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Celebrity cybersquatting to feature in Super Bowl commercial [video]

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2017, Domain Registrars

Actor turned fashion designer John Malkovich is to feature in a Super Bowl commercial themed on cybersquatting.

The ad, for web host Squarespace, sees Malkovich complaining about the domain johnmalkovich.com belonging to some other guy by the same name.

In a roundabout way, this is also a commercial for Tucows, the newly-crowned second-largest domain registrar, which Squarespace acts as a reseller for.

Here’s the ad:

In reality, Malkovich owns the the .com of his full name. He sells clothes there.

However, he’s reportedly currently suing the owner of malkovich.com in France.

Clarification: a reader has asked me to clarify that using a domain in good faith isn’t strictly “cybersquatting”. Every DI reader already knows this, but apparently unless you spell it out every single time you risk incurring the anger of cretins.

Rightside sells eNom to Tucows for $83.5m

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2017, Domain Registrars

Tucows is to become “the second largest registrar in the world” by acquiring eNom from Rightside, paying $83.5 million.

The deal will give Tucows another 14.5 million domains under management and 28,000 resellers, giving it a total of 29 million DUM and 40,000 resellers.

That DUM number, which appears to include ccTLDs, makes Tucows the undisputed volume leader in the reseller world and the second-largest registrar overall.

GoDaddy, the DUM leader, had about 55 million domains just in gTLDs at the last count.

Tucows CEO Elliot Noss told analysts that the deal, along with the April 2016 acquisition of Melbourne IT’s reseller business, were “individual opportunistic transactions”.

He said that Tucows will take its time integrating the two companies, but expects to realize cost savings (presumably read: job losses as duplicate administrative positions are eliminated) over 24 months.

The reseller APIs will not change, and Tucows will not migrate names over to its own existing ICANN accreditations. This could help with reseller retention.

For Rightside, the company said the spin-off will allow it to focus on vertical integration between its gTLD registry business and its consumer-facing registrar, Name.com.

Rightside had come in for a certain amount of high-profile investor criticism for its dogged focus on new gTLDs at the expense of its eNom and Name.com businesses.

Activist investor J Carlo Cannell, supported by fellow investor and Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling, a year ago accused Rightside of putting too much emphasis on “garbage” new gTLDs instead of its more profitable registrar businesses.

Since then, Rightside has rebuffed separate offers for some or all of its gTLDs by rivals Donuts and XYZ.com.

Last June, it also announced plans to modernize eNom, which Cannell and others had accused of looking stale compared to its competitors.

Tucows pays $6.5 million for Melbourne IT’s channel

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2016, Domain Registrars

Canadian registrar Tucows has acquired the reseller network of Australian rival Melbourne IT for up to $6.5 million.

The company said the deal will “add hundreds of resellers and approximately 1.6 million domains under management to Tucows’ OpenSRS wholesale domain business.”

Melbourne IT said that the low-margin business was a “drag” on the performance of its core business as a retail registrar focused on small and medium sized businesses.

The price, the Aussie company said, will be between AUD 8.1 million and AUD 8.5 million, depending on exchange rates. That’s as much as $6.5 million.

Tucows did not disclose the price, saying it was “immaterial”.

Registrars open floodgate of Whois privacy outrage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2015, Domain Policy

A letter-writing campaign orchestrated by the leading domain registrars has resulted in ICANN getting hit with over 8,000 pro-privacy comments in less than a week.

It’s the largest volume of comments received by ICANN on an issue since right-wing Christian activists deluged ICANN with protests about .xxx, back in 2010.

The comments — the vast majority of them unedited template letters — were filed in response to the GNSO Privacy & Proxy Services Accreditation Issues (PPSAI) Working Group Initial Report.

That report attempts to bring privacy and proxy services, currently unregulated by ICANN, under ICANN’s contractual wing.

There are two problematic areas, as far as the registrars are concerned.

The first is the ability of trademark and copyright owners to, under certain circumstances, have the registrant of a privately registered name unmasked.

Upon receiving such a request, privacy services would have 15 days to obtain a response from their customer. They’d then have to make a call as to whether to reveal their contact information to the IP owner or not.

Possibly the most controversial aspect of this is described here:

Disclosure cannot be refused solely for lack of any of the following: (i) a court order; (ii) a subpoena; (iii) a pending civil action; or (iv) a UDRP or URS proceeding; nor can refusal to disclose be solely based on the fact that the request is founded on alleged intellectual property infringement in content on a website associated with the domain name.

In other words, the privacy services (in most cases, also the registrar) would be forced make a judgement on whether web site content is illegal, in the absence of a court order, before removing Whois privacy on a domain.

The second problematic area is an “additional statement” on domains used for commercial activity, appended to the PPSAI report, penned by MarkMonitor on behalf of Facebook, LegitScript, DomainTools, IP attorneys Smith, Gambreall & Russell, and itself.

Those companies believe it should be against the rules for anyone who commercially transacts via their web site to use Whois privacy.

Running ads on a blog, say, would be fine. But asking for, for example, credit card details in order to transact would preclude you from using privacy services.

The PPSAI working group didn’t even approach consensus on this topic, and it’s not a formal recommendation in its report.

Regardless, it’s one of the lynchpins of the current registrar letter-writing campaigns.

A page at SaveDomainPrivacy.org — the site backed by dozens of registrars big and small — describes circumstances under which somebody would need privacy even though they engage in e-commerce.

Home-based businesses, shelters for domestic abuse victims that accept donations, and political activists are all offered up as examples.

Visitors to the site are (or were — the site appears to be down right now (UPDATE: it’s back up)) invited to send a comment to ICANN supporting:

The legitimate use of privacy or proxy services to keep personal information private, protect physical safety, and prevent identity theft

The use of privacy services by all, for all legal purposes, regardless of whether the website is “commercial”

That privacy providers should not be forced to reveal my private information without verifiable evidence of wrongdoing

The content of the site was the subject of a sharp disagreement between MarkMonitor and Tucows executives last Saturday during ICANN 53. I’d tell you exactly what was said, but the recording of the relevant part of the GNSO Saturday session has not yet been published by ICANN.

Another site, which seems to be responsible for the majority of the 8,000+ comments received this week, is backed by the registrar NameCheap and the digital civil rights groups the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight For The Future.

NameCheap appears to be trying to build on the reputation it started to create for itself when it opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act a few years ago, going to so far as to link the Whois privacy reforms to SOPA on the campaign web site, which says:

Your privacy provider could be forced to publish your contact data in WHOIS or even give it out to anyone who complains about your website, without due process. Why should a small business owner have to publicize her home address just to have a website?

We think your privacy should be protected, regardless of whether your website is personal or commercial, and your confidential info should not be revealed without due process. If you agree, it’s time to tell ICANN.

The EFF’s involvement seems to have grabbed the attention of many reporters in the general tech press, generating dozens of headlines this week.

The public comment period on the PPSAI initial report ends July 7.

If it continues to attract attention, it could wind up being ICANN’s most-subscribed comment period ever.

Do geeks care about privacy more than Christians care about porn? We’ll find out in a week and a half.

Europeans digging new gTLD more than Americans?

Are European registrants more likely to register new gTLD domain names than those in the US and elsewhere?

That’s the view of Tucows, which sees more new gTLD action from its European OpenSRS resellers than it does from others.

In a blog post last week, OpenSRS blogger Gustavo Arruda noted that Americans are still stuck in a .com mindset:

Our European resellers are leading the charge. We expected the European market to be more open to new gTLDs and that prediction proved correct. It’s a market used to ccTLDs so having a couple hundred more new gTLDs was not a big deal.

North American resellers are lagging behind. It continues to be a very .COM-centric market that is still skeptical about too much choice.

South American and Asian resellers complain about the English-centric nature of new gTLDs. A lot of the new gTLDs we have launched do not make sense in these markets so adoption has been slow.

The post came as OpenSRS recorded its 100,000th new gTLD domain sale.

One reason for the Euro-slant in the market could be the relatively good performance of city gTLDs, most of which are European, and which are easily grasped concepts for buyers familiar with ccTLDs.

Hover, Tucows’ retail registrar, is geo-targeting which TLDs it offers visitors. As DI is based in London, I get offered .london domains prominently when searching for domains there.

The only US geo-gTLDs available to date are .vegas and .nyc.