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Will ICANN take a bigger slice of the .com pie, or will .domainers get URS?

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2018, Domain Registries

Will ICANN try to get its paws on some of Verisign’s .com windfall? Or might domainers get a second slap in the face by seeing URS imposed in .com?

With Verisign set to receive hundreds of millions of extra dollars due to the imminent lifting of .com price caps, it’s been suggested that ICANN may also financially benefit from the arrangement.

In a couple of blog posts Friday, filthy domain scalper Andrew Allemann said that ICANN will likely demand higher fees from Verisign in the new .com registry agreement.

Will it though? I guess it’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t say it’s a certainty by any means.

Verisign currently pays ICANN $0.25 per transaction, the same as almost all other gTLDs. Technically, there’s no reason this could not be renegotiated.

Putting aside some of the legacy gTLD contracts, I can only think of two significant cases of ICANN imposing higher fees on a registry.

The first was .xxx, which was signed in 2011. That called for ICM Registry, now part of MMX, to pay $2 per transaction, eight times the norm.

The rationale for this was that ICANN thought (or at least said it thought) that .xxx was going to be a legal and compliance minefield. It said it envisaged higher costs for overseeing the then-controversial TLD.

There was a school of thought that ICANN was just interested in opportunistically boosting its own coffers, given that ICM was due to charge over $60 per domain per year — at the time a ludicrously high amount.

But risk largely failed to materialize, and the two parties last year renegotiated the fees down to $0.25.

The second instance was .sucks, another controversial TLD. In that case, ICANN charged registry Vox Populi a $100,000 upfront fee and per-transaction fees of $1 per domain for the first 900,000 transactions, four times more than the norm.

While some saw this as a repeat of the .xxx legal arse-covering tactic, ICANN said it was actually in place to recoup a bunch of money that Vox Pop owner Momentous still owed when it let a bunch of its drop-catch registrars go out of business a couple years earlier.

While the .sucks example clearly doesn’t apply to Verisign, one could make the case that the .xxx example might.

It’s possible, I guess, that ICANN could make the case that Verisign’s newly regained ability to raise prices opens it up to litigation risk — something I reckon is certainly true — and that it needs to increase its fees to cover that risk.

It might be tempting. ICANN has a bit of a budget crunch at the moment, and a bottomless cash pit like Verisign would be an easy source of funds. A transaction fee increase of four cents would have been enough to cover the $5 million budget shortfall it had to deal with earlier this year.

On the other hand, it could be argued that ICANN demanding more money from Verisign would unlevel the playing field, inviting endless litigation from Verisign itself.

ICANN’s track record with legacy gTLDs has been to reduce, rather than increase, their transaction fees.

Pre-2012 gTLDs such as .mobi, .jobs, .cat and .travel have all seen their fees reduced to the $0.25 baseline in recent years, sometimes from as high as $2.

In each of these cases, the registries concerned had to adopt many provisions of the standard 2012 new gTLD registry agreement including, controversially, the Uniform Rapid Suspension service.

Domainers hate the URS, which gives trademark owners greater powers to take away their domains, and the Internet Commerce Association (under the previous stewardship of general counsel Phil Corwin, since hired by Verisign) unsuccessfully fought against URS being added to .mobi et al over the last several years, on the basis that eventually it could worm its way into .com.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that ICANN might reduce Verisign’s fees, but what if URS is the price the registry has to pay for its massive .com windfall?

It’s not as if Verisign has any love for domainers, despite the substantial contribution they make to its top line.

Since the NTIA deal was announced, it’s already calling them “scalpers” and driving them crazy.

ICA lost the .com price freeze fight last week, could it also be about to lose the URS fight?

.radio set for November launch, weird tiered pricing

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2017, Domain Registries

The European Broadcasting Union plans to operate the forthcoming .radio gTLD in such a way as to discourage domain investors.

It yesterday set out its launch timetable, registration restrictions, and expects registrars to charge companies between €200 and €250 per domain per year ($213 to $266).

Interestingly, it’s also proposing to charge different, lower prices for individuals, though that pricing tier has not been disclosed.

I’m not sure I can think of another company that wants to charge different prices depending on the class of registrant and it seems like would be tough to enforce.

If I’m the domain manager at a radio company, can’t I just register the domain in my own name, rather than my employer’s, in order to secure the lower price?

Other registries, notably .sucks, have come under fire in the past for charging trademark owners higher fees. Isn’t basing pricing tiers on the legal status of the registrant pretty much the same thing?

That perception could be reinforced by the angle the EBU is taking in its marketing.

“We are proposing that the radio community may like to consider securing the integrity of their web presence by requesting appropriate .radio domains for defensive reasons initially,” .radio TLD Manager Alain Artero said in a blog post.

“The TLD will be focused on content and matters specific to radio and we want to prevent speculators and cybersquatting in this TLD,” he added.

The EBU is not planning to take the TLD to general availability until November, which is a long launch runway by any measure.

Before then, for two months starting May 3, there’ll be a qualified launch program in which radio stations (as opposed to “internet” radio stations) will be able to claim priority registration for their brand.

Sunrise will begin in August.

The EBU secured rights to .radio as a “Community” gTLD, meaning it has to enforce registration restrictions, after a 2014 Community Priority Evaluation ruling allowed it to win its contention set without an auction.

The eligibility criteria are somewhat broad, including: “Radio broadcasting stations. Unions of Broadcasters. Internet radios. Radio Amateurs. Radio professionals (journalists, radio hosts, DJs…) [and] Radio-related companies selling radio goods and services”.

DI implicated in .sucks “gag order” fight

Vox Populi, the .sucks registry, terminated Com Laude’s accreditation last week due to its belief that the brand protection registrar had leaked a “confidential” document to Domain Incite.

Vox Pop CEO John Berard tonight denied that the company he works for was carrying out a “grudge” against Com Laude, which in January led a charge against a Vox “gag order” on registrars.

As we reported on Friday, Vox terminated Com Laude‘s ability to sell .sucks domains directly, due to a then-unspecified alleged breach of the Registry-Registrar Agreement that binds all .sucks domain registrars.

It now turns out the “breach” was of the part of the .sucks RRA that states that Vox registrars “shall make no disclosures whatsoever” of “confidential informational”, where such confidential information is marked as such.

Berard told DI of the termination: “It was a specific act, violating a specific clause of the contract that had to do with breaching confidentiality, and that’s why the action was taken.”

The specific act was Com Laude allegedly sending DI — me, for avoidance of doubt — a confidential document.

“They have not said they didn’t do it,” Berard said.

He said that, given the amount of scrutiny Vox is under (due to the controversy it has created with its pricing and policies), “it would be crazy of us to ignore a contract breach”.

He declined to identify the document in question.

He said that Vox Pop deployed “forensic research” to discover the identity of the alleged leak.

“It was clear that something that was confidential was distributed, we wanted to know who distributed it,” he said. “We wanted to know who breached confidentiality.”

DI has only published one third-party document related to .sucks this year.

This is it (pdf). It’s a letter drafted by the Registrars Stakeholder Group and sent to ICANN. Here it is (pdf) as published on the ICANN web site.

DI has received other documents related to Vox Pop and .sucks from various parties that I have not published, but I’ve been unable to find any that contained the word “confidential” or that were marked as “confidential”.

According to the .sucks RRA (pdf), “confidential information” is documentation marked or identified “confidential”.

Everything I’ve ever written about .sucks can be found with this search.

.sucks terminates Com Laude as “gag order” row escalates

Vox Populi, the .sucks gTLD registry, has terminated the accreditation of brand protection registrar Com Laude as part of an ongoing dispute between the two companies.

Com Laude won’t be able to sell defensive .sucks registrations to its clients any more, at least not on its own accreditation, in other words.

The London-based registrar is transferring all of its .sucks domains to EnCirca as a result of the termination and says it is considering its options in how to proceed.

The shock move, which I believe to be unprecedented, is being linked to Com Laude’s long-time criticisms of Vox Populi’s pricing and policies.

The registrar today had some rather stern words for Vox Pop. Managing director Nick Wood said in a statement:

We have always been critical of this registry and particularly its sunrise pricing model which we regard as predatory. We have advised clients where possible to consider not registering such names. We hope that all brand owners will think twice before buying or renewing a .sucks domain. After all, it is not possible to block out every variation of a trademark under .sucks. In our view, fair criticism is preferable to dealing with Vox Populi.

Ouch!

The termination is believed to be linked to controversial changes to the .sucks Registry-Registrar Agreement, which Vox Pop managed to sneak past ICANN over Christmas.

One of the changes, some registrars believed, would prevent brand protection registrars from openly criticizing .sucks pricing and policies. They called it a “gag order”.

Com Laude SVP Jeff Neuman was one of the strongest critics. I believe he was a key influence on a Registrar Stakeholder Group letter (pdf) in January which essentially said registrars would boycott the new RRA.

That letter said:

It’s ironic for a Registry whose slogan is “Foster debate, Share opinions” has now essentially proposed implementing a gag order on the registrars that sell the .sucks TLD by preventing them from doing just that

While the RRA dispute was resolved more or less amicably following ICANN mediation, with Vox Pop backpedaling somewhat on its proposed changes, Com Laude now believes the registry has held a grudge.

Its statement does not say what part of the .sucks RRA it is alleged to have breached.

Vox Pop has not yet returned a request for comment. I’ll provide an update should I receive further information.

Com Laude said in a statement today:

Jeff Neuman, our SVP of our North American business, Com Laude USA, led the effort in the Registrar Stakeholder Group to quash proposed changes to Vox Populi’s registry-registrar agreement, in order to protect the interests of brand owners and the registrars who work with them. Since then, Vox Populi has accused Com Laude of breaching the terms of the registry-registrar agreement, a claim we take seriously and refute in its entirety. We are now considering our further options.

Wood added:

We have informed our clients of the action being taken and all have expressed their support for the manner in which we have handled it. We are pleased to have received messages of support from across the ICANN community including other registry operators. Clearly there is strong distaste at the practices of Vox Populi.

Strong stuff.

New .sucks logo actually kinda sucks

Vox Populi has revealed a new logo for its .sucks gTLD.

Here it is. What do you think?

In going for a retro, 8-bit vibe, has Vox deliberately gone for a look that actually kinda sucks? Is that the joke? Or do you like it?

The company said on its blog:

The program is designed to portray the tight link between the ubiquity of digital technology and the individual’s long-standing right of free expression. Moving from a softer blue image to a sharper black-and-white logo that evokes a computer’s font better honors the role the internet plays as a modern day soapbox

Previously, the .sucks logo was the brand inside a speech bubble. sucks logo

The logo comes with a relaunched web site at get.sucks and a billboard advertising campaign that has included a stint in New York’s Times Square, as seen in this registry-supplied photo.

Times Square ad

The gTLD has been in general availability since June 2015 and has about 7,500 names in its zone file today, growing at roughly three to four domains per day over the last few months.