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Sorry, you still can’t sue ICANN, two-faced .africa bidder told

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2019, Domain Policy

Failed .africa gTLD applicant DotConnectAfrica appears to have lost its lawsuit against ICANN.

A California judge has said he will throw out the portions of DCA’s suit that had not already been thrown out two years ago, on the grounds that DCA was talking out of both sides of its mouth.

DCA applied for .africa in 2012 but lost out to rival applicant ZA Central Registry because ZACR had the backing of African governments and DCA did not.

It filed an Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN in 2013 and won in 2015, with the IRP panel finding that ICANN broke its own bylaws by paying undue deference to Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

It also emerged that ICANN had ghost-written letter of government support on behalf of the African Union, which looked very dodgy.

DCA then sued ICANN in 2016 on 11 counts ranging from fraud to breach of contract to negligence.

The Los Angeles Superior Court decided in 2017 that five of those charges were covered by the “covenant not to sue”, a broad waiver that all new gTLD applicants had to sign up to.

But the remaining six, relating to ICANN’s alleged fraud, were allowed to go ahead.

ICANN relied in its defense on a principle called “judicial estoppel”, where a judge is allowed to throw out a plaintiff’s arguments if it can be shown that it had previously relied on diametrically opposed arguments to win an earlier case.

The judge has now found that estoppel applies here, because DCA fought and won the IRP in part by repeatedly claiming that it was not allowed to sue in a proper court.

It had made this argument on at least seven occasions during the IRP, Judge Robert Broadbelt found. He wrote in his August 22 ruling (pdf):

DCA’s successfully taking the first position in the IRP proceeding and gaining significant advantages in that proceeding as a result thereof, and then taking the second position that its totally inconsistent in this lawsuit, presents egregious circumstances that would result in a miscarriage of justice if the court does not apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel to bar DCA from taking the second position in this lawsuit. The court therefore exercises its discretion to find in favor of ICANN, and against DCA, on ICANN’s affirmative defense of judicial estoppel and to bar DCA from bringing or maintaining its claims against ICANN alleged in the [First Amended Complaint] in this lawsuit.

In other words, ICANN’s won.

The case is not yet over, however. DCA still has an opportunity to object to the ruling, and there’s a hearing scheduled for December.

ZADNA CEO suspended for “hybrid misconduct”

The CEO of South Africa’s ccTLD registry has reportedly been suspended amid claims of “acts of misconduct”.

According to reports in the local tech press, Vika Mpisane was suspended in early December and has been subject to a delayed disciplinary process since January.

“Mr Vika Mpisane was suspended for serious hybrid acts of misconduct including mismanagement of ZADNA funds and others,” ZADNA chair Motlatjo Ralefatane told MyBroadband.

While details are rather thin on the ground, there are local rumors that some of the allegations relate to Mpisane’s salary and bonuses.

Ralefatane reportedly said that forensic accounting investigations are ongoing.

ZADNA, the ZA Domain Name Authority, is a non-profit organization and official ccTLD manager for .za. It answers to the South African government, but is not funded by it. It should not be confused with ZACR, the commercial entity that actually runs the .za registry on ZADNA’s behalf.

Mpisane has come under increased scrutiny this week as it turns out he is running unopposed for the Southern Africa seat on the board of AFRINIC, the Regional Internet Registry responsible for handing out IP addresses on the continent, apparently without ZADNA’s knowledge.

According to MyBroadband, Ralefatane believes Mpisane should not be representing that he has ZADNA’s support for his run.

His CV (pdf), posted to the AFRINIC web site in April, states that he is the current CEO of ZADNA, with no reference to his suspension.

Ralefatane reportedly added that she is not sure if AFRINIC or ICANN are aware of the allegations against him. They are now.

Mpisane is still listed on ZADNA’s web site as its CEO, also with no reference to the suspension.

His bio on the site reads, in its entirety (errors from the original): “The voice of reason and wisdom An outstanding leader with passion about the internet and what is has to offer. He walks the talk and talks the talk”.

After slow launch, .africa looks to add hundreds of resellers

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2017, Domain Registrars

ZA Central Registry is opening up .africa and its South African city gTLDs to potentially hundreds of new registrars via a new proxy program.

The company today announced that its new registrar AF Proxy Services has received ICANN accreditation, which should open up .africa, .joburg, .capetown and .durban to its existing .za channel.

ZACR is the ccTLD registry for South Africa and as such it already has almost 500 partners accredited to sell .za names. But most of these resellers are not also ICANN accredited, so they cannot sell gTLD domains.

The AF Proxy service is intended to give these existing resellers the ability to sell ZACR’s four gTLDs without having to seek out an ICANN accreditation themselves.

“Effectively, all users of the AF Proxy service become resellers of the Proxy Registrar which is an elegant technical solution aimed at boosting new gTLD domain name registrations,” ZACR CEO Lucky Masilela said in a press release.

While reseller networks are of course a staple of the industry and registries acting as retail registrars is fairly common nowadays, this new ZACR business model is unusual.

According to ZACR’s web site, it has 489 accredited .za registrars active today, with 52 more in testing and a whopping 792 more in the application process.

Depending on uptake of the proxy service, that could bring the number of potential .africa resellers to over 1,300.

And they’re probably needed.

The .africa gTLD went into general availability in July — after five years of expensive legal and quasi-legal challenges from rival applicant DotConnectAfrica — but has so far managed to put just 8,600 names in its zone file.

That’s no doubt disappointing for TLD serving a population of 1.2 billion and which had been expected to see substantial domain investor activity from overseas, particularly China.

ZACR to delete 12,000 .za domains next week

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2017, Domain Registries

South African ccTLD registry ZACR is to delete more than 12,000 domains, many of them English dictionary words, ending in .org.za next week.

That’s more than a third of the current count of .org.za domains, which stands at about 33,000 today.

The list includes many English dictionary-word domains very possibly worth more than the standard registration fee, such as sex.org.za, accountant.org.za, comedy.org.za, vodka.org.za, casino.org.za and cash.org.za.

The domains will be deleted and then become available for first-come, first-served registration on September 1.

The current registrants have had fair warning. The company migrated to a new EPP-based registry back-end a few years ago and told its customers they had to migrate to an accredited registrar.

A year ago, it suspended 15,420 domains, cutting off their ability to resolve in the DNS, as way to bring the impending deletion to their owners attention, but since then only 2,394 suspended domains have become compliant with the new rules.

That means 12,677 .org.za domains face the chop Friday next week, unless their owners mount an eleventh-hour rescue operation.

ZACR has published a full list of the soon-to-be-deleted names here

The .org.za space is far less popular than commercial counterpart .co.za, which has over a million registered names.

Chinese to invade .africa? CEO thinks so

Kevin Murphy, April 11, 2017, Domain Registries

While .africa finally went on sale last week after years of legal fights, it seems Africans may find themselves in the minority of registrants.

A combination of awareness, pricing and anticipated interest from Chinese domain investors, means that Africans could account for as few as 1 in 10 .africa registrations, according to Lucky Masilela, CEO of .africa registry ZA Central Registry.

The domain went into its sunrise period last week, and has a multi-phased launch planned out that will last until July 1, 2018.

After the trademark owners have had their crack at the domain — Masilela tells us that South Africa brands such as Nando’s are among the first to grab theirs — there will be five phases in which domains will be open to all but priced at a premium.

Starting June 5 there will be five landrush periods of five day, each a kind of hybrid between the traditional landrush period and the kind of Early Access Period offered by Donuts and others.

Each landrush will see all names priced at a certain amount, with the amount going down at the start of each period — $5,000 to $2,000 to $1,000 to $500 (all USD).

In the event that any name is claimed by more than one registrant, there will be an auction for that name at the end of the period.

Then on July 4 comes the first period of “general availability”, from which point all domains will be first-come, first-served.

But for the first 28 days of GA, domains will be priced at $150, other than domains categorized by the registry as premium.

Domains then come down to a more affordable $18 wholesale.

But that’s not the end. ZACR has baked in a price reduction to $12.50 wholesale, due to kick in July 1 2018. From then on out, it’s business as usual.

Unlike similar TLDs such as .eu, there are to be no geographic restrictions on who can register .africa names, and Masilela said he expects registrants from Africa to be in a minority.

“I think were are looking at about 10% from the continent, growing gradually over the years,” Masilela said. “The next wave is going to be international registrars.”

“We have a big suspicion that we will probably see a huge uptake coming from the east, which is the China market,” he said. “They’ll probably come in and grab a large number of domain names.”

He said that Chinese investment in Africa offline is likely to be mirrored online.

Pricing is also likely to be a factor. While .africa will bottom out, ignoring periodic discounts, at $12.50, that’s still quite a lot more than you’d expect to pay for African ccTLDs. ZACR’s own .za costs about $4 per year.

The relatively high price of becoming ICANN accredited has also meant that while Africa has 50-something countries, there are currently only about half a dozen gTLD registrars based there.

ZACR proposes to counter this by offering a gateway service rather like the one it already offers in .joburg and .capetown, that would help bring its own .za registrars on board.

Blah blah ICANN blah .africa blah delegated blah blah…

Kevin Murphy, February 15, 2017, Domain Registries

Today blah blah ZA Central Registry blah blah .africa blah delegated blah.

ICANN blah blah root blah. Blah blah ZACR blah nic.africa.

Blah blah five years blah blah contention blah lawsuit blah blah DotConnectAfrica blah. Blah blah Bekele blah IRP blah.

ICANN blah blah Governmental Advisory Committee blah blah blah African Union blah blah blah.

Blah blah Geographic Names Panel blah blah controversy blah blah blah blah lawsuit blah blah blah leg to stand on.

Blah racist blah blah conspiracy blah blah blah… nutty. Blah.

Blah reporting blah damned blah story blah forever blah blah bored blah blah blah blah.

Blah blah blah.

.africa to finally go live after judge denies injunction

Kevin Murphy, February 10, 2017, Domain Policy

A Los Angeles court has rejected a demand for a preliminary injunction preventing ICANN delegating .africa, meaning the new gTLD can go live soon.

Judge Howard Halm ruled February 3, in documents published last night, that the “covenant not to sue” signed by every new gTLD applicant is enforceable and that Africans are being harmed as long as .africa is stuck in legal limbo.

The ruling comes two and a half years after ZA Central Registry, the successful of the two .africa applicants, signed its Registry Agreement with ICANN.

Rival applicant DotConnectAfrica, rejected because it has no African government support, is suing ICANN for fraud, alleging that it failed to follow its own rules and unfairly favored ZACR from the outset.

Unfortunately, the ruling does not address the merits of these claims. It merely says that DCA is unlikely to win its suit due to the covenant it signed.

Halm based his decision on the precedent in Ruby Glen v ICANN, the Donuts lawsuit that seeks to stop ICANN awarding .web to Verisign. The judge in that case ruled last November that Donuts signed away its right to sue.

An earlier judge in the DCA v ICANN case had ruled — based at least in part on a misunderstanding of the facts — that the covenant was unenforceable, but that decision now seems to have been brushed aside.

Halm was not convinced that DCA would suffer irreparable harm if ZACR got given .africa, writing:

The .Africa gTLD can be re-delegated to DCA in the event DCA prevails in this litigation… Further, it appears that any interim harm to DCA can be remedied by monetary damages

He balanced this against the harm of NOT delegating .africa:

The public interest also weighs in favor of denying the injunction because the delay in the delegation of the .Africa gTLD is depriving the people of Africa of having their own unique gTLD.

So what now?

ICANN said in a statement: “In accordance with the terms of its Registry Agreement with ZACR for .AFRICA, ICANN will now follow its normal processes towards delegation.”

As of this morning, ZACR’s .africa bid is officially still marked as “On Hold” by ICANN, though this is likely to change shortly.

Assuming ZACR has already completed pre-delegation testing, delegation itself could be less than a week away.

If DCA’s record is anything to go by, it seems unlikely that this latest setback will be enough to get it to abandon its cause.

Its usual MO whenever it receives an adverse decision or criticism is to double down and start screaming about conspiracies.

While the injunction was denied, the lawsuit itself has not been thrown out, so there’s still plenty of time for more of that.

You can read Halm’s ruling here (pdf).

DCA files for ANOTHER .africa injunction

Kevin Murphy, January 11, 2017, Domain Registries

DotConnectAfrica is continuing its legal attempt to prevent the .africa gTLD from being delegated to a competitor supported by African governments.

The recalcitrant applicant has filed for another temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that would prevent ICANN handing .africa to the successful applicant, ZA Central Registry, according to ZACR.

DCA’s last application for an injunction was refused by a California judge in December, but last week it renewed its efforts to stymie the long-delayed geo.

ZACR said on its web site yesterday:

On January 4, 2017, DCA filed an ex parte (emergency) temporary restraining order (“TRO”) asking the Court to prevent ICANN from delegating .Africa to ZACR. The Court denied DCA’s ex parte request for a TRO on the grounds that there was no exigency that required an immediate ruling. The Court further clarified that the prior order denying DCA’s preliminary injunction motion was based upon all arguments submitted by ICANN and DCA (thereby rejecting DCA’s contention in its ex parte papers that the ruling did not include ZACR’s arguments). However, the Court agreed to consider DCA’s new arguments as grounds for a new motion for a preliminary injunction. DCA was given until January 6, 2017 to file its motion. ICANN and ZACR shall file opposition papers by January 18, 2017. DCA will then be given an opportunity to file a reply.

The court is scheduled to hear arguments for and against the injunction January 31, ZACR said.

In the meantime, .africa remains in limbo.

.africa could go live after court refuses injunction

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2017, Domain Policy

DotConnectAfrica’s attempt to have ICANN legally blocked from delegating the .africa gTLD to rival applicant ZACR has been denied.

The ruling by a Los Angeles court, following a December 22 hearing, means ICANN could put .africa in the root, under ZACR’s control, even before the case comes to trial.

A court document (pdf) states:

The plaintiff is seeking to enjoin defendant Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from issuing the .Africa generic top level domain (gTLD) until this case has been resolved…

The plaintiff’s motion for the imposition of a Preliminary Injunction is denied, based on the reasoning expressed in the oral and written arguments of defense counsel.

ICANN was just days away from delegating .africa last April when it was hit by a shock preliminary injunction by a California judge who later admitted he hadn’t fully understood the case.

My understanding is that the latest ruling means ICANN may no longer be subject to that injunction, but ICANN was off for the Christmas holidays last week and unable to comment.

“Sanity prevails and dotAfrica is now one (big) step closer to becoming a reality!” ZACR executive director Neil Dundas wrote on Facebook. He declined to comment further.

Even if ICANN no longer has its hands tied legally, it may decide to wait until the trial is over before delegating .africa anyway.

But its lawyers had argued that there was no need for an injunction, saying that .africa could be re-delegated to DCA should ICANN lose at trial.

DCA case centers on its claims that ICANN treated it unfairly, breaking the terms of the Applicant Guidebook, by awarding .africa to ZACR.

ZACR has support from African governments, as required by the Guidebook, whereas DCA does not.

But DCA argues that a long-since revoked support letter from the African Union should still count, based on the well-known principle of jurisprudence the playground “no take-backs”.

The parties are due to return to court January 23 to agree upon dates for the trial.

Judge hands DotConnectAfrica another bizarre win

A California judge just handed ICANN another upset in the interminable legal battle waged against it by unsuccessful .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica.

Gary Klausner yesterday admitted he made a mistake when he earlier slapped ICANN with a preliminary injunction preventing .africa being delegated to DCA rival ZA Central Registry, but said his error did not have a huge bearing on that decision.

More remarkably, he’s now suggesting that ICANN may have been wrong to make DCA undergo the same Geographic Names Review as every other new gTLD applicant.

Both DCA and ZACR applied for .africa and had to go through the same evaluation processes, one of which was the Geographic Names Review.

Both had to show that they had support from 60% of the governments in Africa, and no more than one governmental objection.

ZACR had that support — though there’s legitimate dispute over whether its paperwork was all in order — while DCA did not. DCA also had over a dozen objections from African governments.

ZACR passed its geographic review, but DCA’s application was tossed out based on Governmental Advisory Committee advice before the review could be completed.

DCA took ICANN to an Independent Review Process panel, which ruled that ICANN had failed to live up to its bylaws and that DCA’s application should be returned to the evaluation process.

ICANN returned DCA’s application to the process at the point it had left it — before the geographic review was complete.

DCA then failed the review, because it has no support.

But when he granted the injunction against ICANN back in April, Klausner thought that DCA had actually passed the geographic review on the first pass. Not even DCA had claimed that; it was just a brain fart on his behalf.

He’s now admitted the mistake, but says the April ruling was not dependent on that misunderstanding.

The Court finds that the error in its factual finding was not determinative to its ultimate conclusion that there are serious questions going toward Plaintiff’s likelihood of success on the merits.

Now, he says that there may be some merit in DCA’s claim that it should have been allowed to skip the GNR due to the IRP’s recommendation that ICANN “permit DCA Trust’s application to proceed through the remainder of the new gTLD application process.”

Klausner wrote yesterday:

At this stage of litigation, it is reasonable to infer that the IRP Panel found that ICANN’s rejection of Plaintiff’s application at the geographic names evaluation phase was improper, and that the application should proceed to the delegation phase.

The problem with this thinking is that it was not the geographic panel that flunked DCA on the first pass, it was the GAC.

DCA got this document (pdf) from the geographic panel. It just says “Incomplete”.

If DCA succeeds in persuading a jury that it should have skipped the geographic panel, Africa could wind up with a .africa gTLD operator that none of its governments support and in circumvention of ICANN’s rules.

Yesterday’s ruling isn’t a killer blow against ICANN, but it does make me wonder whether Klausner — who is also hearing the much higher-profile Stairway to Heaven case right now — is really paying attention.

Anyway, he’s thrown out the ZACR/ICANN motion to reconsider the injunction, so the case is carrying on as before. Read the ruling here (pdf).