The Internet Commerce Association has called for a “moratorium” on the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy being added to legacy gTLD contracts, months before Verisign’s .net contract is up for renewal.
In a blog post, ICA counsel Phil Corwin accused ICANN staff of making policy by the back door by compelling pre-2012 registries to adopt URS, despite a lack of ICANN community consensus policy.
In the last few years the registries for .jobs, .travel, .cat, .pro, .xxx and most recently .mobi have agreed to adopt many aspects of the 2012 Registry Agreement, which includes the URS, often in exchange for lower ICANN fees.
the real test of [ICANN’s Global Domains Division’s] illicit strategy of incremental de facto policymaking will come later this year, when the .Net RA comes up for renewal. We have no idea whether Verisign will be seeking any substantial revisions to that RA that would provide GDD staff with substantial leverage to impose URS, nor do we know whether Verisign would be amenable to that tradeoff.
The .net RA is due to expire July 1 this year.
Verisign pays ICANN $0.75 for each .net domain registration, renewal and transfer. If that were to be reduced to the 2012 standard of $0.25, it would save Verisign at least $7.5 million a year.
The URS provides brand owners with a way to suspend trademark-infringing domains in clear-cut cases. It’s based on UDRP but is faster and cheaper and does not allow the brand owner to seize ownership of the domains.
ICA represents large domain speculators, most of which have their investments tied up in .com and .net domains. It’s complained about the addition of URS to other gTLDs but the complaints have largely fallen on deaf ears.
ICANN has said that it does not force URS on anyone, but that it takes the base new gTLD program RA as its starting point for bilateral negotiations with registries whose contracts are up for renewal.
Afilias’ .mobi is to become the latest of the pre-2012 gTLDs to agree to adopt the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy in exchange for lower ICANN fees.
Its Registry Agreement is up for renewal, and Afilias and ICANN have come to similar terms to .jobs, .travel, .cat, .pro and .xxx.
Afilias has agreed to take on many of the provisions of the standard new gTLD RA that originally did not apply to gTLDs approved in the 2000 and 2003 rounds, including the URS.
In exchange, its fixed registry fees will go down from $50,000 a year to $25,000 a year and the original price-linked variable fee of $0.15 to $0.75 per transaction will be replaced with the industry standard $0.25.
It’s peanuts really, given that .mobi still has about 690,000 domains, but Afilias is getting other concessions too.
Notably, the ludicrous mirage that .mobi was a “Sponsored” gTLD serving a specific restricted community (users of mobile telephones, really) rather than an obvious gaming of the 2003-round application rules, looks like it’s set to evaporate.
Appendix S to the current RA is not being carried over, ICANN said, so .mobi will not become a “Community” gTLD, with all the attendant restrictions that would have entailed.
Instead, Afilias has simply agreed to the absolute basic set of Public Interest Commitments that apply to all 2012 new gTLDs. Text that would have committed the registry to abide by the promises made in its gTLD application have been removed.
But the change likely to get the most hackles up is the inclusion of URS in the proposed new contract.
URS is an anti-cybserquatting measure that enables trademark owners to shut down infringing domains, without taking ownership, more quickly and cheaply than the UDRP.
It’s obligatory for all 2012-round gTLDs, and five of the pre-2012 registries have also agreed to adopt it during their contract renewal talks with ICANN.
Most recently, ICM Registry agreed to URS in exchange for much deeper cuts in its ICANN fees in .xxx.
In recent days, ICANN published its report into the public comments on the .xxx renewal, summarizing some predictably irate feedback.
Domainer group the Internet Commerce Association, which is concerned that URS will one day be forced upon .com and .net, had a .xxx comment that seems particularly pertinent to the .mobi news:
Given the history of flimsy and self-serving justifications by [Global Domains Division] staff and the ICANN Board for similar actions taken in 2015, we are under no illusion that this comment letter will likely be successful in effecting removal of the URS and other new gTLD RA provisions from the revised .XXX RA. Nonetheless, we strenuously object to this GDD action that intrudes upon and debases ICANN’s legitimate policymaking process, and urge the GDD and Board to reconsider their positions, and to ensure that GDD staff ceases and desists from taking similar action in the context of future RA renewals and revisions until the RPM Review WG renders the community’s judgment as to whether the URS and other new gTLD RPMs should become Consensus Policy and such recommendation is reviewed by GNSO Council and the ICANN Board.
The Intellectual Property Constituency of the GNSO, conversely, broadly welcomed the addition of more rights protection mechanisms to .xxx.
The Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group, meanwhile, expressed concern that whenever ICANN negotiates a non-consensus policy into a contract it negates and discourages all the work done by the volunteer community.
You can read the summary of the .xxx comments, along with ICANN staff’s reasons for ignoring them, here (pdf).
The .mobi proposed amendments are also now open for public comment.
Any lawyers wishing to rack up a few billable hours railing against a fait accompli can do so here.
ICM Registry has negotiated lower ICANN transaction fees as part of a broad amendment to its Registry Agreement that also includes new trademark protection measures.
The company’s uniquely high $2 per-transaction fee could be reduced to the industry standard $0.25 by mid-2018.
As part of the renegotiated contract, ICM has also agreed to impose the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy on its registrants.
URS is the faster, cheaper version of UDRP that allows trademark owners to have domain names suspended in more clear-cut cases of cybersquatting.
The $2 fee was demanded by ICANN when ICM first signed its RA in 2011.
At the time, ICANN said the higher fee, which had doubled from a 2010 draft of the contract, was to “account for anticipated risks and compliance activities”.
The organization seemed to have bought into the fears that .xxx would lead to widespread misuse — something that has noticeably failed to materialize — and was expecting higher legal costs as a result.
The companion TLDs .adult, .porn and .sex, all also managed by ICM, only pay $0.25 per transaction.
The overall effects on registrants, ICANN and ICM will likely be relatively trivial.
With .xxx holding at roughly 170,000 domains and a minimal amount of inter-registrar transfer activity, ICM seems to be paying ICANN under $400,000 a year in transaction fees at the moment.
Its registry fee is usually $62, though a substantial number of domains have been sold at lower promotional pricing, so the cost to registrants is not likely to change a great deal.
The reduction to $0.25 would have to be carried out in stages, with the earliest coming this quarter, and be reliant on ICM keeping a clean sheet with regards contract compliance.
Under the deal, ICM has agreed to adopt many of the provisions of the standard Registry Agreement for 2012-round gTLDs.
One of those is the URS, which may cause consternation among domainers fearful that the rights protection mechanism may one day also find its way into the .com registry contract.
ICM has also agreed to implement its existing policies on, for example, child abuse material prevention, into the contract as Public Interest Commitments.
The RA amendment is currently open for public comment at ICANN.
Should the Uniform Rapid Suspension process spread from new gTLDs to incumbent gTLDs, possibly including .com?
That’s been the subject of some strong disagreements during the opening weekend of ICANN 53, which formally kicks off in Buenos Aires today.
During sessions of the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the ICANN board and staff, ICANN was accused of trying to circumvent policy-making processes by forcing URS into the .travel, .pro and .cat registry agreements, which are up for renewal.
ICANN executives denied doing any such thing, saying the three registries volunteered to have URS included in their new contracts, which are modeled on the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement.
“It’s just something we’ve suggested and they’ve taken up,” said Cyrus Namazi, ICANN’s vice president of domain name services.
If a registry wants to increase the number of rights protection mechanisms in its gTLD, why not let them, ICANN execs asked, pointing out that loads of new gTLDs have implemented extra RPMs voluntarily.
ICANN admits that it stands to benefit from operational efficiencies when its registry agreements are more uniform.
Opponents pointed out that there’s a difference between Donuts, say, having its bespoke, voluntary Domain Protected Marks List, and bilaterally putting the URS into an enforceable ICANN contract.
URS is not a formal Consensus Policy, they say, unlike UDRP. Consensus Policies apply to all gTLDs, whereas URS was created by ICANN for new gTLDs alone.
Arguably leading the fight against URS osmosis is Phil Corwin, counsel for Internet Commerce Association, which doesn’t want its clients’ vast portfolios of .com domains subject to URS.
He maintained over the weekend that his beef was with the process through which URS was making its way into proposed legacy gTLD contracts.
It shouldn’t be forced upon legacy gTLDs without a Consensus Policy, he said.
While the GNSO, ICANN staff and board spent about an hour talking about “process” over the weekend, it was left to director Chris Disspain to point out that that was basically a smokescreen for an argument about whether the URS should be used in other gTLDs.
He’s right, but the GNSO is split on this issue in unusual ways.
Corwin enjoys the support of the Business Constituency, of which he is a member, in terms of his process criticisms if not his criticisms of RPMs more generally.
ICA does also have backing from some registrars (which bear the support costs of dealing with customers affected by URS), from the pro-registrant Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, and from groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The Intellectual Property Constituency thinks that the process is just fine — .travel et al can sign up to URS if they want to.
While the registries have not yet put forward a joint position, the IPC’s view has been more or less echoed by Donuts, which owns the largest portfolio of new gTLDs.
The registries behind .pro and .cat have agreed to new ICANN contracts with changes that, among other things, would bring the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy to the two gTLDs.
Both gTLD Registry Agreements expire this year. Proposed replacement contracts, based heavily on the base New gTLD Registry Agreement, have been published by ICANN for public comment.
They’re the second and third pre-2012 gTLDs to agree to use URS, which gives trademark owners a simpler, cheaper way to have infringing domains yanked.
Two weeks ago, .travel agreed to the same changes, which drew criticisms from the organization that represents big domain investors.
Phil Corwin of the Internet Commerce Association is worried that ICANN is trying to make URS a de facto consensus policy and thereby bring it to .com, which is still where most domainers have most of their assets.
Following DI’s report about .travel, Corwin wrote last week:
this proposed Registry Agreement (RA) contains a provision through which staff is trying to preempt community discussion and decide a major policy issue through a contract with a private party. And that very big issue is whether Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) should be a consensus policy applicable to all gTLDs, including incumbents like .Com and .Net.
ICANN needs to hear from the global Internet community, in significant volume, that imposing the URS on an incumbent gTLD is unacceptable because it would mean that ICANN staff, not the community, is determining that URS should be a consensus policy and thereby undermining the entire bottom-up policy process. Domain suspensions are serious business – in fact they were at the heart of the SOPA proposal that inspired millions of emails to the US Congress in opposition.
The concern about .com may be a bit over-stated.
Verisign’s current .com contract is presumptively renewed November 2018 provided that it adopts terms similar to those in place at the five next-largest gTLDs.
Given that .net is the second-largest gTLD, and that .net does not have URS, we’d have to either see .net’s volume plummet or at least five new gTLDs break through the 15 million domains mark in the next three years, both of which seem extraordinarily unlikely, for .com to be forced to adopt URS.
However, if URS has become an industry standard by then, political pressure could be brought to bear regardless.
Other changes to .pro and .cat contracts include a change in ICANN fees.
While .pro appears to have been on the standard new gTLD fee scheme since 2012, .cat is currently paying ICANN $1 per transaction.
Under the new contract, .cat would pay $0.25 per transaction instead, but its annual fixed fee would increase from $10,000 to $25,000.