZON and related top-level domains.

Resolved (2019.01.16.04), the Board encourages a high level of communication between the President and CEO and the relevant stakeholders, including the representatives of the Amazonian countries and the Amazon corporation, between now and ICANN 64, and directs the President and CEO to provide the Board with updates on the facilitation process in anticipation of revisiting the status of the .AMAZON applications at its meeting at ICANN64.

The vote came following ACTO’s demand that ICANN reverse its decision to take .amazon, and Chinese and Japanese translations, off their “Will Not Proceed” status, which heavily implied they will ultimately end up in the root.

ACTO, which claims its members have a greater right to the string due to its geographical and cultural significance, says it has not yet agreed to Amazon’s peace offering, which includes safeguards, financial support for future gTLD applications, and free Kindles.

The ICANN board has now formally rejected the demand — so .amazon is still officially on the path to delegation — but has published mountains of clarification explaining that ACTO misinterpreted what the status change implied.

The board now says that the status change was necessary in order for ICANN to negotiate the inclusion of Public Interest Commitments — PICs, which would give ACTO the right to challenge Amazon if it breaches any of its cultural safeguards — in the .amazon contracts.

With ACTO’s Request for Reconsideration now dealt with, the ball moves into ACTO’s court.

Will ACTO come back to the negotiating table, or will it retain the hard line it has been adopting for the last few months? We’ll find out before long.