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XYZ settles Verisign’s back-end switcheroo lawsuit

XYZ.com has settled a lawsuit filed against it against Verisign stemming from XYZ’s acquisition of .theatre, .security and .protection.

Verisign sued the new gTLD registry operator for “interfering” with its back-end contracts with the previous owners last August, as part of its campaign to compete against new gTLDs in the courtroom.

XYZ had acquired the .security and .protection ICANN contracts from security Symantec, and .theatre from a company called KBE Holdings.

As part of the transitions, all three applications were modified with ICANN to name CentralNic as the back-end registry services provider, replacing Verisign.

Verisign sued on the basis of tortious interference and business conspiracy. It was thrown out of court in November then amended and re-filed.

But the case appears to have now been settled.

Negari issued a grovelling not-quite-apology statement on his blog:

I am pleased to report that the recent case filed by Verisign against CentralNic, Ltd., XYZ and myself has been settled. After looking at the claims in dispute, we regret that as a result of our acquisition of the .theatre, .security and .protection extensions and our arrangement for CentralNic to serve as the backend service provider for these extensions, that Verisign was prevented from the opportunity to pursue monetization of those relationships. As ICANN’s new gTLD program continues to evolve, we would caution others who find themselves in similar situations to be mindful of the existing contracts extension owners may have with third parties.

Registries changing their minds about their back-end provider is not unheard of.

In this case, large portions of Verisign’s final amended complaint were redacted, suggesting some peculiarities to this particular switch.

If there was a monetary component to the settlement, it was not disclosed. The original Verisign complaint had demanded damages of over $2 million.

Rightside rejects Negari’s $5m new gTLD offer

Rightside has turned down Daniel Negari’s $5 million offer to acquire four of its new gTLDs, according to Negari.

The XYZ.com CEO told DI via email tonight:

I was looking forward to operating .Army, .Dance, .Dentist, and .Vet under the XYZ umbrella. I’m disappointed that Rightside didn’t entertain my offer, especially since I believe $5MM was more than fair. I believe these and other new TLDs are worth more to me than any other registry operator due to my growing enterprise. However, it’s understandable for Rightside to want to monetize on these assets.

Rightside has told him it had reviewed the offer and was not interested, he said.

The offer was made in a March 30 open letter to the company and Securities and Exchange Commission filing and expired last night, April 7.

There was some speculation about whether it was a genuine offer, just an attempt to boost Rightside’s share price, or both.

Negari and his COO, Mike Ambrose, own about 5% of Rightside between them, following an $8.5 million investment.

Rightside’s ability to grow revenue from its new gTLD portfolio has become the focus of attention due to the intervention of activist investor J Carlo Cannell of Cannell Capital, who reckons the company is paying too much attention to rubbish TLDs at the expense of its profitable registrar businesses.

Negari thinks he would be able to grow .army, .dance, .dentist, and .vet.

The largest of those gTLDs is .vet, with about 5,200 names in its zone file. It grew by 794 names in the last 90 days.

The other three are below 3,000 names, and are either shrinking or adding fewer than 10 names per day.

XYZ.com’s second-tier portfolio strings, such as .college, .rent and .theatre, are faring a little better, at least in terms of growth. But they are a little younger, and none are over 10,000 names.

.xyz passed two million names, growing like crazy

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2016, Domain Registries

The .xyz gTLD at the weekend became the first new gTLD to pass the two million domains mark, as it experiences ridiculously fast growth.

Its zone file has grown by 274,315 domains in the last seven days, hitting 2,092,346 yesterday.

It added 130,000 names on Saturday alone.

That’s the kind of growth more usually associated with .com, and pre-2012 new TLD launch periods.

It’s reasonable to assume that the majority of these names are being registered for investment purposes. It seems Chinese registrars processed much of the spike.

But XYZ.com isn’t the only registry that saw a big spike over the weekend.

.CLUB Domains’ .club added almost 44,000 names to its zone between Saturday and Monday. Its usual daily add rate is around the 1,000 mark.

Cars gTLD launch clears $1 million in EAP

Kevin Murphy, January 20, 2016, Domain Registries

There was a small turn-out for the premium launch of .cars, .car and .auto gTLDs, but the registry says it cleared over $1 million in revenue.

The three gTLDs are run by Cars Registry, a venture between Uniregistry and XYZ.com.

They all finished their pricey Early Access Periods yesterday and are due to enter general availability today.

The EAP started January 12 with prices of $45,000 per domain. In GA, they won’t cost you less than $2,000.

While zone files show almost no new domains appearing between January 12 and today — three or four per domain at most — Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said EAP was a “success”.

“More than 100 dealers and brands took advantage of sunrise and EAP,” he said.

It appears there are a few dozen domains not appearing in zone files yet.

The three gTLDs combined have brought in over $1 million during EAP, Schilling said.

.security names priced at $3,000, .theatre at $750

Kevin Murphy, January 20, 2016, Domain Registries

XYZ.com may be best known for its budget .xyz gTLD, but its portfolio is increasingly leaning toward the super-premium end of the industry price range.

The company entered Early Access Period with its .security, .protection and .theatre gTLDs today, and they ain’t cheap.

.security and .protection are expected to carry retail prices of $3,000 a year, when they hit general availability a week from now.

Today, they’re $65,000 apiece, with the price reducing to $35,000, $15,000, $8,750 and $5,000 over the coming days.

Meanwhile, .theatre starts at $64,000, going down to $32,000, $14,000, $7,000 and $4,000 before finally settling at the GA RRP of $750.

All three gTLDs were acquired by XYZ.com from other applicants.

That was also the case for .cars, .car and .auto, which XYZ runs in a joint venture with Uniregistry, where retail prices are roughly $2,500.

In terms of competition, .security and .protection are probably up against .trust, while .theatre may well find itself in competition with .tickets, which has made inroads in Broadway.

Rightside to auction “xyz” domains at NamesCon

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2016, Domain Sales

.xyz made a bit of a splash with domain investors in 2015, but is the meaningless string “xyz” inherently attractive? Even at the second level?

Rightside seems to think so.

The registry, which does not operate .xyz, is planning to auction at least four “xyz” domains during next Monday’s live auction at the NamesCon conference in Las Vegas.

Rightside today disclosed that xyz.sale, xyz.market, xyz.news and xyz.live will be among about a dozen registry-reserved short domain names– such as q.sale and z.pub — it will attempt to sell.

The only meaningful domain on its list is the absolutely fantastic, category-killing viral.video.

It’s difficult to see the “xyz” names as anything other than attempt to cash in on the popularity of .xyz domains among the investors, many of them Chinese, currently pumping money into the domain market.

XYZ.com’s .xyz gTLD has over 1.7 million domains in its zone file today, making it the largest-volume new gTLD by a considerable margin.

I’m not sure there’s any causal connection here, but it should probably be noted that Daniel Negari and Michael Ambrose, XYZ.com’s CEO and COO respectively, recently acquired a substantial chunk of Rightside.

The two men disclosed November 30 that they had paid over $8.5 million to buy almost 10 million shares — or roughly 5.2% of the company — on the open market.

The NamesCon auction kicks off at 1400 Pacific (2200 UTC) on Monday at the Tropicana in Vegas. It’s being managed by RightOfTheDot and Namejet.

Verisign warns about Chinese .com boom

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has warned investors that the current boom in .com sales is largely coming from Chinese domainers and may not be sustainable.

The company has added an unprecedented 4.1 million domain in .com and .net so far during the fourth quarter.

“While there continues to be demand for domain names globally, the recent increased volume for Verisign’s top level domains, as well as top level domains of other registries, during the fourth quarter is coming largely through registrars in China,” the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

It listed several factors that are likely responsible for the sudden uptick, but warned that renewal rates are typically not great.

In the past, Verisign has discussed many factors that affect the demand for domain names, including, but not limited to economic, social, and regulatory conditions, Internet adoption, Internet penetration, and increasing e-commerce. In addition to these factors affecting demand, Verisign is also evaluating additional potential factors unique to China that may also be responsible for the recent increased volume of new registrations in China.

In no particular order, these potential factors, or combination of factors, could include, but may not be limited to, government initiatives in China to develop their online economy such as ‘Internet Plus;’ registry and registrar regulatory requirements; cultural influences such as the popularity of numeric domain names; increasing competition amongst Chinese registrars; potential increases in domain name investment activity; and recent capital markets volatility and access to capital in China.

Verisign cannot predict if or how long this increased pace of gross additions will continue and we cannot at this time predict what the renewal rate for these domain names will be. Verisign has noted in the past that renewal rates for domain names registered in emerging markets, such as China, have historically been lower than those registered in more developed markets.

It’s difficult to imagine that Chinese investors have managed to find four million unregistered domains worth keeping.

There are currently 123,497,852 domains in the .com zone file, according to Verisign’s web site.

Verisign is not the only registry that appears to be benefiting from a deluge of registrations from China.

XYZ.com has seen over 440,000 domains added to its .xyz zone file in the last three weeks, bringing its total to over 1.5 million, which appear to be largely coming through Chinese registrars.

XYZ says it won’t block censored Chinese domains

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2015, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry XYZ.com has said it will not preemptively censor domain names based on the wishes of the Chinese government.

Over the last couple of days, CEO Daniel Negari has sought to “clarify” its plans to block and suspend domain names based on Chinese government requests.

It follows XYZ’s Registry Services Evaluation Request for a gateway service in the country, first reported by DI and subsequently picked up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Wall Street Journal columnist, Fortune magazine and others.

The clarifications offered up by XYZ probably did more to confuse matters.

A blog post on Wednesday said that XYZ will not reserve any .xyz domain names from being registered, except those ICANN makes all new gTLD registries reserve.

Subsequent comments from Negari stated that XYZ will, as the RSEP stated, prevent names that have been banned in China from being registered.

However, there’s one significant difference.

Now, the registry is saying that it will only put those bans in place for domain names that have been specifically banned by the Chinese government when the name had already been registered by a Chinese registrant.

So, if I understand correctly, it would not preemptively ban anyone anywhere from registering [banned term].xyz.

However, if [banned term].xyz was registered to a Chinese resident and the Chinese government told the registry to suspend it, it would be suspended and nobody would be able to re-register it anywhere in the world.

Negari said in a blog comment yesterday:

if we receive a Chinese legal order tomorrow (before the gateway has launched) which requires disabling a domain name registered in China and properly under Chinese jurisdiction, then it will be disabled at the registry level, and not by the gateway. When the gateway launches the name will continue to be unavailable, and the gateway will not implement the action on a localized basis only in China. The normal registry system would continue to be the only system used to resolve the name globally. Again — the specific stability concern ICANN had was that we would use the Chinese gateway to make .xyz names resolve differently, depending on what country you are in. I completely agree that our [RSEP] re-draft to address that concern came out in a way that can be read in a way that we sincerely did not intend.

So there is a list of preemptively banned .xyz, .college, .rent, .security and .protection domains, compiled by XYZ from individual Chinese government requests targeting names registered to Chinese registrants.

Negari said in an email to DI yesterday:

To clarify the statement “XYZ will reserve domains,” we meant that XYZ will takedown domains in order to comply with “applicable law.” Unfortunately, the inaccuracies in your post caused people to believe that we were allowing the Chinese government to control what names could be registered or how they could be used by people outside of China. The idea that XYZ is going to impose Chinese law and prevent people outside of China from registering certain domain names is simply incorrect and not true. To be 100% clear, there is no “banned list.”

That was the first time anyone connected with XYZ had complained about the October 12 post, other than since-deleted tweets that corrected the size of the list from 40,000 domains to 12,000.

The RSEP (pdf) that causes all this kerfuffle has not been amended. It still says:

XYZ will reserve names prohibited for registration by the Chinese government at the registry level internationally, so the Gateway itself will not need to be used to block the registration of of any names. Therefore, a registrant in China will be able to register the same domain names as anyone else in the world.

This fairly unambiguous statement is what XYZ says was “misinterpreted” by DI (and everyone else who read it).

However, it’s not just a couple of sentences taken out of context. The context also suggests preemptive banning of domains.

The very next sentence states:

When the Gateway is initially implemented we will not run into a problem whereby a Chinese registrant has already registered a name prohibited for registration by the Chinese government because Chinese registrars are already enforcing a prohibition on the registration of names that are in violation of Chinese law.

This states that Chinese residents are already being preemptively banned, by Chinese registrars, from registering domains deemed illegal in China.

The next few paragraphs of the RSEP deal with post-registration scenarios of domains being banned, clearly delineated from the paragraph dealing with pre-registration scenarios.

In his blog post, Negari said the RSEP “addressed the proactive abuse mitigation we will take to shut down phishing, pharming, malware, and other abuse in China”.

I can’t believe this is true. The consequence would be that if China sent XYZ a take-down notice about a malware or phishing site registered to a non-Chinese registrant, XYZ would simply ignore it.

Regardless, the takeaway today is that XYZ is now saying that it will not ban a domain before it has been registered, unless that domain has previously been registered by a Chinese resident and subsequently specifically banned by the Chinese government.

The registry says this is no different to how it would treat take-down notices issued by, for example, a US court. It’s part of its contractual obligation to abide by “applicable law”, it says.

Whether this is a policy U-turn or a case of an erroneous RSEP being submitted… frankly I don’t want to get into that debate.

Disclosure: during the course of researching this story, I registered .xyz domains matching (as far as this monoglot can tell) the Chinese words for “democracy”, “human rights”, “porn” and possibly “Tiananmen Square”. I have no idea if they have value and have no plans to develop them into web sites.

.cars domains to start at $45,000, retail for $2,500

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2015, Domain Registries

Cars Registry has set pricing for .car, .cars and .auto domains at crazy-high levels.

If you want to buy a domain in any of the three gTLDs on day one, it will cost you a whopping $45,000.

If you buy one during regular general availability, it’s likely to set you back $2,500.

The registry, a partnership of Uniregistry and XYZ.com, has set its registry fee at $2,000, according to an email sent to registrars this week.

That’s a buck higher than .sucks, one of the most expensive new gTLDs to launch to date.

The sunrise fee will be $3,000 — made up of the regular $2,000 fee plus an added $1,000. Again, that’s higher than .sucks.

The Early Access Period — which, as reported yesterday, has replaced the more usual landrush — will run for nine days with prices ranging from $45,000 to $5,000.

Compared to the usual models of XYZ.com and Uniregistry, which tend towards the mass-market, these prices are colossal.

I wonder how much the pricing was influenced by the fact that the registry has the car-related gTLD market almost entirely sewn up.

Its only potential competitor is .autos, which has been delegated for almost 18 months but has yet to even reveal its launch plans and probably isn’t going to be available to the mass market anyway.

Sunrise for all three gTLDS is due to start December 9, ending January 12. EAP will begin that day, and GA will start January 20.

Now Uniregistry shifts to Early Access launch model

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has become the latest registry to adopt the Early Access Period model for some new gTLD launches.

.cars, .car and .auto will all use the EAP, in place of the more typical landrush period, when they launch in January.

Technically, while Uniregistry is running the back-end, the three gTLDS are all being offered by Cars Registry, a partnership between Uniregistry and .xyz registry XYZ.com.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said it was felt that EAP was needed due to the “stupendous cost” of acquiring the strings.

EAP is a period lasting usually about a week in which the price of registering any domain descends daily from a very high fee on day one — usually above $10,000 at the storefront — to maybe a hundred bucks when the period closes.

The model was pioneered by portfolio registries Donuts and Rightside, but has since been adopted by the likes of Minds + Machines, Radix and XYZ.com.

It’s rapidly becoming the de facto industry standard for new gTLD launches, replacing the auction-based approach to landrush most registries have used in the past.

The driving factor for the industry switch is surely revenue.

Donuts told us late last month that it had sold 48,381 EAP domains across all of its launches to date, where registry prices are believed to start at around the $10,000 mark.

M+M said yesterday that it sold $1.18 million after it chose to use EAP with its recently launched .law gTLD, where registration restrictions suggest many of the sales will have been to legit end users.

Registrars also get a bigger slice of the pie. In an auction model they might wind up with just the regular registration fee, but with EAP they can mark up day one domains by thousands of dollars.

Cars Registry says its EAP is targeted at “OEMs, dealerships, vendors”, but it will almost certainly get a healthy chunk of domainer interest too.