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Plural gTLDs to be banned over confusion concerns

Kevin Murphy, July 10, 2018, Domain Policy

Singular and plural versions of the same word are likely to be banned as coexisting gTLDs in future.

The ICANN community working group looking at rules for subsequent application rounds reckons having both versions of the same word online — something that is happening with more than 30 gTLDs currently — leads to “consumer confusion” and should not be permitted.

It’s one of the surprisingly few firm recommendations in the Initial Report on the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process, which says:

If there is an application for the singular version of a word and an application for a plural version of the same word in the same language during the same application window, these applications would be placed in a contention set, because they are confusingly similar. An application for a single/plural variation of an existing TLD would not be permitted.

It adds that the mere addition of an S should not be disqualifying; .news would not be considered the plural of .new, for example.

Interestingly, the recommendation is based on advice received from existing registries, many of which fought for singular/plural coexistence during the 2012 round and already operate many such string pairs.

According to my database, these are the 15 plural/singular English string pairs (there are more if you include other languages) currently live in the DNS root:

.careers/.career
.photo/.photos
.work/.works
.cruise/.cruises
.review/.reviews
.accountant/.accountants
.loan/.loans
.auto/.autos
.deal/.deals
.gift/.gifts
.fan/.fans
.market/.markets
.car/.cars
.coupon/.coupons
.game/.games

Some of them are being managed by the same registries; others by competitors.

It’s tempting to wonder whether the newfound consensus that these pairs are confusing represents an attempt by 2012-round registries to slam the door behind them, if for no other reason than to avoid chancers trying to extort money from them by applying for plural or singular versions of other strings they currently manage.

But at an ICANN policy level, the plurals issue was indeed a gaping hole in the 2012 round.

All such clashes were resolved by String Confusion Objections, but only if one of the applicants chose to file such an objection.

These rulings mostly came down on the side of coexistence, but sometimes did not — .kid, .pet and .web were among those placed in direct contention with plural equivalents following aberrant SCO decisions.

Porn firm wins .cam after years of objections

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2015, Domain Registries

The controversial new gTLD .cam has been won at auction by Dutch porn site operator AC Webconnecting, putting an end to over two years of back-and-forth objections.

Rival applicants Rightside and Famous Four Media both withdrew their applications earlier this week.

The contest for .cam was marked by several objections and appeals.

In 2013, Verisign filed and lost String Confusion Objections against AC Webconnecting and Famous Four, but won its near-identical objection against Rightside.

Verisign had claimed that .cam and .com are so similar-looking that confusion among internet users is bound to arise.

Because the SCO panels in the three cases returned differing opinions, Rightside was one of two applicants given the right to appeal by ICANN in October 2014.

I never quite understood why Verisign wasn’t also given the right to appeal.

Rightside won the right to stay in the .cam contention set almost a year later.

Despite all that effort, it did not prevail in the resulting auction.

Separately, back in 2013, AC Webconnecting filed and lost Legal Rights Objections against its two rivals, based on a “.cam” trademark it acquired purely for the purpose of fighting off new gTLD competitors.

I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about the soon-to-be registry.

Based in Rotterdam, its web site comes across as a wholly safe-for-work web design firm.

However, it seems to be mainly in the business of operating scores, if not hundreds, of webcam-based porn sites.

Its application for .cam states that it will be for everyone with an interest in photography, however.

When it goes live, its most direct competitor is likely to be Famous Four’s .webcam, which already has an 18-month and 70,000-domain head start.

It remains to be seen whether its clear similarity to .com will in fact cause significant confusion.

.shop among four gTLDs heading to auction

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLDs .shop, .shopping, .cam and .phone are all set to go to auction after their various delays and objections were cleared up.

It seems that .shop and .shopping contention sets remain merged, so only one string from one applicant will emerge victorious.

That’s due to a completely mad String Confusion Objection decision that ruled the two words are too confusingly similar to coexist in the DNS.

That SCO ruling was made by the same guy who held up both sets of applications when he ruled that .shop and .通販 (“.onlineshopping”) were also too confusingly similar.

The two rulings combined linked the contention sets for all three strings.

.通販 applicant Amazon appealed its SCO loss using a special process that ICANN created especially for the occasion, and won.

But .shop and .shopping applicants were not given the same right to appeal, meaning the auction will take place between nine .shop applicants and .shopping applicants Uniregistry and Donuts.

Donuts is an applicant for .shop and .shopping, meaning it will have to make its mind up which string it prefers, if it intends to win the auction.

If it’s a private auction, Donuts would presumably qualify for a share of its own winning bid. Weird.

(UPDATE: That was incorrect).

The other contention set held up by an inconsistent SCO decision was .cam, which was originally ruled too similar to .com.

Rightside won its appeal too, meaning it will be fought at auction between Famous Four, Rightside and AC Webconnecting.

.phone had been held up for different reasons.

It’s a two-way fight between Donuts and Dish DBS, a TV company that wanted to run .phone as a closed generic. Like almost all closed generic applicants, Dish has since changed its plans.

ICANN win leaves door open for plural gTLD rethink

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has fought off an appeal by .webs gTLD applicant Vistaprint, in a case that considered the coexistence of singular and plural gTLDs.

While ICANN definitively won the Independent Review Process case, the IRP panel nevertheless invited its board of directors to consider whether Vistaprint should be given a chance to appeal a decision that ruled .webs too similar to .web.

Vistaprint runs a web site building service called Webs.com. It filed two applications for .webs — one “community” flavored, one vanilla — but then found itself on the losing end of a String Confusion Objection filed by rival Web.com, one of the many .web applicants.

It was one of the few instances where a SCO panel decided that a plural string was too confusingly similar to its singular for the two to coexist.

In many other cases, such as .auto(s), .fan(s) and .gift(s), the two strings have been allowed to be delegated.

Not wanting to have to fight for .webs at auction against eight .web applicants — which would likely cost eight figures to win — Vistaprint filed a Request for Reconsideration (which failed), followed by an last-ditch IRP complaint.

But its three-person IRP panel ruled on Friday (pdf) that ICANN did not violate its bylaws by accepting the SCO decision and subsequently rejecting the RfR.

However, the panel handed Vistaprint a silver lining that may eventually give the company what it wants. Even though ICANN won, Vistaprint may not necessarily have lost.

The panel wrote:

the Panel recommends that ICANN’s Board exercise its judgment on the question of whether an additional review mechanism is appropriate to re-evaluate the Third Expert’s determination in the Vistaprint SCO, in view of ICANN’s Bylaws concerning core values and non-discriminatory treatment, and based on the particular circumstances and developments noted in this Declaration, including (i) the Vistaprint SCO determination involving Vistaprint’s .WEBS applications, (ii) the Board’s (and NGPC’s) resolutions on singular and plural gTLDs, and (iii) the Board’s decisions to delegate numerous other singular/plural versions of the same gTLD strings.

In other words, ICANN has been invited to consider whether Vistaprint should be able to appeal, using a similar mechanism perhaps to that which was offered to other applicants that suffered from inconsistent, adverse SCO decisions.

At time when ICANN’s accountability is under international scrutiny, it’s highly likely that the board will give this recommendation some thought.

The IRP declaration does not reflect well on ICANN’s current level of accountability.

As usual, ICANN tried to wriggle out of accountability by attempting to castrate the panel from the outset, arguing again that IRP panels must be “deferential” to the board — that is, assume that its actions were correct by default — and that its declarations are “advisory” rather than “binding”.

And, as usual, the panel disagreed, saying previous IRP cases show this is now “settled” law. It said that it would evaluate the case “objectively and independently”, not deferentially.

But while it said its declaration was binding “in the sense that ICANN’s Board cannot overrule the Panel’s declaration” it agreed with ICANN that it only had the power to “recommend”, rather than order, remedies.

Acknowledging Vistaprint raised important public interest questions, the panel ordered ICANN to pay 40% of IRP costs.

The Vistaprint IRP was one of the things holding up the .web contention set, so Friday’s declaration moves the fabled gTLD one step closer to reality.

If the company gets the ability to appeal its SCO loss, it would add months to the .web runway. If it does not, it will have to remain in the .web contention set, which would head to auction.

.cam given the nod as Rightside wins confusion appeal

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2015, Domain Registries

Rightside’s application for .cam will be un-rejected after the company beat Verisign in an appeal against a 2013 String Confusion Objection decision.

That’s right, .cam is officially no longer too confusingly similar to .com.

In a just-published August 26 decision (pdf) a three-person International Centre for Dispute Resolution panel overruled the original SCO panelist’s decision.

The new panel wrote:

Based on the average, reasonable Internet’s user’s experience, and the importance of search engines, in the [Final Review Panel]’s view, confusion, if any, between .COM and .CAM is highly likely to be fleeting. While a fleeting association may create some “possibility of confusion” or evoke an “association in the sense that the string brings another string to mind,” both such reactions are insufficient under the ICANN SCO standard to support a finding that confusion is probable.

It’s not quite as clear-cut a ruling as the .shop versus .通販 ruling last week, relying on the appeals panel essentially just disagreeing with some of the finer points of the original panel’s interpretation of the evidence.

Relating to one piece of evidence, the appeals panel found that the original panelist “improperly shifted the burden of proof” to Rightside to show that .cam was intended for camera-related uses.

Rightside was one of two applicants given the opportunity to appeal its SCO decision by ICANN last year, largely because two other .cam applicants managed to pass their Verisign objections with flying colors, creating obvious inconsistency.

Taryn Naidu, Rightside’s CEO, said in a statement:

We always felt strongly that the first panel’s decision was seriously flawed. How can .CAM in one application be different from the .CAM in another application when evaluated on the basis of string similarity? The fact is, it can’t.

It’s always struck me as unfair that Verisign did not get the chance to appeal the two SCOs it lost, given that the panelist in both cases was the same guy using the same thought processes.

The question now is: is the appeals panel correct?

I suppose we’ll find out after .cam goes on sale and unscrupulous domainers attempt to sell .cam names for inflated prices, hoping their would-be buyers don’t notice the difference.

The other two .cam applicants are AC Webconnecting and Famous Four Media. All three will now go to auction.