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Verisign sues .xyz and Negari for “false advertising”

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2015, Domain Registries

Handbags at dawn!

Verisign, the $7.5 billion .com domain gorilla, has sued upstart XYZ.com and CEO Daniel Negari for disparaging .com and allegedly misrepresenting how well .xyz is doing.

It’s the biggest legacy gTLD versus the biggest (allegedly) new gTLD.

The lawsuit focuses on some registrars’ habit of giving .xyz names to registrants of .com and other domains without their consent, enabling XYZ.com and Negari to use inflated numbers as a marketing tool.

The Lanham Act false advertising lawsuit was filed in Virginia last December, but I don’t believe it’s been reported before now.

Verisign’s beef is first with this video, which is published on the front page of xyz.com:

Verisign said that the claim that it’s “impossible” to find a .com domain (which isn’t quite what the ad says) is false.

The complaint goes on to say that interviews Negari did with NPR and VentureBeat last year have been twisted to characterize .xyz as “the next .com”, whereas neither outlet made such an endorsement. It states:

XYZ’s promotional statements, when viewed together and in context, reflect 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.

As regular readers will be aware, .xyz’s zone file, which had almost 785,000 names in it yesterday, has been massively inflated by a campaign last year by Network Solutions to push free .xyz domains into customers’ accounts without their consent.

It turns out Verisign became the unwilling recipient of gtld-servers.xyz, due to it owning the equivalent .com.

According to Verisign, Negari has used these inflated numbers to falsely make it look like .xyz is a viable and thriving alternative to .com. The company claims:

Verisign is being injured as a result of XYZ and Negari’s false and/or misleading statements of fact including because XYZ and Negari’s statements undermine the equity and good will Verisign has developed in the .COM registry.

XYZ and Negari should be ordered to disgorge their profits and other ill-gotten gains received as a result of this deception on the consuming public.

The complaint makes reference to typosquatting lawsuits Negari’s old company, Cyber2Media, settled with Facebook and Goodwill Industries a few years ago, presumably just in order to frame Negari as a bad guy.

Verisign wants not only for XYZ to pay up, but also for the court to force the company to disclose its robo-registration numbers whenever it makes a claim about how successful .xyz is.

XYZ denies everything. Answering Verisign’s complaint in January, it also makes nine affirmative defenses citing among other things its first amendment rights and Verisign’s “unclean hands”.

While many of Verisign’s allegations appear to be factually true, I of course cannot comment on whether its legal case holds water.

But I do think the lawsuit makes the company looks rather petty — a former monopolist running to the courts on trivial grounds as soon as it sees a little competition.

I also wonder how the company is going to demonstrate harm, given that by its own admission .com continues to sell millions of new domains every quarter.

But the lesson here is for all new gTLD registries — if you’re going to compare yourselves to .com, you might want to get your facts straight first if you want to keep your legal fees down.

And perhaps that’s the point.

Read the complaint here and the answer here, both in PDF format.

New gTLDs pummel .net below 15 million domains

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign’s .net gTLD has had a disappointing start to 2015, as its zone file dipped below 15 million domains for the first time since achieving the milestone.

As of last night, .net had 14,998,404 names in its zone, a daily dip of over 10,000 domains.

That’s down by about 200,000 names from the roughly 15.2 million it had in March 2014, the earliest count for which I have records.

The gTLD first passed 15 million in August 2013, according to a celebratory blog post at the time.

Verisign has previously blamed the “confusion” created by the launch of new gTLDs for the decline, which was inexorable in 2014.

In October, CEO James Bidzos told financial analysts that “.net may be more susceptible to that confusion that swirls around new gTLDs.”

My similar view is that the existence of new gTLDs is causing people to wake up to the fact that defensive or shopping cart up-sell .net registrations are now superfluous, and that the days of .net riding on big brother .com’s coat-tails may be numbered.

There are still about 31,000 dark .net domains — registered names not present in its zone file — according to Verisign.

At the end of August 2014, .net had 15,569,398 registered names, according to the most recent available ICANN registry report.

Is the free ride over for Verisign’s .net?

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2014, Domain Services

Verisign’s .net is on the rocks due to new gTLDs, executives have confirmed.

Speaking to investors and analysts on the company’s third-quarter earnings call last week, CFO George Kilguss said that .net “is experiencing some headwinds from the launch of the new gTLD program”.

Further comments from Kilguss and CEO Jim Bidzos seem to confirm what DI reported a month ago: .net is in trouble.

Latest stats collated by DI show that the .net zone file shrunk by over 121,000 domains in the seven months between March 26 and October 26 this year.

Executives said on the call that .net stood at 15.1 million names at the end of September. That compares to 15.2 million at the end of the previous quarter.

“It’s been relatively flat,” Kilguss said. “I actually think .net has held up pretty well over the year with all these new names coming on… So I don’t view .net’s performance as anything negative.”

Bidzos told analysts that “confusion” around the new gTLDs was to blame.

“I think generally, .net may be more susceptible to that confusion that swirls around new gTLDs,” he said.

He characterized .net as being like new gTLDs, falling into “that category of ‘different'”.

In my view, this is an implicit acknowledgement that .net has been getting a free ride for the last 20 years.

Asked whether the .net weakness could spill over to .com, Bidzos said that .com is a “trusted brand” because it’s almost 30 years old and has a 17-year record of uninterrupted up-time.

While there’s no doubt that .com is a trusted brand, it’s not because of its up-time or longevity, in my view — .net has the same stability record and is actually fractionally older than .com.

The reason .net is suffering now is that that for the last two decades it’s been essentially a defensive play.

People buy the .net when they buy the .com because they’ve been marketed as a bundle — the only two truly generic TLDs out there. Unlike .org, .net lost its semantic differentiation a long time ago.

As .com buyers start to see more and more options for duplicative or defensive registrations in their shopping carts, they’re going to be less likely to grab the .net to match their .com, in my opinion.

And it’s likely to get worse.

“It’s going to continue,” Bidzos said. “We’re seeing hundreds of more new gTLDs coming, and they’re coming at the rate of many every single week. So that confusion is likely to get worse.”

Two new gTLD confusion decisions thrown out

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has reopened the contention sets for .cam and .通販 after deciding that two String Confusion Objection panels may have been wrong to reject certain applications.

Two rulings — that .cam is confusingly similar to .com and that .通販 is confusingly similar to .shop (really) — will now head to an appeals panel for a “final” determination.

The decision was made by the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee this week at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles.

The first case being reopened for scrutiny is Verisign versus Rightside, where the original SCO panel found that .cam and .com were too similar to coexist on the internet.

But a different panelist found that the two strings were not confusingly similar in objections filed by Verisign against two other applicants — Dot Agency and AC Webconnecting.

The opposing rulings meant that Rightside’s application would have been kicked out of the .cam contention set, which hardly seems fair.

This and many other “perceived inconsistencies” led to the ICANN board being pressured to come up with some kind of appeals process, which it agreed to do in February.

Verisign, unfairly in my view, was not given the opportunity to appeal the two .cam decisions that went against it, even though they were made by the same panelist for the same reasons.

The second, altogether more peculiar, case was .shop applicant Commercial Connect versus .通販 applicant Amazon.

The panelist in that case seemed to have checked his brain at the door that day, concluding that the two strings are confusingly similar simply because 通販 means “online shopping” in Japanese.

Another panelist, in a different case also involving Commercial Connect, had found that .购物 (Chinese for “shopping”) was not confusingly similar to .shop because duh.

ICANN’s NGPC has now decided that the two controversial decisions are “not being in the best interest of the New gTLD Program and the Internet community”.

Both .cam and .通販 will now be referred to a three-person panel at the International Center for Dispute Resolution, the same body that processed the original objections, for a final determination.

Is Verisign’s .net in trouble?

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2014, Domain Registries

The zone file for Verisign’s .net gTLD has shrunk by almost 100,000 domains in the last few months.

I’ve been tracking .com and .net’s zone numbers since mid-March, shortly after the current wave of new gTLDs started going live, and while .com seems to be still growing strong, .net is definitely trending down.

The bulk of .net’s decline seems to have happened of the last three months. Its zone file count has decreased by 95,590 domains in the last 90 days, according to my numbers.

Here’s a chart, which you can click to enlarge, to illustrate what I’m talking about:

.net

I don’t have comparable figures from previous years, so I can’t be certain that the downturn is not related to summer seasonality.

But if there is seasonality, it doesn’t appear to have affected .com, which has added over a million names to its zone over the last 90 days.

.net

The last formal registry transactions report we have from Verisign for .net shows a decline of a little over 7,000 names under management in May.

Are these the early signs of trouble ahead for .net?

The TLD has always been a bit of an oddity. Originally designed for network operators, it was opened up and pitched in the 1990s by Network Solutions as a catch-all that should be acquired alongside .com.

That “Oh, I may as well buy the .net while I’m here” mentality stuck in the primary market, and I’ve often encountered the “I’ll throw in the .net for free” mentality in the secondary market.

But in a world of hundreds of new gTLDs I wonder whether .net’s brand caché will shrink.

If a registrant decides they can clearly do without defensively registering the .guru, the .pics, the .horse and the .wtf, perhaps they’ll start wondering why they bother to register the .net too.

Is .net on the verge of an unprecedented drop-off in registrations?

I’ll have to reserve judgement — that last 90 days might be a blip, and it only represents 0.63% of the .net business — but it’s going to be worth keeping an eye on, I think.

With 15 million names, the .net business is worth about $93 million a year in registry fees to Verisign.