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Go Daddy eats humble pie after SOPA boycott

Kevin Murphy, December 30, 2011, Domain Registrars

Go Daddy lost tens of thousands of domain name registrations totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost recurring revenue due to yesterday’s SOPA-related boycott.
NameCheap, the eNom reseller that spearheaded the campaign against Go Daddy, said on Twitter that it had raised over $25,000 for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggesting that it saw over 25,000 inbound transfers using its SOPASUCKS discount code.
Twitter noise also suggests that several other registrars, such as Name.com and Gandi, gained from the protest.
The boycott went ahead due to Go Daddy’s former support of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which many Americans believe will infringe civil liberties by erecting a great big DNS firewall around the country.
The company withdrew its support for the bill before Christmas, but many customers either chose to ignore its new stance or to point out that “not supporting” did not necessarily mean “opposing”.
Frankly, I think many people just wanted to lash out, and withdrawing business from a company with an established reputation for being a bit downmarket is a lot easier than, say, turning off SOPA-supporting ESPN or cutting up your SOPA-supporting Visa card.
Warren Adelman, Go Daddy’s new CEO, issued this statement last night, clarifying the company’s position:

We have observed a spike in domain name transfers, which are running above normal rates and which we attribute to Go Daddy’s prior support for SOPA, which was reversed.
Go Daddy opposes SOPA because the legislation has not fulfilled its basic requirement to build a consensus among stake-holders in the technology and Internet communities. Our company regrets the loss of any of our customers, who remain our highest priority, and we hope to repair those relationships and win back their business over time.

The company has over 50 million domains under management. Even if 50,000 were transferred to other registrars, that’s still only 0.1% of Go Daddy’s installed base.
Name server records compiled by DailyChanges also heavily suggest that the company sold over 43,000 new domain registrations yesterday.
The fact that Adelman chose to eat humble pie rather than pointing this out was probably a wise PR decision.
Also, NameCheap deserves some kudos for running a very effective social media campaign.

Let’s all beat up Go Daddy!

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2011, Domain Registrars

I think it’s fair to say that Go Daddy is ending 2011 on a bum note.
A handful of competitors, notably Namecheap, are exploiting the recent outrage about the company’s support for the Stop Online Piracy Act (since recanted) to really stick the boot in.
NameCheap today called for December 29 to be marked as Move Your Domain Day and is currently sponsoring the hashtag #BoycottGoDaddy on Twitter.
It also said it will donate $1 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for every domain transferred to it that day using the coupon code SOPASUCKS.
Other registrars are joining in with somewhat less gusto.
Dotster, for example, is offering cheap transfers with the discount code NOFLIPFLOP, a reference to Go Daddy’s changed position on SOPA.
So what’s the net effect of all this on Go Daddy’s business? It’s difficult to tell with much accuracy at this point.
NameCheap claims to have seen 40,000 inbound transfers in the last week, most of them presumably coming from former Go Daddy customers.
That’s going to be a difficult claim to verify however, even when December’s official gTLD registry reports are published a few months from now.
Unlike most ICANN-accredited registrars, NameCheap does not register domains directly — it has fewer than 200 .com domains under management, according to the most recent registry report.
The company started off life as an eNom reseller and appears to have never gotten around to migrating its customers.
(I wonder how many people transferring their domains this week are aware that some of their fees are probably flowing into the coffers of Demand Media, another popular internet hate figure.)
Several media articles have sourced DomainTool’s DailyChanges service for numbers of transfers out of domaincontrol.com, Go Daddy’s default name server constellation.
But as Andrew Allemann and Elliot Silver have already noted, those numbers are not a reliable indication of how many domains are being transferred from Go Daddy to other registrars.
Here’s a graph showing the transfers in and out of domaincontrol.com since the start of the month.
graph
Transfers out briefly overtook transfers in this week, but by a negligible number.
The two big spikes you can see – both of which occur before the boycott began on December 22 – can be attributed to domainers (possibly a single domainer) moving thousands of domains from domaincontrol.com to internettraffic.com, a parking service, and back again.
Those movements had nothing to do with SOPA or the boycott, nor do they indicate that the domains were transferred away from Go Daddy. Name server changes != transfers.
Facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story, however.
That’s probably why NameCheap seems to have got away with its insinuations about Go Daddy “blocking” transfers yesterday, which turned out to be highly questionable.
It transpires that transfers into NameCheap were failing not because of any nefarious activity by Go Daddy, but because NameCheap’s Whois queries were being automatically rate limited.
This was likely because NameCheap failed to white-list the IP addresses it uses for port 43 Whois look-ups either using ICANN’s RADAR tool or by notifying Go Daddy directly.
Registrar expert Jothan Frakes said as much on this blog yesterday, as did Michele Neylon of the unrelated registrar Blacknight on Twitter.
Go Daddy senior direct of product development Rich Merdinger suggested in a statement last night that NameCheap looked for the PR opportunity before picking up the phone:

Namecheap posted their accusations in a blog, but to the best our of knowledge, has yet to contact Go Daddy directly, which would be common practice for situations like this. Normally, the fellow registrar would make a request for us to remove the normal rate limiting block which is a standard practice used by Go Daddy, and many other registrars, to rate limit Whois queries to combat WhoIs abuse.

NameCheap has naturally disputed this interpretation of events, saying it had tried to get in touch with Go Daddy but received no response for 24 hours (Christmas Day, presumably).
Regardless of the he said/she said, the narrative in the media and on Twitter for the last couple of days has been pretty clear — Go Daddy: Bad, NameCheap: Good.
The SOPA story seems to have hit a nerve, and there are no shortage of pissed-off Go Daddy customers with horror stories to recount or just general criticisms of the company’s fairly brash image.
Warren Adelman picked a hell of a time to take over as CEO.

Dr Martens grabs “sucks” domains from Dr Marten

Kevin Murphy, May 18, 2011, Domain Policy

Shoemaker Dr Martens has won three “sucks” domains from a registrant that may actually be a genuine doctor called Marten.
The company won a UDRP case over drmartensucks.net, as well as the .org and .info equivalents.
The name and address in the Whois records for the domains correspond to a cosmetic surgeon in San Francisco named Dr Timothy Marten (rather than Martens).
The Whois could of course be fake, but what we may have here is a case of a defensive registration made by an individual worried about his reputation being challenged and won equally defensively by a company worried about its reputation.
The respondent did not respond to the complaint, so we’ll probably never know. All three domains were parked with Go Daddy.
Oddly, the .com variant of the domain was not part of the case, and still belongs to the same original “Dr Marten” registrant.

Trademark lobby makes final new gTLD demands

With ICANN’s latest and potentially last call for comment on its new top-level domains program just hours away from closing, the arguments are shaping up along familiar lines.
Trademark protection is unsurprisingly still center stage, with loud calls for the Applicant Guidebook’s rights protection mechanisms to be amended more favorably to brand owners
Meanwhile, many of those strongly in favor of the new gTLD program launching soon have submitted more subdued, concise comments, merely urging ICANN to get a move on.
While there are still some fringe opinions, many within the intellectual property community are on the same page when it comes to rights protection mechanisms.
URS
The Uniform Rapid Suspension policy, which enables trademark holders to relatively quickly shut down obvious cases of cybersquatting, comes in for particular attention.
In the latest draft of the URS, as well as its sister policy, the Trademark Clearinghouse, brand owners have to present “proof of use” for the trademarks which they want to enforce.
The International Trademark Association, the Intellectual Property Constituency and others want this provision eliminated, saying it is inconsistent with many national trademark laws.
The also want the burden of proof lowered from the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, and want to expand the “loser pays” model, to provide an economic disincentive to cybersquatting.
In the latest version of the Applicant Guidebook, ICANN introduced a system whereby a cybersquatter has to pay the cost of a URS they lose, but only if the case comprises over 25 domains.
INTA, the IPC and others want this reduced to something like five domains, on the grounds that 25 is too high a bar and may actually encourage larger-scale squatting.
IP Claims
They also want the Clearinghouse’s IP Claims service, which serves a warning to registrants when they try to register potentially infringing domains, expanded beyond exact-match strings.
Currently, you’ll receive a warning about possible infringement if you try to register lego.tld or foxnews.tld, but not if you try to register legostarwars.tld or foxnewssucks.tld.
Many commenters want this changed to also include brand+keyword domains (fairly easy to implement in software, I imagine), or even typos (not nearly so easy).
This makes sense if you assume that cybersquatting patterns in new TLDs mirror those in .com, where brand+keyword squatting comprise the majority of UDRP cases.
But if you look at the about 100 UDRP cases to be filed so far in .co, it seems that brand-only cybersquatting is clearly the order of the day.
Depending on how this was implemented, it could also create a “chilling effect” whereby IP Claims notices are sent to legitimate registrants.
It seems likely that with a brand+keyword approach, if someone tried to register legourmetchef.tld, they could wind up with a notice that the domain infringes the Lego trademark.
The trademark lobby also wants this IP Claims service extended beyond the first 60 days of a new TLD’s life, on the grounds that the cybersquatting risk does not disappear after a TLD launches.
According to submissions from existing TLD registries and potential applicants, this could add to the costs of running a TLD, increasing prices for registrants.
GAC
Most of these demands are not new. But in many cases, the IP lobby now has the support of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee.
The GAC and ICANN are due to meet by teleconference this Friday, ostensibly for their “final” consultation before ICANN approves the Guidebook a little over a month from now.
But with the US and Europe now strategically aligned, it seems likely that ICANN will find itself under more pressure than ever before to concede to the demands of trademark holders.

New UDRP guidelines reflect unpredictability

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2011, Domain Policy

Cybersquatting cases filed under the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy have become less predictable, judging from complex new guidelines for adjudication panels.
The World Intellectual Property Organization has just published WIPO Overview 2.0, which sets out over 10 years of UDRP precedent for panelists to consider when deciding future cases.
The document is a must-read for domain investors and trademark holders.
Updated for the first time since 2005, it contains new sections covering developments such as registrar parking, automatically generated advertising and proxy/privacy services.
The Overview has quadrupled in length, from 5,000 to 20,000 words. With that, has come increased complexity. WIPO notes:

While predictability remains a key element of dispute resolution systems, neither this WIPO Overview nor prior panel decisions are binding on panelists, who will make their judgments in the particular circumstances of each individual proceeding.

The document reflects decisions already made, rather than creating new law, but as such it also reflects the tilting balance of the UDRP in favor of complainants.
For example, while the 2005 guidelines presented majority and minority views on whether [trademark]sucks.com domains meet the “confusing similarity” criterion, Overview 2.0 presents only a “consensus view” that they do, suggesting that it is now settled law.
On whether parking a domain with PPC ads meets the “legitimate interests” criterion, the guidelines refer to precedent saying that the ads must not capitalize on a trademark:

As an example of such permissible use, where domain names consisting of dictionary or common words or phrases support posted PPC links genuinely related to the generic meaning of the domain name at issue, this may be permissible and indeed consistent with recognized sources of rights or legitimate interests under the UDRP, provided there is no capitalization on trademark value

Supporting this view, the Overview states that “bad faith” can be shown even if the domain owner does not control the content of their parked pages and makes no money from the ads:

Panels have found that a domain name registrant will normally be deemed responsible for content appearing on a website at its domain name, even if such registrant may not be exercising direct control over such content – for example, in the case of advertising links appearing on an “automatically” generated basis… It may not be necessary for the registrant itself to have profited directly under such arrangement

There is a defense to this, if the respondent can show they had no knowledge of the complainant’s trademark and made no effort to control or profit from the ads.
Because the UDRP calls for “registration and use in bad faith”, the guidelines also ask: “Can bad faith be found if the disputed domain name was registered before the trademark was registered or before unregistered trademark rights were acquired?”
The original guidelines said no, with a carve-out for cases where the squatter anticipated, for example, a future corporate merger (microsoftgoogle.com) or product release (ipad4.com).
The new guidelines are a lot less clear, calling it a “developing area of UDRP jurisprudence”. The document lists several cases where panelists have chosen to essentially set aside the registration date and concentrate instead just on bad faith usage.
The question of whether a renewed domain counts as a new registration is also addressed, and also has a couple of exceptions to give panelists more flexibility in the decisions.
The Overview covers a lot of ground – 46 bullet points compared to 26 in the first version – and will no doubt prove invaluable reading for people filing or fighting UDRP cases.
The guidelines are not of course set in stone. The 2005 version read:

The UDRP does not operate on a strict doctrine of precedent. However, panels consider it desirable that their decisions are consistent with prior panel decisions dealing with similar fact situations. This ensures that the UDRP system operates in a fair, effective and predictable manner for all parties

But the new version adds a caveat to the end of the sentence: “while responding to the continuing evolution of the domain name system.”

Cash-for-gold site seizes “sucks” domain

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2010, Domain Policy

An Arizona cash-for-gold company has successful recovered a “sucks” domain name via UDRP, after it emerged that the anonymous gripe site was actually run by a competitor.
Valley Goldmine filed the UDRP complaint against the domain valleygoldminesucks.com back in August. As I reported, the contested domain contained a mere two blog posts, both dating to May 2009.
Up until about a month ago, the registrant’s identity was protected by Go Daddy’s privacy service.
But Valley Goldmine used a subpoena to identify the actual registrant, and it turned out to be the operator of Gold Stash For Cash, a direct competitor, which does business at goldstash.com.
The site was created after a local TV news report had ranked Valley Goldmine higher than GSFC in an “investigation” into cash-for-gold companies. The blog posts, ironically, attacked the report’s objectivity.
Despite precedent largely protecting “sucks” domains on free speech grounds, this was enough for WIPO panelist Maxim Waldbaum to find against the registrant on all three requirements of the UDRP.
Interestingly, Waldbaum used the fact that the domain satisfied the “bad faith” part of the UDRP to justify the “confusingly similar” criterion.

The associated website has high placement on search engine results for the Mark and is operated by the principal of a direct competitor of Complainant. Respondent’s use of the Disputed Domain Name in this context is precisely within the list of bad faith criteria under paragraph 4(b) of the Policy, which, in this Panel’s view, clearly indicates Respondent’s intent to create confusing similarity in the minds of Internet users.

The fact that GSFC stood to benefit financially from anonymously bad-mouthing its competitor clearly over-rode any free speech concerns, which does not seem unreasonable.
The panelist concluded:

Although cloaked in the mantle of a gripe site, Respondent’s website is quite clearly a platform for Respondent to cast aspersions on the reliability of a report that portrayed his company in a negative light and his competitor in a positive light, and to otherwise sling mud.

Amusingly, while GSFC appears to own goldstashforcashsucks.com, a third party owns goldstashsucks.com.

Five killer TLDs nobody wants (and five rubbish ones)

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2010, Domain Registries

Not including the incumbents, there are roughly 130 known new top-level domain applicants at the moment, covering everything from music to sport to health.
While several would-be TLDs, such as .gay and .eco, are known to have multiple applicants, there are some no-brainer strings that so far no company has staked a claim on.
Here’s five, off the top of my head.

.blog
Apparently there are something like 400 million active blogs on the internet today. And that’s just in the English language. I’ll take 1% of that, thanks.
.sex/.porn
We may already have .xxx by the time the first application round opens, but that’s no reason to prevent the porn industry taking its fate into its own hands and applying for either of these strings.
Both of these potential TLDs are category killers, moreso than .xxx. According to Google’s keyword tool, [sex] and [porn] each get 24.9 million searches per month, compared to 20.4 million for [xxx].
Yes, it will add even more defensive registrations costs, but it could be run on a cheap-as-chips basis, with free grandfathering, and without the expensive policy oversight body that they all seem to hate so much.
.sucks
The only UDRP-proof TLD. No sunrises, no trademark worries, just tens of thousands of disgruntled former employees happily slandering away.
That’s the theory, anyway. To be more mercenary, this is the one TLD guaranteed to make millions in defensive registrations alone.
Esther Dyson said she liked the idea back in 2000, and I agree with her. The internet needs a renewed dose of anarchic freedom of speech.
.poker
Online poker is worth billions. The term [poker] attracts far more interest than [casino], some 20 million searches per month, according to Google.
The value of the landrush auctions alone would be enough of an incentive for a registry to apply for .poker. Registration fees could also be set pretty high.

And, for balance, five rubbish TLDs.
Again, I’m not talking about guaranteed flops that have already been announced (.royal anyone?), but rather the TLDs that appear attractive at first look, but would, in my humble opinion, almost certainly fail hard.

.book
Sure, every year something like 400,000 books are published in the UK and US, but how many of them really get marketed to the extent that they need their own web site? Very few, I suspect.
And if you’re planning on using the TLD to sell books, good luck trying to train the world out of the Amazon mindset.
.kids
A legal nightmare, requiring a bloated policy oversight body to make sure all content is kid-friendly, which is pretty much impossible when nobody can even agree what a kid is.
You need look no further than the spectacularly unsuccessful government-mandated .kids.us effort to see what a waste of time a .kids would be. It has fewer domains than .arpa.
Still, it kept the politicians happy.
.news
A smaller market than you’d think. Google News only sources from about 25,000 publications, and only 4,500 of those are in English. How many will want to make the switch to a new TLD?
I’d say a .news TLD would struggle to hit six figures.
.secure
No, it isn’t. This is the internet.
A .secure TLD would be a PR nightmare from launch day to its inevitable firey death six months later.
.any-fad-technology
Back in 2000, there was an application for .wap. Really. It almost makes .mobi look like a good idea.
Pretty much no technology is immune from this rule. You can’t build a sustainable business on a string that’s likely to be tomorrow’s Betamax. Even the humble DVD has a shelf life.

Cash-for-gold firm aims UDRP at “sucks” site

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2010, Domain Policy

An Arizona cash-for-gold company has filed a UDRP claim against a gripe site that says it “sucks”.
HBT Investments, which does business at valleygoldmine.com, has filed its claim with WIPO against the owner of valleygoldminesucks.com.
The gripe site isn’t particularly exciting. It’s a blog with two entries, both dating from May 2009 and both primarily questioning the objectivity of an ABC news report.
The registrant probably has a strong defense.
There’s oodles of UDRP precedent protecting “sucks” sites, mainly on the grounds that there’s nothing “confusingly similar” about a domain that treats the trademark owner with contempt.
Valley Goldmine has a Better Business Bureau A+ rating displayed prominently on its web site, so it obviously values its reputation, which is fair enough.
But filing a UDRP against a gripe site does have the unfortunate effect of making it look like you’re trying to stifle free speech.
Valleygoldminesucks.com is, however, the second domain name that appears when one Googles for “valley goldmine”, which is probably more of a concern.