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Big Content calls for government new gTLD oversight

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2011, 12:56:26 (UTC), Domain Policy

The music, movie and advertising industries have backed a US move that could see governments getting more control over the approval of new top-level domains.
They’ve urged the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to keep a proposed rule that would force ICANN to show a new gTLD is in the “global public interest” before giving it the nod.
But they are opposed by many other stakeholders who responded to the NTIA’s Further Notice Of Inquiry on the renewal of ICANN’s IANA contract.
The FNOI resulted in about 35 responses, from companies and organizations on five continents.
The most controversial question posed by the NTIA was whether the IANA contract should include this provision:

For delegation requests for new generic TLDS (gTLDs), the Contractor [ICANN] shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.

This was broadly interpreted as a way for governments to have a de facto veto over new gTLD applications, via ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.
The proposed measure has now been supported by the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association of National Advertisers, and the Coalition for Online Accountability, which represents the music and movie industries.
Brand owners want another bite
In his strongly worded response, ANA president Robert Liodice wrote that the new gTLD program “is likely to cause irreparable injury to brand owners”, adding that it supported the NTIA’s proposal.

[It] provides a layer, however thin, of contractual protection that gTLDs will not be deposited to the authoritative root zone without appropriate justification. While the ANA believes that these protections are marginal at best, and that a more secure, safe and permanent solution must be found to prevent the harms to brand owners and consumers described above; nonetheless, “something is better than nothing”

Special interests
The RIAA said in its filing that it “strongly supports” the proposal, on the basis that it thinks .music, if approved as a gTLD, could lead to more online music piracy.

there are no concrete obligations in the latest application guidebook to implement heightened security measures for these types of gTLDs that are focused on particular industries such as record music. Given the the risk that such a gTLD application could pass through the ICANN process without committing to such measures, it should be incumbent on the IANA contractor to document how its entry into the root would meet the “global public interest” standard.

It’s a drum the RIAA, never afraid of making special-interest arguments on matters of internet governance, has been beating for some time.
It stopped short of asking for all existing TLDs (and IP addresses, in the case of peer-to-peer applications) to be banned outright, which would presumably do much more to prevent piracy.
Oh no you ditn’t!
The COA, which includes the RIAA among its members, has the honor of being the first of ICANN’s critics to raise the Peter Dengate Thrush Situation to officially bash the organization.
PDT, as you’ll recall, joined Minds + Machines, likely to be a volume gTLD applicant next year, just a few weeks after he helped push through ICANN’s approval of the gTLD program.
COA counsel Steve Metalitz wrote:

This development tends to confirm COA’s view that “the new gTLD process, like so much of ICANN’s agenda, has been ‘led’ by only a small slice of the private sector, chiefly the registrars and registries who stand to profit from the introduction of new gTLDs.”

If a “check and balance” on addition of these new gTLDs to the root was advisable prior to this announcement, it now appears to be indispensable.

Plenty of ICANN stakeholders on both sides of the new gTLD debate have been calling for a review of ICANN’s ethics policies recently, so the COA is far from alone in highlighting the perception problem PDT’s move, and others, may have created.
It looked dodgy, and people noticed.
But on the other hand…
Many responses to the FNOI take the opposing view – saying that the “global public interest” requirements appear to run contrary to IANA’s technical coordination mandate.
IANA’s statement of work, which mandates IANA staff independence from ICANN policy-making, seems like a very odd place to introduce a vague and highly policy-driven oversight check.
Opposition came from the gTLD registry community and likely applicants, as you might expect, as well as from a number of ccTLD operators, which was perhaps less predictable.
A typical response, from the ccNSO, was:

While recognising and supporting the need for ensuring that new gTLDs have consensus support and are consistent with the global public interest, the ccNSO suggests that the IANA contractor’s role should simply be to verify that ICANN has followed the Guidebook process and that all the evaluation criteria (not just the two referred to) have been met.

A number of responses also call for the strict separation of IANA staff from ICANN’s policy-making functions to be relaxed. The way the NTIA’s proposal is currently worded, it’s not clear if IANA’s experts would be able to provide their input to important work.

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Comments (1)

  1. I agree with Vicky Sheckler’s point of view in regards to copyright abuse and harm inflicted on the creator community. This will be a reality especially if these “creator/content-based” TLDs fall in the wrong hands.
    It is unfortunate ICANN has not included anything in the Guidebook about protecting the creator communities and appropriately dealing with copyright issues.
    If the delegation of .MUSIC or other copyright-focused extensions are settled through auctions to a high bidder who has no other concern other than high volume and money-making, this is a problem.
    Minds and Machines Van Couvering has expressed that there is no way .MUSIC can get community even with Industry support on Circle ID. Grading other applicants efforts was inappropriate, especially when Minds and Machines’ pricing section on their site also is showcasing .MUSIC as “high-volume, super-generic TLD” (Why not use .WEB as a better example?) which again might not paint the right picture to the creator community and rights-holders who want protection and restrictions. I can discuss all day long why .MUSIC and other copyright-focused TLDs should be treated differently and not labeled as “high volume” and “ultra-generic”. I would say the right word is “restricted” and “copyright/content-based” TLDs.
    I believe some in the ICANN community need to start being more responsible and think twice about the repercussions of their statements and their actions because they are painting a bad picture that reflects the whole ICANN community under a negative light. People not involved in the ICANN community are taking notice and not impressed.
    I am worried about how the new TLD program is going to pan out because there is no transparency from many of the applicants as well as there is too much space for gaming the ICANN system and guidebook.

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