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One in five domains use a privacy service

Kevin Murphy, September 14, 2010, Domain Policy

As many as 20 million domain names are registered via Whois privacy or proxy services, an ICANN-sponsored study has found.

The study, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, looked at a sample of 2,400 domains registered in .com, .org, .net, .info and .biz.

It found that 18% of these names used a privacy/proxy service to hide the contact details of the true registrant. Its margin of error means the actual number could be between 16% and 20%.

Extrapolating to the universe of 101 million domains registered in these five TLDs at the time the sample was taken in January 2009, NORC estimates that between 17.7 million and 18.4 million domains used a proxy.

NORC also estimates that the current number of private registrations could be “substantially higher” today, due to increased market traction for such services.

This, combined with the growth in registration numbers to over 115 million domain names as of January 2010, means that the actual number of privacy/proxy registrations among the top five gTLDs is likely to be substantially higher than 18 million.

When you consider that some privacy services charge as much as $10 a year for private registrations, that adds up to quite a healthy market.

Aussie registrar trademarks “Whois”

An Australian domain name registrar has secured a trademark on the word “Whois”.

Whois Pty Ltd, which runs whois.com.au, said it has been granted an Australian trademark on the word in the class of “business consulting and information services”.

It looks rather like the company is using the award as a way to promote its own trademark protection services.

I shudder to think what could happen if the firm decided to try to enforce the mark against other registrars.

Or, come to think of it, what would happen if it tried to secure “whois” in a new TLD sunrise period.

I’m not a lawyer, but I imagine that the fact that the word “Whois” has been in use for almost 30 years, pre-dating the creation of the DNS itself, might prove a useful defense.

RFC 812, published in March 1982, is the first use of the word I’m aware of.

It does not appear that there are currently any live US trademarks on the term.

ICANN Brussels – some of my coverage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2010, Domain Policy

As you may have noticed from my relatively light posting week, it really is a lot easier to cover ICANN meetings remotely.

The only drawback is, of course, that you don’t get to meet, greet, debate, argue and inevitably get into drunken fist-fights with any of the lovely people who show up to these things.

So, on balance, I think I prefer to be on-site rather than off.

I was not entirely lazy in Brussels this week, however. Here are links to a few pieces I filed with The Register.

Cyber cops want stronger domain rules

International police have called for stricter rules on domain name registration, to help them track down online crooks, warning the industry that if it does not self-regulate, governments could legislate.

.XXX to get ICANN nod

ICANN plans to give conditional approval to .xxx, the controversial top-level internet domain just for porn, 10 years after it was first proposed.

Governments mull net censorship grab

Governments working within ICANN are pondering asking for a right of veto on new internet top-level domains, a move that would almost certainly spell doom for politically or sexually controversial TLDs.

Council of Europe wants ICANN role

Kevin Murphy, June 7, 2010, Domain Policy

The Council of Europe has decided it wants to play a more hands-on role in ICANN, voting recently to try to get itself an observer’s seat on the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The Council, which comprises ministers from 47 member states, said it “could encourage due consideration of fundamental rights and freedoms in ICANN policy-making processes”.

ICANN’s ostensibly technical mission may at first seem a bit narrow for considerations as lofty as human rights, until you consider areas where it has arguably failed in the past, such as freedom of expression (its clumsy rejection of .xxx) and privacy (currently one-sided Whois policies).

The Council voted to encourage its members to take a more active role in the GAC, and to “make arrangements” for itself to sit as an observer on its meetings.

It also voted to explore ways to help with the creation of a permanent GAC secretariat to replace the current ad hoc provisions.

The resolution was passed in late May and first reported today by IP Watch.

The Council of Europe is a separate entity to the European Union, comprising more countries. Its biggest achievement was the creation of the European Court of Human Rights.

Registrars responsible for proxy cybersquatters

Domain name registrars can be liable when their customers break the law, if those customers use a privacy service, according to new ICANN guidance.

The ICANN advisory clarifies the most recent Registrar Accreditation Agreement, and seems primarily pertinent to UDRP cases where the registrar refuses to cooperate with the arbitrator’s request for proper Whois records.

The advisory says:

a Registered Name Holder licensing the use of a domain is liable for harm caused by the wrongful use of the domain unless the Registered Name Holder promptly identifies the licensee to a party providing the Registered Name Holder with reasonable evidence of actionable harm

In other words, if a domain gets hit with a UDRP claim or trademark infringement lawsuit, as far as the RAA is concerned the proxy service is the legal registrant unless the registrar quickly hands over its customer’s details.

Law enforcement and intellectual property interests have been complaining about registrars refusing to do so for years, most recently in comments on ICANN’s Whois accuracy study.

ICANN offers a definition of the word “promptly” as “within five business days” and “reasonable evidence” as trademark ownership and evidence of infringement.

I don’t think this ICANN guidance will have much of an impact on privacy services offered by the big registrars, which generally seem quite happy to hand over customer identities on demand.

Instead, this looks like it could be the start of a broader ICANN crackdown on certain non-US registrars offering “bulletproof” registrations to cybersquatters and other ne’er-do-wells.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find the number of ICANN de-accreditations citing refusal to cooperate with UDRP claims increasing in future.

The new ICANN document is a draft, and you can comment on it here.