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More on my Twitter.sucks reg

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2015, Domain Registries

If you were reading on Friday, you’ll know that I brought about the registration of the domain twitter.sucks and took charge of a web site hosted at that address.

I hinted that there was a little more to the story, but couldn’t get into it.

The first part of the story is here.

What I didn’t mention was that twitter.sucks was in my This.sucks account for probably less than 10 minutes before I removed it.

I have no beef with Twitter and no particular desire to moderate a .sucks discussion forum.

After removing twitter.sucks from my account, I noticed that This.sucks again gave me the option to “register” a free .sucks domain.

So I experimentally “registered” thisdotsucks.sucks too.

Again, the domain started resolving, showed up in Whois, and the associated WordPress site went live within seconds.

At this point, I discovered that I had admin privileges for both twitter.sucks and thisdotsucks.sucks sites simultaneously.

Suspecting that I may have found a bug that would allow anyone to register an essentially unlimited number of free and potentially trademark-matching .sucks domains, I informed This.sucks of my findings in the interest of responsible bug disclosure and ended my blog post prematurely.

Late Friday, This.sucks spokesperson Phil Armstrong told me that it wasn’t a bug after all.

He said that the company allows one “do-over”. So if you register a name for free, then delete it, you get another one for free.

He also said that WordPress admin privileges for domains removed from user accounts expire after a period (I had admin rights for the twitter.sucks web site for roughly 48 hours after I deleted it from my account.)

Right now, the domain twitter.sucks still exists, registered to This.sucks as before, as does the associated web site. I have no idea if another user has taken over its administration or if it’s in some kind of limbo state.

All I know is that it’s nothing to do with me any more.

How I just registered Twitter.sucks for free in just five clicks

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2015, Domain Registries

This morning, I caused the registration of and was given control of a web site at twitter.sucks.

I didn’t pay a thing, though I did — by checking a box linked to hidden terms and conditions — promise to pay $10,000 if I was later determined to be working for Twitter.

Ordinarily, registering a .sucks domain would have cost me over $200.

The controversial This.sucks service (which may share ownership with .sucks registry Vox Populi) has gone live and is giving out 10,000 .sucks web sites for free.

Users, who can sign up merely by connecting their Facebook or LinkedIn accounts, are able to cause This.sucks to register names on their behalf.

They are then immediately given limited control over a WordPress blog hosted at that domain, though not to the associated name servers or Whois records.

It’s actually quite a slick, streamlined service, that could quite easily dramatically increase the number of active .sucks site overnight.

But it’s going to cause no end of headaches for trademark owners.

Earlier this week, you may recall DI reporting that This.sucks seemed to have registered the .sucks names matching the brands of Twitter, Adobe, Goldman Sachs and Justin Timberlake.

It seems that this may have been a test of the This.sucks service, as I was tipped off last night that twitter.sucks was no longer registered.

Here’s how I got control over the twitter.sucks web site in just FIVE clicks.

This.sucks has a domain availability query box, just like a regular registrar. I looked up “twitter”:

This.sucks 1

Seeing that the domain was available, I went through the two-click process of allowing This.sucks to use my Facebook login credentials.

This.sucks 2

Obviously, while I used a genuine Facebook account, I see no reason why I couldn’t have used a fake one.

After connecting, I was bounced back to This.sucks and was given the ability to register twitter.sucks in a single click.

This.sucks 3

I also had to check a box confirming:

I’m a free-thinking individual, not a corporate yes-man. I agree to the terms and conditions and any penalties which may apply.

Clicking either of the T&C links, or hovering over the question mark, will introduce you to the concept of a $10,000 penalty.

This.sucks 4

That’s right — by causing This.sucks to register a .sucks domain, you agree to pay $10,000 if the company decides, in its “sole discretion” that you are affiliated with the matching trademark owner. The terms state:

Site Runners on this.sucks must be individuals who have no affiliation with the subject matter of the Site. You can’t be running the Site on behalf of a company, entity or anyone who is the subject of the Site.

As a Site Runner you agree that if you are found by this.sucks, in our sole discretion, to be in violation of this principal, that a $10,000 USD payment to This.sucks will immediately become due and payable. You will also no longer be a Site Runner with us. Your Site may also be given to a different Site Runner to run.

If you think a Site is being run by someone acting on behalf of the subject of the Site, please email us at whistleblower@this.sucks

Given that Twitter’s lawyers are probably going to hate me for doing this, I felt pretty confident in accepting this risk.

In addition, at this point This.sucks has not asked me for any payment information. If they want $10,000 off of me, they can take a hike, I figure.

So I clicked the “Register Now” button.

Bam! In under 10 seconds the domain name twitter.sucks existed in DNS, in Whois, and there was a simple WordPress web site there that I, to a significant extent, controlled.

The domain is registered to This.sucks, which makes it clear on its web site FAQ that its users — or “Site Runners” — do not actually own the domains they cause to be registered.

This.sucks 6

As administrator of the WordPress site, I am able to create and update blog posts as well as change the appearance by switching between a limited selection of themes. I can also edit and delete comments and manage registered users.

There’s a little bit more to my story — which I cannot get into for now.

For the moment, it must suffice to say that this is a whole new world for famous brand owners.

They can either pay the roughly $2,000 required to defensively register their brand in .sucks, or they can try to sneak through a free (or $0.99 per month) registration at This.sucks at the risk of being billed $10,000 if they get rumbled.

Twitter and Justin Timberlake targeted by This.sucks

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2015, Domain Registries

This.sucks, a company with close ties to .sucks registry Vox Populi, has started registering domain names matching famous brands to itself.

Twitter, along with singer Justin Timberlake, software maker Adobe and investment bank Goldman Sachs all saw their matching .sucks domains registered by This.sucks on Friday, according to the .sucks zone file and Whois queries.

The domains twitter.sucks, goldmansachs.sucks, justintimberlake.sucks and adobe.sucks currently resolve in browsers, but only to a password-protected web site.

New York-based This.sucks says its service is in beta. It plans to give 10,000 .sucks domains away for free, and to sell them for as little as $12 per year. Its business model has not been revealed.

That’s a deep discount from their regular $250 suggested retail price, which rises to $2,500 for domains matching famous brands.

Technically, the company should have just paid around $10,000 for the four brand-matching domains it has just registered.

But it is broadly suspected that This.sucks shares ownership with Vox Populi, the .sucks registry operator, which would make this a case of the right hand paying the left.

As we uncovered in October, Vox Populi originally hosted This.sucks’ web sites and the CEO of Momentous, which founded Vox Pop, paid for its web site to be developed.

The two companies also share a physical address and a Cayman Islands lawyer.

Vox Pop has denied any involvement in This.sucks, saying it’s just another customer.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for one of the four affected brands to file a UDRP or URS complaint on these new domains.

As far as I can tell, the .sucks namespace currently has an unblemished UDRP record.

Unlike rival Top Level Spectrum, which runs .feedback, neither Vox Pop nor This.sucks has revealed any plans to use brands belonging to third parties as part of their services.

TLS has said it plans to sell 5,000 branded .feedback domains to a third party after its sunrise period ends next month.

It has already registered fox.feedback to itself as one of its special 100-domain pre-sunrise registry allowance.

Since we last reported on .feedback a month ago, the registry appears to have also registered the names of all the current US presidential candidates — such as donaldtrump.feedback and hillaryclinton.feedback — to itself.

The sites are all live, as is santaclaus.feedback, which seeks commentary on the “fictional” character.

.feedback regs Fox trademark to itself during sunrise

Kevin Murphy, November 12, 2015, Domain Registries

Top Level Spectrum, the new .feedback registry, has painted a second gigantic target on itself by registering to itself a .feedback domain matching one of the world’s largest media brands.

The company has registered fox.feedback and put up a web site soliciting comment on Fox Broadcasting Company.

This has happened whilst .feedback is still in its sunrise period.

The intellectual property community is, I gather, not particularly happy about the move.

The domain fox.feedback points to a web site that uses TLS’ standard feedback platform, enabling visitors to rate and comment on Fox.

The site has a footnote: “Disclaimer: This site is provided to facilitate free speech regarding fox. No direct endorsement or association should be conferred.”

Fox had no involvement with the registration, which Whois records show is registered to Top Level Spectrum itself.

Registry CEO Jay Westerdal said that the domain is one of the 100 “promotional” domains that new gTLD registries are allowed to set aside for their own use under the terms of their ICANN contracts.

Registries usually register names like “buy.example” or “go.example”, along with the names of early adopter anchor tenant registrants, using this mechanism.

I’m not aware of any case where a registry has consciously registered a famous brand, without permission, as part of its promotional allotment.

“The website is hosted automatically by the Feedback platform,” Westerdal said. “Fox Television Network has raised no concerns and has not applied for the domain during sunrise. We are testing out promotion of the TLD with the domain as per our ICANN contract.”

Fox may still be able to buy the domain during sunrise, he said.

“This is a Registry Operation name. During sunrise, If we receive an application from a sunrise-eligible rights holders during sunrise for a Registry Operations name we may release the name for registration,” he said.

Fox’s usual registrar is MarkMonitor. Matt Serlin, VP there, said in an email that the TLS move could be raised with ICANN Compliance:

I find it curious that this branded domain name would have been registered to the registry prior to the sunrise period which is restricted to the 100 registry promotional names. The fact that the domain is actually resolving to a live site soliciting feedback for The Fox Broadcasting Company is even more troubling. MarkMonitor may look to raise this to ICANN Compliance once the registry is able to confirm how this domain was registered seemingly outside of the required process.

The IP community originally fought the introduction of the 100-domain pre-sunrise exception, saying unscrupulous registries would use it to stop trademark owners registering their brands.

While there have been some grumblings about registries reserving dictionary terms that match trademarks, this may be the first case of a registry unambiguously targeting a brand.

Top Level Spectrum courted controversy with the trademark community last week when it told DI that it plans to sell 5,000-brand match domains to a third party company after .feedback goes into general availability in January.

Westerdal told us this is not “cybersquatting”, as the sites contain disclaimers and are there to facilitate free speech.

What do you think about this use of brands as “promotional” domains?

It’s indisputably pushing the envelope of what is acceptable, but is it fair? Should registries be allowed to do this?

Forget .sucks, .feedback will drive trademark owners nuts all over again

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2015, Domain Registries

Top Level Spectrum, the new gTLD registry behind .feedback, plans to give sell domains matching 5,000 of the world’s top brands to a third party that does not own the trademarks.

That’s one novel element of a .feedback business model that is guaranteed to drive the intellectual property community crazy in much the same way as .sucks did earlier this year.

The other piece of ‘innovation’ will see all .feedback domains — including the 5,000 brands — point by default to a hosted service that facilitates comment and criticism.

An example of such a site can be seen at www.eggsample.feedback. The registry’s CEO, Jay Westerdal, has a .feedback site at www.jay.feedback

If you agree to use the hosted service with your domain, the domain and service combined will cost a minimum of just $20 per year.

However, if you want to turn off the hosted service and use your .feedback like a regular domain, pointing to the web site of your choice, the price will ratchet up to $50 a month, or $620 a year.

Those are the wholesale prices. Both services will be offered through registrars, where some markup is to be expected.

The hosted service is being offered by Feedback SAAS LLC, a company that, judging by its web site, appears to share ownership with Top Level Spectrum, though Westerdal says the two firms have different employees.

It’s not dissimilar to the model employed by .tel, where name servers by default point to a registry-hosted service.

Unlike .tel, .feedback registrants will be able to opt out of using the SAAS service and point their domains to whatever name servers they want.

Westerdal told DI that .feedback is in the process of making a deal with a “third party” he could not yet name to have 5,000 branded .feedback domains deployed during the Early Access Period of the .feedback launch. That’s scheduled to start January 6.

“We are striking a deal to get feedback sites out there. We want everything to have feedback,” he said. “We are signing an agreement to get the ball rolling by doing a founders program to get names out there. Your favorite shoe, your pizza place, your everything.”

“The sites are all geared towards free speech and giving reviews,” he said. He said:

No trademark infringement will occur though, the sites are all geared towards free speech and giving reviews. Confusing the public that the brand is running the site will not happen, each site has a disclaimer and makes it clear the brand is not running the site.

Asked whether we were talking about a genuine third party or a shell set up by the registry, he said: “A real third party. I am not playing games.”

He said the higher pricing for the naked domain registration is intended to discourage companies from turning off the domains matching their brands.

The whole point of .feedback is to solicit feedback.

The as-yet unspecified third-party taking possession of the 5,000 brand names would not be prevented from selling the domains to the matching brand owner, or to any third parties, he said, though he would not be in favor of such a move.

He said that $20 a year to run a configurable .feedback site, with moderator privileges, is a “great deal” compared to the $300-a-month service he said consumer review site Yelp offers.

The SAAS service will make additional revenue by selling added features, suitable for enterprises, he said.

.feedback went into its sunrise period last week with a $2,000 wholesale fee — the same high price that attracted criticism for .sucks.

The original Registry Service Evaluation Process for the .feedback service hit ICANN over a year ago (pdf).

I missed it then. Sorry.

I noticed it today after corporate registrar MarkMonitor blogged about it.

Matt Serlin, VP of MarkMonitor, who blogged his opinion on .feedback’s strategy earlier today, said in an email that the .feedback strategy was “more objectionable” than he had thought, and that “[W]e would most likely look to raise to ICANN if that is his stated intent.”