NCC Group has acquired registry back-end provider Open Registry in a deal that could be worth as much as £14.9 million ($22.6 million).
The deal means that NCC, which runs the new gTLD .trust via subsidiary Artemis Internet, now owns a back-end, a registrar and a piece of the Trademark Clearinghouse, in addition to its original core domain business of providing data escrow services to registries.
According to NCC, the acquisition is for a minimum of £7.9 million ($12 million), with the rest to be paid over three years if Open Registry meets performance targets.
Open Registry had revenue of €3.7 million ($4.3 million) in 2014, turning a profit of €15,000 ($17,300).
Its core business is as a back-end provider for new gTLD applicants. It has about 20 on its books, mostly European dot-brands and cities.
Part of the company’s business is CHIP, the Clearinghouse of Intellectual Property, which along with IBM and Deloitte runs the ICANN-sanctioned TMCH, which all new gTLD registries must use in their Sunrise and Trademark Claims launch periods.
It also owns a small registrar, Nexperteam, which has about 8,000 domains under management.
The Benelux company employs eight people.
Open Registry’s founding CEO Jean-Christophe Vignes joined Artemis as head of domain operations in 2013.
ICM Registry has reneged on its promise to “grandfather” trademark owners and other .xxx registrants in its forthcoming .sex, .porn and .adult new gTLDs.
While the changes are sure to infuriate trademark owners and .xxx registrants, the company insists that ICANN is to blame for blocking its original plans.
Originally, ICM had promised to reserve every .sex, .porn and .adult domain that matched an existing .xxx domain — if you owned or had blocked example.xxx then example.porn and so on would be reserved.
There was not to be a charge for any of these reservations.
The current versions of ICM’s new gTLD applications are unequivocal — nobody who owns a .xxx name or bought a block will be charged for the equivalent .sex, .porn or .adult names or blocks.
On names “blocked” by trademark owners during the .xxx Sunrise B period, the applications state:
All existing blocked names under the .XXX Sunrise B program… will not need to take any action to have those same names blocked in the new gTLD. All of these matching names will be automatically reserved from registration in the new TLD, free of charge.
On names registered in general availability, the applications state:
all existing .XXX names will be reserved from registration in the new gTLD and only registrants of that .XXX name will be given the opportunity to initially register that corresponding .XXX name in the new gTLD. If the .XXX registrant elects to register the name in the new gTLD, this can be done for a low annual fee. If the .XXX registrant does not elect to register the name in the new gTLD, then the new, matching, gTLD name will be reserved on [ICM’s] registry-reserved list at NO cost.
While neither application has been amended yet, neither of these statements are any longer true, ICM has confirmed.
Instead, the company’s new Domain Matching Program anticipates an extra launch phase between Sunrise and general availability. Under ICANN rules, it’s a Limited Registration Period.
During this month-long phase, anyone who owns a .xxx domain or block will be able to purchase the matching new gTLD names, unless it has already been registered in the Sunrise period.
What does this all mean…
For regular .xxx registrants?
If you own a .xxx domain, you no longer get a free permanent reservation on the matching .porn, .sex and .adult names while you make up your mind whether to buy them.
Instead, you’ll have to buy it during the 30-day DMP window.
ICM’s fee for DMP and Sunrise will be the same as for general availability, ICM CEO Stuart Lawley told DI.
Also, if there’s a trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse that matches your second-level string, that trademark’s owner will be able to register the matching names before you get a chance.
Remember, not all TMCH users are legitimate brands. Some are domain investors gaming the system.
For premium .xxx buyers?
The changes may also concern registrants of “premium” .xxx names, many of which may have assumed they’d get the matching .porn, .sex and .adult reservations free of charge.
Porn site operators Really Useful and Barron Innovations, which have spent millions apiece on premium .xxx names such as teen.xxx and sex.xxx, have both said in ICM press releases that the grandfathering program formed an important part of their decision-making.
“We look forward to enjoying the benefits of ICM’s unique Domain Matching Program, which gives .XXX holders an opportunity to secure matching .XXX domain names in .PORN, .ADULT and .SEX,” Barron spokesperson Shay Efron said when the $3 million sale of sex.xxx was announced.
“We will be speaking individually to each premium name holder who purchased premium names after we had announced the original grandfathering plan,” Lawley told us.
It seems that the premium string will be registry-reserved, however, so there’s no chance of them being snapped up during Sunrise.
If you’re a brand who bought a .xxx block during the Sunrise B period back in 2011, you no longer get grandfathered into a free permanent reservation in .sex, .adult and .porn.
Instead, you’ll have to buy your names as usual either during Sunrise, DMP or — if you feel like taking a risk — general availability.
The problem is: you only qualify for Sunrise if you’re registered in the TMCH, and most Sunrise B buyers are not.
Something like 70,000 names were registered during the .xxx Sunrise B period three years ago, but there are only 33,000 marks registered in the TMCH today.
The owners of more than half of the Sunrise B blocks, who may have thought their blocks would carry over to ICM’s three new gTLDs free of charge, currently do not even have the right to buy their names in Sunrise.
If you have a .xxx Sunrise B block AND are in the TMCH, you may find yourself competing with other trademark owners with matching marks during the .porn, .adult and .sex Sunrise periods.
Any Sunrise B match not registered during the Sunrise and DMP phases will be up for grabs during GA, just the same as any other domain.
Lawley reminds us that the .xxx Sunrise B predated ICM’s new gTLD applications by many months — nobody bought a block in 2011 thinking it would be enforced in all four gTLDs.
He added that ICM has “recently secured a unique offer through the TMCH that will enable trademark owners to register with the TMCH for one year, at a reduced fee.”
Why did ICM make the changes?
The changes put the registry on a collision course with the Intellectual Property Constituency of ICANN, which looks out for the interests of trademark owners and is not a fan of porn-themed TLDs.
“The IPC is going to collectively shit a brick,” one IPC member told us.
But the IPC, which has been unshakable when it comes to the strict enforcement of ICANN’s mandatory new gTLD rights protection mechanisms, may have shot itself in the foot to an extent.
According to ICM, it’s ICANN’s fault, and indirectly the IPC’s, that it’s had to abandon free grandfathering.
In a statement sent to DI, the company said:
Throughout the ICANN approval process, ICM pursued multiple pathways to try and ensure its original “grandfathering plan”. However, due to technological concerns and strong trademark protection policies that ICANN’s intellectual property community requires in all new gTLDs, ICANN flatly rejected ICM’s grandfathering plan.
The mandatory new gTLD rights protection mechanisms enforced by ICANN means that no domain names may be set aside before trademark owners have had a crack at the Sunrise period, ICM said:
Those rights protections require that TMCH-validated Sunrise Holders get the first priority for names in any new gTLD and also contain certain prohibitions on all registries from earmarking domain names for third parties.
However, ICM has still managed to set aside an unknown number of names as part of its Premium Domains Program — those names will be immune from registration during both Sunrise and the DMP.
It’s also going to reserve, free of charge, a bunch of “culturally sensitive” names — these are strings that members of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee asked to be reserved in .xxx.
Names related to child abuse material will also be registry-reserved at no cost to the child protection agencies that requested the blocks when .xxx launched.
Plenty of stuff is getting reserved, just not Sunrise B blocks.
ICANN’s rules against “earmarking” domains may have prevented ICM offering matching domains to regular .xxx registrants, but it’s hard to see how that would prevent a .xxx block carrying over to .porn. Blocks are not assigned to a specific registrant; they belong to the registry.
The .adult and .porn gTLDs are set to start their 30-day Sunrise periods March 1, 2015. The 30-day DMP for both will begin April 15.
The .sex gTLD was contested, so it’s running a little behind. ICM expects to launch it later in 2015.
Running a premium domain name auction before you’ve finished your new gTLD sunrise period is Officially Not Cool, according to ICANN’s compliance department.
People who won premium new gTLD domains in auctions that took place before sunrise periods now face the possibility of losing their names to trademark owners.
.CLUB Domains, and probably XYZ.com, operators of .club and .xyz, two of the highest-volume new gTLDs to launch so far, appear to be affected by the ICANN decision.
ICANN told .CLUB that its “winter auction“, which took place in late February, may have violated the rules about allocating or “earmarking” domains to registrants before sunrise takes place.
Meanwhile, NameJet has cancelled the auction for deals.xyz, which “sold” for $8,100 late last year, suggesting that .xyz’s pre-sunrise auction is also considered ultra vires.
ICANN told .CLUB that its auction sales “constitute earmarking” in violation of the rule stating that registries “must not allow a domain name to be allocated or registered prior to the Sunrise period”.
.CLUB had told its auction winners that a sunrise period registration would prevent them from getting the domain they wanted and that they would be refunded if a sunrise registrant emerged.
But ICANN evidently told the registry:
Irrespective of whether “[a]llocation was expressly conditioned upon any Sunrise claim,” or whether any Sunrise claim was made, the pre-selection, pre-registration or pre-designation to third parties, in this case via .Club Domains’ “winter auction,” constitutes improper allocation.
I kinda thought this would happen.
Back in November, when XYZ.com ran its first .xyz auction — about six months before its sunrise even started — CEO Daniel Negari told us he believed it was “comfortably within the rules“.
We said the auction “seems to be operating at the edge of what is permissible under the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms, which state that no domains may be allocated prior to Sunrise.”
I’ve not yet been able to definitively confirm that .xyz is affected by this ICANN decision, but .club definitely is.
.CLUB Domains told its auction winners today that the names they won are now subject to a 60-day period during which they could be obtained by trademark owners.
If no trademark owner claims the name, .CLUB said it will give the auction winner a 10% rebate on their purchase price.
The email states:
We are placing the domain on hold for 60 days, during which time a Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) holder will have the opportunity to purchase the domain at Sunrise rates. Although, the domain is not currently in the TMCH, if a trademark holder should file in the TMCH over the next 60 days, the domain will be offered to that registrant. However, if the name is not claimed by filing in the TMCH over the next 60 days, your transaction will move forward as planned.
Although we disagree with ICANN compliance’s position on this matter, the actions we are taking are necessary to ensure that we are not offside with ICANN compliance in any way. We understand that you have been caught in the middle of this issue due to no fault of your own. Given these circumstances, we are offering you two options:
1) Should you decide to complete this transaction, we will issue you a payment of 10% of the purchase price after the transaction closes in 60 days, assuming the name is not registered by a TMCH mark holder because of the delay.
2) At any time during the 60 day period you have the option to rescind the auction bid and not purchasing the domain.
ICANN has angered the Generic Names Supporting Organization and risks angering the Governmental Advisory Committee as it prevaricates over a controversial rights protection mechanism.
It looks like the ICANN board of directors is going to have decide whether to reject either a hard-won unanimous consensus GNSO policy recommendation or a piece of conflicting GAC advice.
ICANN is “stuck in a bind”, according to chairman Steve Crocker, and it’s a bind that comes at a time when the bottom-up multi-stakeholder process is under the global microscope.
The issue putting pressure on the board this week at the ICANN 49 public meeting here in Singapore is the protection of the names and acronyms of intergovernmental organizations.
IGOs pressured the GAC a few years ago into demanding protection in new gTLDs. They want every IGO name and acronym — hundreds of strings — blocked from registration by default.
For example, the Economic Cooperation Organization would have “economiccooperationorganization” and “eco” blocked at the second level in all new gTLDs, in much the same way as country names are reserved.
Other IGO acronyms include potentially useful dictionary-word strings like “who” and “idea”. As I’ve said before, protecting the useful acronyms of obscure IGOs that never get cybersquatted anyway is just silly.
But when ICANN approved the new gTLD program in 2011, for expediency it placed a temporary block on some of these strings and asked the GNSO to run a formal Policy Development Process to figure out a permanent fix.
In November 2012 it added hundreds more IGO names and acronyms to the list, while the GNSO continued its work.
The GNSO concluded its PDP last year with a set of strong consensus recommendations. The GNSO Council then approved them in a unanimous vote at the Buenos Aires meeting last November.
Those recommendations would remove the IGO acronyms from the temporary reserved names list, but would enable IGOs to enter those strings into the Trademark Clearinghouse instead.
Once in the TMCH, the acronyms would be eligible for the standard 90-day Trademark Claims mechanism, which alerts brand owners when somebody registers a name matching their mark.
The IGOs would not, however, be eligible for sunrise periods, so they wouldn’t have the special right to register their names before new gTLDs go into general availability.
The PDP did not make a recommendation that would allow IGOs to use the Uniform Rapid Suspension service or UDRP.
Unfortunately for ICANN, the GNSO recommendations conflict with the GAC’s current advice.
The GAC wants (pdf) the IGOs to be eligible for Trademark Claims on a “permanent” basis, as opposed to the 90-day minimum that trademark owners get. It also wants IGOs — which don’t generally enjoy trademark protection — to be made eligible for the URS, UDRP or some similar dispute resolution process.
Since Buenos Aires, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has been talking to the GAC and IGOs about a compromise. That compromise has not yet been formally approved, but some initial thinking has been circulated by Crocker to the GAC and GNSO Council.
ICANN proposes to give IGOs the permanent Trademark Claims service that the GAC has asked for, as well as access to the URS. Both policies would have to be modified to allow this.
It would also create an entirely new arbitration process to act as a substitute for UDRP for IGOs, which are apparently legally unable to submit to the jurisdiction of national courts.
The compromise, while certainly overkill for a bunch of organizations that could hardly be seen as ripe cybersquatting targets, may seem like a pragmatic way for the board to reconcile the GNSO recommendations with the GAC advice without pissing anyone off too much.
But members of the GNSO are angry that the board appears to be on the verge of fabricating new policy out of whole cloth, ignoring its hard-won PDP consensus recommendations.
That’s top-down policy-making, something which is frowned upon within ICANN circles.
Under the ICANN bylaws, the board is allowed to reject a GNSO consensus recommendation, if it is found to be “not in the best interests of the ICANN community or ICANN”. A two-thirds majority is needed.
“That’s not what happened here,” Neustar’s vice president of registry services Jeff Neuman told the board during a meeting here in Singapore on Tuesday.
“Instead, the board on its own developed policy,” he said. “It did not accept, it did not reject, it developed policy. But there is no room in the ICANN bylaws for the board to do this with respect to a PDP.”
He said that the GNSO working group had already considered elements of ICANN’s compromise proposal and specifically rejected them during the PDP. Apparently speaking for the Registries Stakeholder Group, Neuman said the compromise should be taken out of consideration.
Bret Fausett of Uniregistry added: “The process here is as important to us as the substance. We think procedure wasn’t followed here and we detect a lack of understanding at the board level that process wasn’t followed.”
The GNSO Council seems to agree that the ICANN board can either accept or reject its recommendations, but what it can’t do is just write its own policies for the sake of a quiet life with the GAC.
To fully accept the GNSO’s recommendations would, however, necessitate rejecting the GAC’s advice. That’s also possible under the bylaws, but it’s a lengthy process.
Director Chris Disspain told the GNSO Council on Sunday that the board estimates it would take at least six months to reject the GAC’s advice, during which time the temporary reservations of IGO acronyms would remain active.
He further denied that the board is trying to develop policy from the top.
“It is not top-down, it’s not intended to be top-down, I can’t really emphasis that enough,” he told the Council.
He described the bylaws ability to reject the GNSO recommendations as a “sledgehammer”.
“It would be nice to be able to not have to use the sledgehammer,” he said. “But if we did have to use the sledgehammer we should only be using it because we’ve all agreed that’s what we have to do.”
Chair Steve Crocker summed up the board’s predicament during the Sunday meeting.
“We always do not want to be in the position of trying to craft our own policy decision,” he said. “So we’re stuck in this bind where we’re getting contrary advice from sources that feel very strongly that they’ve gone through their processes and have spoken and so that’s the end of it from that perspective.”
The bind is especially tricky because it’s coming at a time when ICANN is suddenly becoming the focus of a renewed global interest in internet governance issues.
The US government has said that it’s willing to walk away from its direct oversight of ICANN, but only if what replaces it is a “multi-stakeholder” rather than “intergovernmental” mechanism
If ICANN were to reject the proceeds of a two-year, multi-stakeholder, bottom-up, consensus policy, what message would that send to the world about multistakeholderism?
On the other hand, if ICANN rejects the advice of the GAC, what message would it send about governments’ ability to effectively participate as a stakeholder in the process?
Clearly, something is broken when the procedures outlined in ICANN’s bylaws make compromise impossible.
Until that is fixed — perhaps by getting the GAC involved in GNSO policy-making, something that has been talked about to no end for years — ICANN will have to continue to make these kinds of hard choices.
Fielding a softball question during a meeting with the GNSO Council on Saturday, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said that “to value the process as much as I value the result” is the best piece of advice he’s received.
“Policies get made here,” Chehade told the Council, “they should not be made at the board level, especially when a consensus policy was made by the GNSO. Akram [Atallah, Generic Domains Division president] today was arguing very hard at the board meeting that even if we don’t think it’s the right thing, but it is the consensus policy of the GNSO, we should stick with it.”
Will the board stick with it? Director Bruce Tonkin told the registries on Monday that the board would try to address their concerns by today, so we may not have to wait long for an answer.
The Trademark Clearinghouse has delivered over 500,000 Trademark Claims notices and prevented over 475,000 trademarked names from being registered, according to the TMCH.
The 500,000 number announced in a press release today seems to refer to pre-registration warnings that the name about to be registered matches a trademark in the TMCH database.
Three weeks ago the TMCH said it had served 17,500 post-registration notices to trademark owners in just one month. I’m inferring that this number is now up to over 25,000.
Half a million appears to be an awfully big number, especially when compared to the number of active domain names in new gTLDs, which today stands at just over 347,000.
The TMCH said today that 95% of these notices led to the name not being registered, which it said shows the success of the Claims system.
It could also mean that it’s having the “chilling effect” predicted by opponents of the process, with legitimate registrants being scared away from non-infringing uses of registered marks.
There are plenty of dictionary words in the Clearinghouse — some that match legitimate brands, some which are simply attempts to game sunrise periods and obtain potentially valuable names.
There are currently over 28,000 marks in the TMCH database.