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Google to release another new gTLD next month

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2021, Domain Registries

Google Registry is gearing up to unleash another gTLD from its stockpile of unreleased strings next month.

The gTLD is .day, one of over 100 that Google applied for in 2012 after a reported brainstorming session at the company.

According to its application:

The specialization goal of the proposed gTLD is to offer a new Internet environment that allows users to create and organize events that have or will occur on a particular day. The proposed gTLD will provide a single domain name hierarchy for Internet users globally to promote celebrations, such as a holi.day, wedding.day, or birth.day.

With that in mind, it’s difficult to see .day being a high-volume TLD along the lines of Google’s popular .app or .dev gTLDs.

While the company itself doesn’t seem to have addressed the launch publicly, it has given details to registrars and informed ICANN about its start-up dates.

It started a Qualified Launch Program program earlier this week. That’s where it gets to hand out a limited number of domains to hand-picked anchor tenants.

The sunrise period, restricted of course to trademarks, begins December 14 and ends January 24.

General availability starts January 25, according to registrars and ICANN records, with a seven-day Early Access Period during which domains can be purchased at daily-decreasing premium prices.

Full regular-price general availability begins February 1.

CentralNic takes over a dead dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2021, Domain Registries

CentralNic has become the latest company to pounce on a dot-brand gTLD that was on its way to the dustbin of history.

The ICANN contract for .case was transferred to a London company called Helium TLDs, a CentralNic subsidiary, last week.

That company was previously called FANS TLD, and was the vehicle CentralNic used to acquire .fans from Asiamix Digital in 2018 before later passing it on to Hong Kong-based ZDNS International.

I believe something similar is happening here.

.case was a dot-brand owned, but never used, by CNH Industrial, which Wikipedia tells me is an American-Dutch-British-Italian company that makes about $28 billion a year making and selling agricultural and construction machinery. Diggers and forklifts and such.

CNH also managed .caseih, .newholland, and .iveco for some of its other brands, but these contracts were terminated earlier in the year.

The company had also asked ICANN to cancel its .case agreement, but that seems to have attracted acquisitive registry operators, and the termination request was withdrawn as I noted in September.

While terminating a dot-brand can often be seen as a lack of confidence in the dot-brand concept, selling off the gTLD to a third party rules out reapplying for the same string in future and can be seen as an even deeper disdain.

Now, .case is in CentralNic’s hands. I believe it’s the first dot-brand the company has taken over.

Rival registries including Donuts, XYZ and ShortDot have also swept up unwanted dot-brand gTLDs, stripped them of their restrictions, and repurposed them as general-purpose or niche spaces.

Virgin territory as GoDaddy pushes $30 million porn domain renewals

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2021, Domain Registries

Brand owners big and small are in for a potential surprise December 1, as their 10-year-old .xxx domain blocks expire and registrars bill their customers to convert them into a new annually-renewing GoDaddy service.

GoDaddy confirmed to DI today that it will “auto-convert” the old Sunrise B blocks, first sold by ICM Registry in 2011, to its new AdultBlock service, which provides essentially the same functionality but across four TLDs rather than one.

Tony Kirsch, head of professional services at GoDaddy Registry, said:

Registrars have been contacting all the Sunrise B owners and advising them that as of December 1 they will be grandfathered and automatically converted into an AdultBlock service, but they have a choice to expire that or stop that happening prior to December 1.

And if it is that they don’t do that before December 1, we’ll still give them a grace period of at least 45 days. If that happens they can then, as you’d normally do, just turn around to the registrar and say “We don’t want that” and we will of course refund the money.

This means that GoDaddy, which acquired .xxx and ICM from MMX earlier this year, is billing its .xxx registrar partners to convert and renew what could be as many as 81,000 Sunrise B blocks.

While the registry fee for AdultBlock has not been published, retail registrars I checked have priced the service at $370 to $400 per year, which we can probably assume is low-end pricing. Most .xxx domains are sold via the specialist brand-protection registrars like CSC and Markmonitor, which sometimes have more complex pricing.

So that’s something in the ballpark of $30 million worth of renewal invoices being sent out in the coming weeks, for something in many cases brand owners may have institutionally forgot about.

Kirsch said that AdultBlock was introduced by MMX about 18 months ago and that registrars have been preparing their customers for the Sunrise B expiration for some time.

Sunrise B was a program, unprecedented in the industry at the time, whereby trademark owners could pay a one-off fee — ICM charged its registrars about $160 wholesale — to have their brands removed from the available pool.

The domains exist in the .xxx zone file and resolve to a black page bearing the words “This domain has been reserved from registration”, but they’re not registered and usable like normal defensive or sunrise registrations would be.

Companies got to avoid not only the potential embarrassment of being porn-squatted, but also the hassle of having to explain to a tabloid reporter why they “owned” the .xxx domain in question.

The term of the Sunrise B block was 10 years. ICM told me at the time that this was because the company’s initial registry contract with ICANN only lasted for 10 years, so it was legally unable to sell longer-term blocks, but I’ve never been sure how much I buy that explanation.

Regardless, that 10 year period comes to an end in two weeks.

Because Sunrise B was unprecedented, this first renewal phase is also unprecedented. We’re in virgin territory (pun, of course, very much intended) here.

Will we see the industry’s first public “block junk drop”?

There are a number of reasons to believe trademark owners, assuming they don’t just blindly pay their registrar’s invoices, would choose to allow their blocks to expire or to ask for a refund after the fact.

First, the price has gone up — a lot.

While ICM charged $160 for a 10-year Sunrise B block (maybe marked up by registrars to a few hundred bucks) brand owners can expect to pay something like $3,000 retail for a single string blocked for 10 years.

But buyers do get a bit more bang for their buck. Unlike Sunrise B, AdultBlock also blocks the trademark in three additional GoDaddy-owned TLDs — .porn, .sex and .adult — as standard.

Kirsch said he expects buyers to see a 40% to 50% saving compared to the cost of defensively registering each domain individually.

Second, the appetite for defensive registrations has waned over the past 10 years, with trademark owners employing more nuanced approaches to brand protection, largely due to the flood of new gTLDs since 2013.

When .adult, .sex and .porn launched, without the possibility of Sunrise B blocks, they got about 2,000 regular sunrise registrations each. And that’s extraordinarily high — for most new gTLDs a couple hundred was a good turnout.

Third, the .xxx launch attracted a whole lot of controversy and overreaction, and the .xxx zone file today contains a lot of Sunrise B crap.

When I scrolled a little through the zone, cherry-picking silly-looking blocks in 2019, I found these examples:

100percentwholewheatthatkidslovetoeat.xxx, 101waystoleaveagameshow.xxx, 1firstnationalmergersandacquisitions.xxx, 1stchoiceliquorsuperstore.xxx, 2bupushingalltherightbuttons.xxx, 247claimsservicethesupportyouneed30minutesguaranteed.xxx, 3pathpowerdeliverysystembypioneermagneticsinc.xxx

Is it worth $400 a year to block the trademark “100 Percent Whole Wheat That Kids Love To Eat”? Is there any real danger of a cybersquatter going after that particular brand (apart from the fact that I’ve now written about it twice)?

Kirsch said a “small percentage” of Sunrise B owners have already said they don’t want to convert, but given that the rest will auto-convert, and that the registrars are doing all the customer-facing stuff, the company has limited visibility into likely uptake.

Brian King, director of policy at MarkMonitor, told us: “We generally encourage our clients to consider blocks. They can be cost effective and a lot of times clients would rather have their brand be unavailable without having to register in TLDs where they don’t want to own domain registrations for any number of reasons.”

One reason brand owners may want to consider converting to AdultBlock — it’s rumored that GoDaddy will be relaxing its eligibility criteria for .xxx next year, removing the requirement for registrants to have a nexus to the porn industry.

It’s always been kind of a bullshit rule, basically a hack to allow ICM to run a “sponsored” TLD under ICANN’s rules from the 2003 application round, but doing away with it would potentially make it easier for cybersquatters to get their hands on .xxx domains.

CSC told customers in a recent webinar that the rules are likely to be changed next year, increasing the risk of cybersquatting.

There’s some circumstantial evidence to suggest that CSC might be on to something — pretty much every “sponsored” gTLD from the same 2003 application round as .xxx has relaxed their reg rules to some extent, sometimes when their contracts come up for renewal and ICANN tries to normalize them with the text of the standard 2012-round agreement.

And GoDaddy’s .xxx contract with ICANN is being renegotiated right now. It was due to expire in March, but it was extended in February until December 15, a little under a month from now. We may soon see ICANN open up the new text for public comment.

Kirsch, who’s not part of the negotiations, could not confirm that the eligibility relaxation is going to happen or that it’s something GoDaddy is pushing for.

If it were to happen, it wouldn’t be for some time, and it wouldn’t necessarily impact on the December 1 deadline for Sunrise B conversions, which is going to be interesting to watch in its own right.

“There are registrations that are protecting people’s trademarks that are expiring and our primary objective here is to ensure that that protection continues, and that’s what we’ll do,” GoDaddy’s Kirsch said.

“If we just let them expire, it would create a lot of opportunity for brand infringement. Faced with that choice, our primary objective is to protect trademark owners,” he said.

Whois rule changes that nobody likes get approved anyway

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2021, Domain Services

ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization Council has approved a handful of changes to Whois policy, despite the fact that pretty much nobody was fully on-board with the proposals and how they were made.

The new recommendations call for a new field in Whois records to flag up whether the registrant is a private individual, whose privacy is protected by law, or a legal entity like a company, which have no privacy rights.

But the field will be optional, with no obligation for registries or registrars to use it in their Whois services, which has angered intellectual property interests, governments and others.

The working group that came up with the recommendations also declined to find that Whois records should come with an anonymized registrant email address as standard. This absence of change was also adopted by the Council, causing more disappointment.

In short, nothing much is happening to Whois records for the foreseeable future as a result of these policy changes.

But the process to arrive at this conclusion has highlighted not just the deep divisions in the ICANN community but also, some argue, deficiencies in the ICANN process itself.

The Expedited Policy Development Process working group that has since 2018 been looking at the interaction between Whois and privacy protection law, primarily the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, had been asked two final questions earlier this year, to wrap up its long-running work.

First, should registrars and registries be forced to distinguish between legal and natural persons when deciding what data to publish in Whois?

Second, should there be a registrant-based or registration-based anonymized email published in Whois to help people contact domain owners and/or correlate ownership across records?

The answer on both counts was that it’s up to the registry or registrar to decide.

On legal versus natural, the EPDP decided that ICANN should work with the technical community to create a new field in the Whois standard (RDAP), but that there should be no obligation for the industry to use it.

On anonymized email addresses, the working group recommendations were even hand-wavier — they merely refer the industry to some legal advice on how to implement such a system in a GDPR-compliant way.

While this phase of the EPDP’s work was super-fast by ICANN standards (taking about nine months) and piss-weak with its output, it nevertheless attracted a whole lot of dissent.

While its tasks appeared straightforward to outsiders, it nevertheless appears to have inherited the simmering tensions and entrenched positions of earlier phases and turned out to be one of the most divisive and fractious working groups in the modern ICANN period.

Almost every group involved in the work submitted a minority statement expressing either their displeasure with the outcome, or with the process used to arrive at it, or both. Even some of the largely positive statements reek of sarcasm and resentment.

EPDP chair Keith Drazek went to the extent of saying that the minority statements should be read as part and parcel of the group’s Final Report, saying “some groups felt that the work did not go as far as needed, or did not include sufficient detail, while other groups felt that certain recommendations were not appropriate or necessary”.

This Final Report constitutes a compromise that is the maximum that could be achieved by the group at this time under our currently allocated time and scope, and it should not be read as delivering results that were fully satisfactory to everyone.

The appears to be an understatement.

The Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency were both the angriest, as you might expect. They wanted to be able to get more data on legal persons, and to be able to reverse-engineer domain portfolios using anonymous registrant-baed email addresses, and they won’t be able to do either.

The Governmental Advisory Committee and Security and Stability Advisory Committee both expressed positions in line with the IPC/BC, dismayed that no enforceable contract language will emerge from this process.

Councilor Marie Pattullo of the BC said during the GNSO Council vote last Wednesday that the work “exceeds what is necessary to protect registrant data” and that the EPDP failed to “preserve the WHOIS database to the greatest extent possible”.

The “optional differentiation between legal and natural persons is inadequate”, she said, resulting in “a significant number of records being needlessly redacted or otherwise being made unavailable”. The approved policies contain “no real policy and places no enforceable obligations on contracted parties”, she said.

IPC councilor John McElwaine called the EPDP “unfinished work” because the working group failed to reach a consensus on the legal/natural question. The IPC minority statement had said:

Requiring ICANN to coordinate the technical community in the creation of a data element which contracted parties are free to ignore altogether falls far short of “resolving” the legal vs. natural issue. And failing to require differentiation of personal and non-personal data fails to meet the overarching goal of the EPDP to “preserve the WHOIS database to the greatest extent possible” while complying with privacy law.

But McElwaine conceded that “a minority of IPC members did favor these outputs as being minor, incremental changes that are better than nothing”.

The BC and IPC both voted against the proposals, but that was not enough to kill them. They would have needed support from at least one councilor on the the other side of the GNSO’s Non-Contracted Parties House, the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, and that hand was not raised.

While the NCSG voted “aye”, and seemed generally fine with the outcome, it wasn’t happy with the process, and had some stern words for its opponents. It said in its minority statement:

The process for this EPDP has been unnecessarily long and painful, however, and does not reflect an appreciation for ICANN’s responsibility to comply with data protection law but rather the difficulty in getting many stakeholders to embrace the concept of respect for registrants’ rights…

With respect to the precise issues addressed in this report, we have stressed throughout this EPDP, and in a previous PDP on privacy proxy services, that the distinction between legal and natural is not a useful distinction to make, when deciding about the need to protect data in the RDS. It was, as we have reiterated many times, the wrong question to ask, because many workers employed by a legal person or company have privacy rights with respect to the disclosure of their personal information and contact data. The legal person does not have privacy rights, but people do.

While welcoming the result, the Registrars Stakeholder Group had similar concerns about the process, accusing its opponents of trying to impose additional legal risks on contracted parties. Its minority statement says:

it is disappointing that achieving this result was the product of significant struggle. Throughout the work on this Phase, the WG revisited issues repeatedly without adding anything substantially new to the discussion, and discussed topics which were out of scope. Perhaps most importantly, the WG was on many occasions uninterested in or unconcerned with the legal and financial risks that some proposed obligations would create for contracted parties in varying jurisdictions or of differing business models, or the risks to registrants themselves.

The Registries Stakeholder Group drilled down even more on the “out of scope” issue, saying the recommendation to create a new legal vs natural field in Whois went beyond what the working group had been tasked with.

They disagreed with, and indeed challenged, Drazek’s decision that the discussion was in-scope, but reluctantly went ahead and voted on the proposals in Council in order to finally draw a line under the whole issue.

The question of whether the legal vs natural question has been in fact been resolved seems to be an ongoing point of conflict, with the RySG, RrSG and NCSG saying it’s finally time to put the matter to bed and the IPC and BC insisting that consensus has not yet been reached.

The RySG wrote that it is “well past time to consider the issue closed” and that the EPDP had produced a “valuable and acceptable outcome”, adding:

The RySG is concerned that some have suggested this issue is not resolved. This question has been discussed in three separate phases of the EPDP and the result each time has been that Contracted Parties may differentiate but are not required to do so. This clearly demonstrates that this matter has been addressed appropriately and consistently. A perception that this work is somehow unresolved could be detrimental to the ICANN community and seen as undermining the effectiveness of the multistakeholder model.

Conversely, the BC said the report “represents an unfortunate failure of the multistakeholder process” adding that “we believe the record should state that consensus opinion did not and still does not exist”.

The IPC noted “a troubling trend in multistakeholder policy development”, saying in a clear swipe at the contracted parties that “little success is possible when some stakeholders are only willing to act exclusively in their own interests with little regard for compromise in the interest of the greater good.”

So, depending on who you believe, either the multistakeholder process is captured and controlled by intransigent contracted parties, or it’s unduly influenced by those who want to go ultra vires to interfere with the business of selling domains in order to violate registrant privacy.

And in either case the multistakeholder model is at risk — either “agree to disagree” counts as a consensus position, or it’s an invitation for an infinite series of future policy debates.

Business as usual at the GNSO, in other words.

CSC (not that one) scraps its dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2021, Domain Registries

A company formerly known as CSC has terminated its dot-brand gTLD contract four years after discontinuing the company name.

Computer Sciences Corporation, now known as DXC Technology, has told ICANN it no longer wishes to operate .csc, saying:

This gTLD was secured right before the merger of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Services merged to form DXC Technology. Consequently, the gTLD has never been used and shutting it down will have no effect on internal or external stakeholders.

The CSC-HP merger and name changed happened in 2017.

At one point, nic.csc bore a notice saying it was the “registry for the .dxc top-level domain”, which was a cool trick given .dxc doesn’t exist and has never existed.

This CSC is different from the corporate registrar of the same abbreviation, where the CSC stands for Corporation Service Company. There’s a reasonable chance that this CSC will be able to apply for .csc in the next application round.

UDRP respondent has name hidden on mental health grounds

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2021, Domain Policy

An accused cybersquatter has had his or her name redacted from the UDRP record on mental health grounds in what appears to be an unprecedented decision.

The case of Securian Financial Group v [redacted] resulted in the transfer of securian.contact to the complainant, but the ADR Forum panelist did not make a determination on the merits.

Rather, the registrant had asked for the domain to be transferred free of charge and for their personal details to be kept out of the public record, telling the panelist:

I have a documented mental health history. I want to request ICANN and/or the complainant to at least redact my personal information from this case on medical grounds… I do not want to submit or reveal my medical documents to anyone, but if required by ICANN, I will do so.

The registrant said that the case had proved “mentally impactful” and that they did not want their name appearing in search results as it could affect their job and university applications.

The panelist found UDRP precedent of personal information being redacted in cases of identity theft and applied it to these apparently novel circumstances.

Because the respondent offered to freely give up the domain, the panelist did not decide on what would presumably have been a fairly cut-and-dried case.

Guy fills exact-match domain with porn, wins UDRP anyway

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2021, Domain Policy

A Chinese registrant has managed to survive a UDRP over an exact-match domain name, despite not responding to the complaint and filling the associated web site with porn.

An ADR Forum panelist yesterday ruled the registrant could keep the domain boltonmenk.com (NSFW) despite Bolton & Menk, a Minnesota engineering firm that says it was founded in 1949, claiming infringement of common-law trademark.

Bolton & Menk has used the hyphenated version, bolton-menk.com, since 1996.

The non-hyphenated version at issue in this case has been in the hands of third-party registrants for at least 15 years, with at least 13 drops, according to DomainTools.

It seems to have been mostly parked with regular, inoffensive ads, and it was presumably only the recent addition of hard-core pornography that caught the complainant’s attention.

But the UDPR panelist ruled that Bolton & Menk, which has only a pending US trademark application, had failed to provide enough evidence that its brand also operates as a common-law trademark.

The complaint was therefore dismissed for the complainant’s lack of rights without even considering the registrant’s bad faith or legitimate interests.

It looks like a case of the bad guy getting away with it due to a less-than-comprehensive complaint.

James Bond domains listed for sale by .bond registry

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2021, Domain Registries

ShortDot has made James Bond related domain names in the gTLD .bond available for sale or lease, as the movie franchise’s latest outing smashes box office records.

Both james.bond and 007.bond are currently listed for sale for $25,000 each at Dan.com, with a lease-to-own option of $2,084 a month. The .bond registry is listed as the seller. They will renew at the standard rate.

The offers were announced shortly before the weekend opening of No Time To Die made a reported $120 million internationally in cinema ticket sales, beating pandemic-related box office records.

Both “James Bond” and “007” are trademarks of movie producer EON Productions, so it seems buyers might be assuming some UDRP risk. I asked ShortDot about this last week but did not receive a response.

In a press release, the company made hay about the fact that that “James” is a super-common given name and “007” is a three-digit numeric, which are both sought-after categories of domains.

These are the kinds of assertions you’d expect in a UDRP defense.

.bond was originally a dot-brand for Bond University in Australia, but it was sold to ShortDot in 2019 after laying dormant for years.

Regular .bond domains retail for about $70 a year. There are over 4,000 currently registered.

Dead dot-brands top 100. Here’s the list and breakdown

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2021, Domain Registries

The list of dot-brand gTLDs that have had their ICANN registry contracts torn up has now topped 100.

SC Johnson, the big American cleaning products company, has informed the Org it no longer wishes to run .afamilycompany, .duck, .glade, .off, .raid, and .scjohnson.

Regular readers will know that I’ve been keeping a running tally of dot-brand terminations for the last several years, and according to that tally that number is now 101.

But it’s a bit more complex than that, so I thought I’d use the occasion of this milestone to provide a more substantial breakdown.

ICANN has records for 104 dot-brands either being terminated by ICANN or asking to be terminated of their own accord.

The number of registry-initiated termination requests is 90. These are typically gTLDs that were never used, or were experimented with and then abandoned. A smaller number relate to brands that were discontinued following mergers or product end-of-life, rendering the dot-brand pointless.

ICANN initiated the other 14 terminations, mostly because the registry operator got cold feet during the pre-delegation testing phase, before going live, but also in one instance for non-payment of fees and in two cases whatever the hell this is.

Six of the registry-initiated transfer requests were withdrawn before being fully processed. Of those, three (.boots, .mobily, and its Arabic translation) went on to be terminated anyway.

Two registries filed for self-termination then changed their minds and committed auto-genericide by selling their contracts — for .bond and .sbs — to discounting portfolio registry ShortDot instead.

One dot-brand, .case, withdrew its December 2020 termination request and appears to still be active.

Thirteen termination requests are currently in the system but have not yet been fully processed.

Five dot-brand gTLD contracts — .observer, .quest, .monster, .select, .compare — were sold to other registries to be repurposed as open generics. You could add .cyou to that list, depending on how you define a dot-brand.

One gTLD that was originally a generic — .moto — made the move in the other direction to become a dot-brand.

Here’s the list of dot-brands that have either requested a termination, or been terminated.

[table “67” not found /]

Volkswagen drives IDN dot-brand off a cliff

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2021, Domain Registries

Volkwagen has decided it no longer wishes to run its Chinese-script dot-brand gTLD.

The car-maker’s Chinese arm has asked ICANN to terminate its contract for .大众汽车 (.xn--3oq18vl8pn36a), which has been in the root for five years.

It’s the standard terminating dot-brand story — the gTLD was never used and VW evidently decided it wasn’t needed.

The company also runs .volkswagen, and that’s not used either, but ICANN has yet to publish termination papers for that particular string.

Fellow German car-maker Audi is one of the most prolific users of dot-brands. Its .audi gTLD has over 1,800 registered domains, most of which appear to be used by its licensed dealerships.

.volkwagen is the 95th terminated dot-brand and the seventh terminated internationalized domain name gTLD.