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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.

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.

Verisign plans TLD standards group

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2014, Domain Tech

Verisign is trying to form a new industry standards-setting association for domain name registries and registrars.

To be called the Registration Operations AssociationTM (yes, according to its web site it is apparently already trademarked), Verisign wants potential members of the group to meet in October to figure out whether such an association is needed and what its remit would be.

But the Domain Name Association apparently has other ideas, suggesting in a recent blog post that the DNA would be the best place for these kinds of technical discussions to take place.

In the second of a series of three blog posts revealing the ROA plan, Verisign senior director Scott Hollenbeck said:

The primary purpose of an association would be to facilitate communication and technical coordination among implementers and operators of the EPP protocol and its current extensions to address interoperability and efficiency obstacles.

EPP is the Extensible Provisioning Protocol used by registrars to transact with all gTLD and many ccTLD registries. It’s an IETF standard written by Hollenbeck over a decade ago.

One of the problems with it is that it is “extensible” by design, so every time a registry extends it to deal with a peculiarity of a particular TLD, partner registrars have to code new connectors.

In a world of hundreds of new gTLDs, that becomes burdensome, Hollenbeck explained in his posts.

An industry association such as the formative ROA could help registries with common requirements standardize on a single EPP extension, streamlining interoperability.

That would be good for new gTLDs.

It’s no secret that many registrars are struggling to keep up with new gTLD launches while providing a good customer experience, as Andrew Allemann pointed out last week.

The need for cooperation seems plain; the question now is what is the correct forum.

While Verisign is pushing for a new group, the DNA reckons the task could be best-performed under its own umbrella.

Executive director Kurt Pritz blogged:

Given its multi-functional and global diversity, the DNA will be an effective place to coordinate discussion of these issues and to involve broader domain name industry involvement.

Verisign isn’t a DNA member. In fact, it appears to be the only significant back-end registry provider in the western world not to have purchased a membership.

But Pritz said in his post that technical discussions would not be limited to DNA members only — anyone would be able to participate without coughing up the $5,000 to $50,000 a year the group charges:

Recognizing that industry-wide issues are… well … industry wide, the DNA Board determined that this work must include those inside and outside the DNA, welcoming all domain name industry members. Scott and others from Verisign and other firms are invited regardless of whether they join the DNA.

So is the industry going to have to deal with two rival standards-setting groups?

In the many years I was a general Silicon Valley tech reporter, I must have written scores of articles about new technologies spurring the creation of competing “standards” organizations.

Usually, this involved pitting an incumbent monopolist such as Microsoft against a coalition of smaller rivals.

It makes for great headlines, but I’m not sure the domain name industry is big enough to support or require multiple groups tackling the same problems.

With resource-strapped registries and registrars already struggling to make new gTLDs work in any meaningful way, I doubt their geeks would appreciate duplicating their efforts.

I don’t know whether the DNA or ROA would be the best venue for the work, but I strongly suspect the work itself, which almost certainly needs to be done, only needs to be done once.

Verisign wants interested parties to meet in Los Angeles on October 16, just as the ICANN meeting there concludes. The meeting may also be webcast for those unable to attend in person.