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.sucks launches despite trademark lobby outrage

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi took its .sucks new gTLD into its sunrise period as planned today, despite an 11th-hour outcry from trademark lawyers.

Pricing varies wildly between registrars.

Registry CEO John Berard told DI today that the TLD became available to trademark owners at a minute after midnight UTC this morning as scheduled.

ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency had asked ICANN’s top brass late Friday (mid-way through California’s final working day before the sunrise was due to begin) to “halt” the launch.

I’ve yet to hear confirmation from ICANN that it will not take action as a result of the IPC’s letter, but it has evidently not so far chosen to intervene.

The IPC described .sucks, with its suggested $2,500 sunrise fee, as a “shakedown” and a “perversion” of the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms.

Vox Pop has also published its registry-level fees.

It turns out its sunrise fee is $1,999, with a suggested retail price of $2,499.

That’s an attractive mark-up for registrars, but it’s not clear from the registry’s web site how many of its 30-plus contracted registrars have chosen to participate in the sunrise phase.

With the current volume of sunrise registrations running at fewer than 1,000 per TLD, and most registrations coming via a small number of brand protection registrars, it’s debateable whether it’s worthwhile for most registrars to bother with the extra implementation work.

Several retail registrars I checked are not currently offering sunrise names.

One corporate registrar, IPC member MarkMonitor, has promised to only mark up registrations by $25 per name, saying it refuses to profit from .sucks. Presumably, therefore, it is selling sunrise names for $2,024.

Of the registrars I checked that publish their prices on their web sites, Marcaria and 101domain are selling for $2,199. LexSynergy is priced in GBP that works out to $2,533 a year. Rebel.com has gone for $2,600 (including a $100 non-refundable application fee).

Here’s why trademark owners will think .sucks sucks

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi Registry is to launch its .sucks gTLD at the end of the month, and its plans are likely to piss off trademark owners no end.

As previously reported, the company has backpedaled on its idea of pricing its sunrise period names at $25,000 per name per year, but it’s introducing some new concepts that seem almost designed to get hackles up in the IP community.

From March 30 to May 29, any company with a trademark registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse will be able to buy their matching .sucks domains at sunrise for $2,499. That’s also the annual renewal fee.

It’s a tenth of the price previously touted, but still pretty steep even by sunrise standards.

Vox Pop isn’t doing anything particularly unusual with its sunrise, which is governed by policies closely regulated by ICANN.

But its big new idea is its “Sunrise Premium” list, a list of strings dominated by famous trademarks.

Vox Pop CEO John Berard told DI yesterday that the Sunrise Premium list has been compiled from strings registered or blocked in other TLDs’ sunrise periods.

While he declined to characterize it as a list of trademarks, he acknowledged that it will be trademark-heavy.

If your mark is on this list, you will never be able to get a .sucks domain at the regular general availability retail price of $249 a year. It will always be $2,499 a year.

Despite the name, Sunrise Premium names are only available during general availability, which begins June 1.

On the one hand, this mandatory premium pricing for the world’s most well-defended marks appears to have benefits for some trademark owners.

While Sunrise Premium names are not restricted to owners of matching marks, the $2,499 fee applies whether you’re the mark owner, a legitimate third-party registrant, or a cybersquatter.

So the high price looks like a deterrent to cybersquatting, suggesting that Vox Pop is fighting from the IP corner.

But then we discover that Sunrise Premium names will never be eligible for the .sucks “Block” service — similar to .xxx’s Sunrise B, a Block is a non-resolving registry reservation — which is expected to retail at a discounted $199 per year.

Berard said that the registry wants to encourage use.

“If you are on the Sunrise Premium list or want a premium name, those can’t be blocked,” Berard said. “It’s all part and parcel of us trying to put more power in the hands of individuals and to cultivate a commitment on behalf of the commercial world to participate in the dialogue.”

But the fact remains: if you have a track record of defensively registering your trademark, Vox Pop is essentially penalizing you with higher fees.

Feel those hackles rising yet?

Vox Pop’s stated goals are to give companies a way to manage customer feedback and individuals a way to exercise their rights to criticize.

“A company would be smart to register its name because of the value that consumer criticism has in improving customer loyalty, delivering good customer service, understanding new product and service possibilities,” Berard said.

“They’re spending a lot more on marketing and customer service and research. This domain can another plank in that platform,” he said. “On the other hand, we also want to make sure that these names are also accessible to individuals who have something to say.”

Companies on the Sunrise Premium list have an additional thing to worry about: the .sucks Consumer Advocate Subsidy, which will bring the price of a .sucks domain down to $9.95 per year.

The subsidy will only be available to registrants unaffiliated with the trademark-owning company, and they’ll have to direct their domains to a discussion forum platform called Everything.sucks.

Berard said Everything.sucks will be operated by a third party, but could not yet disclose the details.

The subsidy program will be available on regular and Sunrise Premium names, but not Sunrise names. It is not expected to launch until September.

It’s not yet clear how flexible and configurable the service will be.

It seems likely that if somebody wants to write a blog, say, criticizing a certain company, product, service or public figure, they will incur the usual $249 annual reg fee.

It’s not exactly “free” speech.

On the whole, the finalized policies and fees may look like they’re specifically designed to irk the IP lobby, but they do seem to be aligned with Vox Pop’s mission statement.

If you’re of the view that trademark owners should have the sole right to use the string matching their mark as a domain name, you’re likely to be unhappy with what Vox Pop is doing.

If, on the other hand, you’re an advocate of the right of every free person to stick it to The Man, you may view the policies more favorably.

Either way, it could be a money-spinner for Vox Pop.

I’m expecting .sucks to be only the third new gTLD to top 1,000 sunrise registrations (assuming .porn and .adult will be the first).

Assuming the registry’s slice of the $2,499 fee is over $2,000, the company is looking to clear in excess of $2 million in annually recurring sunrise revenue alone.

.porn now the biggest new gTLD sunrise

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2015, Domain Registries

.porn and .adult have taken the crown of the most-subscribed new gTLD sunrise periods to date.

The two ICM Registry spaces opened up for registrations from users of the Trademark Clearinghouse on March 2.

A little over a week later, the company tells DI that both gTLDs have individually exceeded the previous sunrise record holder.

My understanding is that .london was the new gTLD with the most sunrise registrations, selling just over 800 names to TMCH customers during its combined sunrise/landrush, which ended last July.

ICM revealed in a webinar last week that it expected its new gTLDs to have to biggest sunrise numbers to date.

“Both .porn and .adult will have exceeded that [.london] number comfortably,” ICM president Stuart Lawley confirmed to DI today.

.adult is “almost neck and neck” with .porn, Lawley said.

The numbers are still pretty small compared to ICM’s 2003-round gTLD, .xxx, which had over 80,000 sunrise applications in October 2011.

They’re also pretty small compared to the TMCH’s overall number of registrations, which at the last public disclosure was a little under 35,000.

But ICM has another couple opportunities for trademark owners to defensively register that may work out cheaper.

First, from April 6 to April 30 companies that bought non-resolving “blocked” names in the .xxx Sunrise B will be able to block the same strings in .porn and .adult.

ICM says registrars are offering discounts for five-year blocks.

Then, from May 6 to May 31 the Domain Matching program starts. That’s open to any .xxx registrant, defensive or otherwise, but not to those with .xxx Sunrise B blocks.

.cancerresearch — a role model for dot-brands?

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2015, Domain Registries

.cancerresearch went live today with an interesting, and possibly unique to date, take on the new gTLD concept.

It’s technically not a dot-brand under ICANN rules, but there are no firm plans to start selling registrations to third parties yet and the people running it are pointing to it as a possible model from which dot-brands could draw inspiration.

The registry, the charitable Australian Cancer Research Foundation, is working heavily with back-end provider ARI Registry Services and has recruited the ad agency M&C Saatchi for the promotion.

It’s reserved about 80 .cancerresearch domain names for its own “promotional purposes” — permissible under ICANN rules — and gone live today with a handful of web sites designed to raise awareness about and funds for cancer research.

I say it looks possibly unique because, despite the multiple domains in play, it basically looks and feels like one web site.

Start at home.cancerresearch, click a link entitled “Donate” and you’ll be taken to donate.cancerrresearch. Click a link about lung cancer, you’ll go to lung.cancerresearch. There’s another link to theone.cancerresearch, soliciting donations.

Unless you’re looking at the address bar in your browser, you’d be forgiven for assuming you’re on the same web site. The sites on the different domains are using the same style, same imagery, and are obviously part of the same campaign.

That’s not particularly innovative, of course. Redirecting users to other domains within the same web site experience happens all the time. But I don’t think I’ve seen it done before with a new gTLD. Navigation-wise, it seems to have a degree of novelty.

Tony Kirsch, head of global consulting at ARI, said that what the ACRF is doing could “help give dot-brand holders struggling with a wait-and-see approach a real example of what can be done”.

.cancerresearch isn’t a dot-brand under ICANN’s strict Specification 13 rules, however. It’s more like an unofficial ‘closed generic’ at this point.

The gTLD is launching today — with mainstream media coverage — without a confirmed Sunrise date. Right now, nobody apart from the registry can own a domain there.

And while Kirsch told DI that .cancerresearch will be available to third parties, he also said that there will be strict eligibility requirements. Those requirements are still “TBD”, however.

There are also no accredited registrars for the gTLD at this point, he confirmed.

.top says Facebook shakedown was just a typo

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology, the .top registry, is blaming a typo for a Facebook executive’s claim that it wanted $30,000 or more for facebook.top.

Information provided to the ICANN GNSO Council by Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi yesterday showed that .top wanted RMB 180,000 (currently $29,000) for a trademarked name that previously had been blocked due to ICANN’s name collisions policy.

But Mason Zhang, manager of the registry’s overseas channel division, told DI today that the price is actually RMB 18,000 ($2,900):

We were shocked when seeing that our register price for TMCH protected names like Facebook during Exclusive Registration Period is changed from “eighteen thousand” into what is written, the “one hundred and eighty thousand”.

I think that might be a type mistake from our side, and we checked and we are certain that the price is CNY EIGHTEEN THOUSAND.

The 18,000-yuan sunrise fee is published on the registry’s official web site, as I noted yesterday.

The registry email sent to Facebook is reproduced in this PDF.

I wondered yesterday whether a breakdown in communication may to be blame. Perhaps I was correct.

While $3,000 is still rather high for a defensive registration, it doesn’t stink of extortion quite as badly as $30,000.

Still, it’s moderately good news for Facebook and any other company worried they were going to have to shell out record-breaking prices to defensively register their brands.