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IDN .com hits the root

Eleven variants of .com and .net in non-Latin scripts joined the internet today.

Verisign’s whole portfolio of internationalized domain name new gTLDs were added to the DNS root at some point in the last 24 hours, and the company is planning to start launching them before the end of the year.

But the company has been forced to backtrack on its plans to guarantee grandfathering to thousands of existing [idn].com domains in the new domains, thereby guaranteeing a backlash from IDN domainers.

The eleven gTLDs are: .कॉम, .ком, .点看, .คอม, .नेट, .닷컴, .大拿, .닷넷, .コム, .كوم and .קוֹם. Scripts include Arabic, Cyrillic and Hebrew.

Verisign signed registry agreements with ICANN back in January, but has been trying to negotiate a way to allow it to give the owners of [idn].com domains first rights to the matching domain in the “.com” in the appropriate script.

The company laid out its plans in 2013. The idea was to reduce the risk of confusion and minimize the need for defensive registrations.

So what happened? Trademark lawyers.

Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos told financial analysts last week that due to conversations with the “community” (read: the intellectual property lobby) and ICANN, it won’t be able grandfather all existing [idn].com registrants.

All of the new IDN gTLDs will be subject to a standard ICANN Sunrise period, which means trademarks owners will have first dibs on every string.

If you own водка.com, and somebody else owns a trademark on “водка”, the trademark owner will get the first chance to buy водка.ком.

According to SeekingAlpha’s transcript, Bidzos said:

Based primarily on feedback from domain name community stakeholders, we have revised our IDN launch strategy. We will offer these new IDN top-level domains as standalone domain names, subject to normal introductory availability and rights protection mechanisms, available to all new gTLDs. This revised approach will not require ICANN approval and is designed to provide end users and businesses with the greatest flexibility and, for registrars, a simple and straightforward framework to serve the market.

Finally, we believe this approach should provide the best opportunity for increased universal acceptance of IDNs. We expect to begin a phased rollout of the IDNs towards the end of this year, and we’ll provide more information on our launch plans when appropriate.

Senior VP Pat Kane added on the call that the grandfathering provisions, which would have required ICANN approval, have been “taken out”.

The question now is whether Verisign will introduce a post-sunrise mechanism to give rights to [idn].com.

That would not be unprecedented. ICM Registry ran into similar problems getting its grandfathering program for .porn approved by ICANN. It wound up offering a limited, secondary sunrise period for existing .xxx registrants instead.

Two more legacy gTLDs agree to use URS

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.

.xyz dismisses own ads as “puffery”

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2015, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has dismissed its own claim that .xyz is the “next .com” as “mere opinion or puffery”, in an attempt to resolve a false advertising lawsuit filed by Verisign.

Attempting to get the lawsuit resolved without going to the expense of a full trial, the registry has filed with the court a lengthy, rather self-deprecating deconstruction of its own marketing.

It says among other things that the blog posts and videos at issue are “not statements of fact but rather mere puffery, hyperbole, predictive, or assertions of opinion”.

Verisign sued XYZ and its CEO, Daniel Negari, in December, claiming that the video embedded below reflects “a strategy to create a deceptive message to the public that companies and individuals cannot get the .COM domain names they want from Verisign, and that XYZ is quickly becoming the preferred alternative.”

Last week XYZ filed a motion asking the court to rule on the pleadings only, meaning it would not go to trial. It appears to be an effort by the smaller company to avoid any more unnecessary legal fees.

“Verisign is attempting to litigate XYZ out of business complaining about a vanity video, website blog posts, and opinions stated to a reporter,” the motion says.

The document goes to great lengths to argue that the video, blog posts and interviews given by Negari are not “statements of fact”, but rather mere “hyperbole”.

It even goes to the extent of arguing that its ads make Verisign look good:

XYZ’s claim to be “the next .com” could not plausibly harm Verisign’s commercial interest because the claim reinforces that Verisign’s .COM is the most-popular, most-successful domain. Perhaps consumers think that since .XYZ is the next .COM, they should not buy other new domains. Perhaps consumers buy more .COM domains because XYZ has promoted Verisign as the market leader. But Verisign suffering any injury as a result of XYZ’s statements is implausible.

Some might view the old Honda in the video with the “COM” license plate as trusty and reliable, and the Audi sports car with “XYZ” as high maintenance, impracticable, and too trendy.

Verisign may or may not win the lawsuit, but it does seem to have succeeded in getting XYZ to cut the balls off of its own marketing.

Verisign has not yet filed a response to XYZ’s motion, which will be heard in court May 8.

You can download the PDF of the motion here.

Verisign adds 750,000 .com names instantly with reporting change

Kevin Murphy, March 23, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has boosted its reportable .com domain count by almost 750,000 by starting to count expired and suspended names.

The change in methodology, which is a by-product of ICANN’s much more stringent Whois accuracy regime, happened on Friday afternoon.

Before the change, the company reported on its web site that there were 116,788,107 domains in the .com zone file, with another 167,788 names that were registered but not configured.

That’s a total of 116,955,895 domains.

But just a few hours later, the same web page said .com had a total of 117,704,800 names in its “Domain Name Base”.

That’s a leap of 748,905 pretty much instantly; the number of names in the zone file did not move.

.net jumped 111,110 names to 15,143,356.

The reason for the sudden spikes is that Verisign is now including two types of domain in its count that it did not previously. The web page states:

Beginning with the first quarter, 2015, the domain name base on this website and in subsequent filings found in the Investor Relations site includes domains that are in a client or server hold status.

I suspect that the bulk of the 750,000 newly reported names are on clientHold status, which I believe is used much more often than serverHold.

The clientHold EPP code is often applied by registrars to domains that have expired.

However, registrars signed up to the year-old 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement are obliged by ICANN to place domains on clientHold status if registrants fail to respond within 15 days to a Whois verification email.

The 2013 RAA reads (my emphasis):

Upon the occurrence of a Registered Name Holder’s willful provision of inaccurate or unreliable WHOIS information, its willful failure promptly to update information provided to Registrar, or its failure to respond for over fifteen (15) calendar days to inquiries by Registrar concerning the accuracy of contact details associated with the Registered Name Holder’s registration, Registrar shall either terminate or suspend the Registered Name Holder’s Registered Name or place such registration on clientHold and clientTransferProhibited, until such time as Registrar has validated the information provided by the Registered Name Holder.

Last June, registrars claimed that the new policy — which came after pressure from law enforcement — had resulted in over 800,000 domains being suspended.

It’s an ongoing point of contention between ICANN, its registrars, and cops.

Verisign changing its reporting methodology may well be a reaction to this increase in the number of clientHold domains.

While its top-line figure has taken a sharp one-off boost, it will still permit daily apples-to-apples comparisons on an ongoing basis.

UPDATE:

My assumption about the link to the 2013 RAA was correct.

Verisign CFO George Kilguss told analysts on February 5.

Over the last several years, the average amount of names in the on-hold status category has been approximately 400,000 names and the net change year-over-year has been very small.

While still immaterial, during 2014, we saw an increase in the amount of names registrars have placed on hold status, which appears to be a result of these registrars complying with the new mandated compliance mechanisms in ICANN’s 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement or RAA.

In 2014, we saw an increase in domain names placed on hold status from roughly 394,000 names at the end of 2013 to about 870,000 at the end of 2014.

Could Verisign lose $3.3m .gov deal?

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2015, Domain Registries

The US government has put its feelers out for information about a possible successor to Verisign as manager of the .gov TLD.

A formal Request For Information — potentially a precursor to a Request For Proposals — was was issued by the General Services Administration on March 9.

The GSA, which is the sponsor of the .gov gTLD, seems to be looking for information about all aspects of running a registry back-end and the secure dotgov.gov registrar front-end.

Those functions have been carried out by Verisign since it took them over from the GSA itself in December 2010.

Its five-year contract expires in September this year.

Because it’s restricted to US government entities, .gov is not a large gTLD — the RFI says it has about 5,000 domains and grows at about 5% a year — but it does carry a certain prestige.

It also carries a not inconsiderable fee. According to the September 2010 award page, the deal is worth $3,325,000 to Verisign.

It’s quite possible that the RFI is just a case of the US government going through the necessary motions prescribed by its procurement policies; Verisign may well be a shoo-in.

But the company’s record with .gov isn’t as great as its record with .com and .net.

In August 2013, Verisign screwed up a DNSSEC key rollover in the .gov zone, causing resolution failures on the small number of networks that rigorously enforce DNSSEC.

The deadline for RFI responses is March 23.