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.sucks explains Sunrise Premium name change

Vox Populi Registry abandonment of the .sucks “Sunrise Premium” brand in favor of a new “Market Premium” service is just a renaming, designed to reduce confusion among trademark owners, according to the company.

As we reported Sunday, all mentions of Sunrise Premium — a list of .sucks domains that will always carry a recommended $2,499 a year fee — have been expunged from the Vox Pop web site.

They were replaced with references to Market Premium, which appeared to carry all the characteristics of Sunrise Premium albeit under a new name.

Now, CEO John Berard has confirmed to DI that the program has not changed.

Rather, the new name is an effort to distance it from the regular sunrise period, which is linked to the Trademark Clearinghouse.

The decision was made following last week’s International Trademark Association conference, Berard said:

It was an insight gained from talking to people at INTA15. The intellectual property people there asked us so many times about the sunrise premium list of names that we realized we had allowed a mis-perception to take hold. This is no and never has been a relationship between that list and the TradeMark ClearingHouse. It was surprising how many people thought we had access to the TMCH (we don’t) and merely cut-and-pasted its names.

That is why we renamed it. Now called Market Premium and more clearly presented as a set of names that over time have been viewed as valuable (because they have been registered before). Names on this list will carry a suggested price of $2,499 (yes, the same as was suggested in Sunrise). Given the list is of names that the market has decided has value, it is likely it will contain trademarks.

The change may also be an attempt to head off a contractual squabble with ICANN.

Last Friday, the ICANN Business Constituency told ICANN management that if the Sunrise Premium list had been populated by names drawn from the TMCH, that would have been a breach of the .sucks Registry Agreement.

Businesses call on regulators to stop .sucks “extortion”

ICANN’s Business Constituency wants US and Canadian regulators to intervene to prevent Vox Populi Registry, which runs .sucks, “extorting” businesses with its high sunrise fees.

The BC wrote to ICANN, the US Federal Trade Commission and the Canadian Office for Consumer Affairs on Friday, saying .sucks has employed “exploitive [sic] pricing and unfair marketing practices”.

The constituency adds its voice to Intellectual Property Constituency, which complained last month, causing ICANN to refer the matter to US and Canadian regulators.

Now, the BC has told the OCA and FTC:

We do not believe that exploitative and unfair business practices are conducive either to promoting end-user confidence in the Internet or to fair competition in the domain name space. On the contrary, the pricing structure adopted by Vox Populi for .sucks domain names is predicated purely on expecting the businesses and brands that drive global growth to pay extortionate fees for no consumer or market benefit.

Vox Populi’s tactics exploit businesses that neither want nor need these domain name registrations but feel unfairly pressured to register purely for defensive purposes.

The BC’s letter chooses to focus on saying sunrise names cost “$2,499 and up” (original emphasis). That’s based on the MSRP Vox Pop publishes on its web site.

In reality, Vox Pop is charging a registry fee of $1,999 per year for .sucks sunrise registrations.

Retail registrars can add hundreds of dollars in mark-up fees, but the leading corporate registrars that are selling the most .sucks sunrise names — MarkMonitor, CSC and Com Laude among them — have said that as a matter of principle they are only charging a nominal $20 to $25 processing fee.

It’s not the highest sunrise fee I’ve come across. The Chinese registry behind .top asked for $3,500 during its sunrise.

But the semantics of the .sucks TLD makes brand owners nervous and makes many of them feel that a defensive registration is a must-have.

The BC now write to regulators to “urge the FTC and OCA to expeditiously determine whether these practices constitute unfair trade practices”.

The letter points to US and Canadian regulations covering consumer protection for examples of where Vox Pop’s practices may fall short of the law.

The free speech opportunities afforded by .sucks do not outweigh the harms, the BC says.

It’s also interesting to note that while the BC appears to be running to regulators for assistance, it notes that it still fully supports the ICANN model.

There may be a degree of cognitive dissonance within the BC.

In a separate letter to ICANN, also signed by BC chair Elisa Cooper and sent yesterday, the BC seems to take issue with the fact that ICANN felt the need to report .sucks to regulators in the first place, writing:

We would like to understand the rationale for doing so. ICANN has ample authority, a clear obligation and the resources available to stop rogue practices through its contractual agreements with registries, its Compliance Department, and its broad duty to protect the public interest and the security and stability of the Internet, particularly for issues with global reach. Like all other gTLDs launched under ICANN’s program, .sucks has a global reach. It is not clear why ICANN feels it should seek clarification from these two North American agencies.

It’s worth noting that Vox Pop CEO Berard is a member of the BC via his PR agency, Credible Context. He was Cooper’s immediate predecessor as BC chair, leaving the post last year.

Correction: Thanks to the many readers who pointed out that Berard was actually the BC’s representative to the GNSO, not its chair. Apologies for the error.

The letter tells Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah that “viewed in its entirety, Vox Populi’s pricing scheme is a violation of the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs)” developed for the new gTLD program, alleging it discourages use of the RPMs and encourages cybersquatting.

It claims that if Vox Pop populated its Sunrise Premium list (now known as Market Premium, it seems) with data from the Trademark Clearinghouse it could be in violation of its Registry Agreement with ICANN.

My sense has been that the names on that list were actually culled from zone files. Vox Pop has said it was compiled from lists of names that have previously been defensively registered. Most of the names in the TMCH have not been defensively registered.

The BC asks for ICANN “to take strong action”, but does not specify what, exactly, it wants.

The letter to the OCA and FTC can be read here. The letter to ICANN is here. Both are PDF files.

Has .sucks abandoned its Sunrise Premium program?

Vox Populi Registry has done away with the “Sunrise Premium” part of its .sucks launch strategy, if only in name.

The pricing page of the company’s web site no longer makes any reference to Sunrise Premium, the controversial, trademark-heavy list of .sucks domains that would cost over $2,000 a year to register and renew.

Instead, there are two new categories of names: Registry Premium and Market Premium.

Registry Premium appears to be what it was previously just calling “Premium” — individually priced high-value domains such as divorce.sucks and life.sucks. That’s in tune with standard registry practice.

The new Market Premium category appears to be the replacement for Sunrise Premium. The web site describes it like this:

In General Availability, dotSucks has created a list of domains called Market Premium names. These are names that the market over time have designated as having a high value.

Previously, Vox Pop CEO John Berard told DI and other reporters that the Sunrise Premium list had been compiled from names registered or blocked in previous sunrise periods in other TLDs.

It was characterized as an additional protection against cybersquatting, but intellectual property interests saw it as a shakedown.

It’s not obvious from the updated Vox Pop web site whether Market Premium is a ground-up rethink of the Sunrise Premium concept, or is merely an empty re-branding.

The name “Sunrise Premium” was confusing, given that such domains are not actually available during the formal sunrise period. Also, the name inextricably suggested that it was a list of trademarks.

Market Premium names are priced exactly the same as Sunrise Premium — that is, $1,999 at the registry level, with a suggested retail price of $2,499.

Market Premium names will also not be eligible for the discounted “Block” service but will “likely” be eligible for the Consumer Subsidy program. That’s no change from the policies governing the Sunrise Premium incarnation.

The registry web site now also states that purchasers of the Block service, which carries a $149 registry fee, will be able to unblock their domains if they wish to actively use them, but doing so will convert the domain into a $1,999 Market Premium name.

Defensive blocking could therefore have the eventual effect of stuffing the Market Premium list with trademarks anyway (assuming any trademark holders with blocks wish to activate their .sucks names, which seems unlikely).

I’ve put in a request for clarification about Market Premium with the registry and will provide updates when I get them.

Other updates on the .sucks price list include a removal of the $9.95 suggested retail price for Consumer Subsidy names.

Consumer Subsidy names are supposedly going to be run by a third party consumer advocacy group from Everything.sucks, but that group has not been identified by Vox Pop yet.

The fact that the registry seemingly had no deal in place but already knew the price suggested to many that Everything.sucks would just be another shell company managed by Vox Pop owner Momentous. Berard reportedly denied this publicly at the INTA 2015 conference last week.

The Vox Pop web site now states “dotSucks is hopeful that this will bring the individual consumer price below 10 dollars.”

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.