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Who runs the internet? An ICANN 49 primer

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2014, Domain Policy

The ICANN 49 public meeting is kicking off here in Singapore right now, and control of the domain name system is going to be the hottest of hot topics for the next four days.
Two Fridays ago the US government announced its plan to remove itself from oversight of key internet functions currently managed by ICANN, causing a firestorm of controversy in the US.
A lot of the media commentary has been poorly informed, politically motivated and misleading.
According to this commentary, the move means that regimes more repressive that the United States government are going to take over the internet, killing off free speech.
Here I present a backgrounder on the issue, a primer for those who may not be familiar with the history and the issues. ICANN addicts may find the latter half of the piece interesting too, but first…
Let’s go back to basics
The issue here is control over the DNS root zone file. Basically, the root zone file is a 454K text file that lists all the top-level domains that are live on the internet today.
Each TLD is listed alongside the DNS name servers that it is delegated to and control it. So .com has some name servers, .uk has some name servers, .info has some name servers, etc.
If an internet user in San Francisco or London or Ulan Bator tries to visit google.com, her ISP finds that web site by asking the .com zone file for its IP address. It finds the location of the .com zone file (managed by Verisign) in turn by asking the root zone file.
The root zone files are served up by 13 logical root zone servers named A through M, managed by 12 different entities. Verisign runs two. ICANN runs one. Most are US-based entities.
Every root server operator agrees that Verisign’s root is authoritative. They all take their copies of the root zone file from this server. This keeps the data clean and consistent around the world.
So Verisign, in terms of actually sitting at a keyboard and physically adding, deleting or amending entries in the root zone file, has all of the power over the internet’s DNS.
Verisign could in theory assign .uk or .xxx or .com to name servers belonging to Canada or the Vatican or McDonalds or me.
But in practice, Verisign only makes changes to the root zone when authorized to do so by the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the Department of Commerce.
That’s because Verisign’s power to amend the root zone comes from its Cooperative Agreement with NTIA.
Amendment 11 (pdf) of this agreement dates from 1999, a time before Verisign acquired Network Solutions (NSI) and before ICANN had a name and was known as “NewCo”. It states:

NSI agrees to continue to function as the administrator for the primary root server for the root server system and as a root zone administrator until such time as the USG instructs NSI in writing to transfer either or both of these functions to NewCo or a specified alternate entity.
While NSI continues to operate the primary root server, it shall request written direction from an authorized USG official before making or rejecting any modifications, additions or deletions to the root zone file. Such direction will be provided within ten (10) working days and it may instruct NSI to process any such changes directed by NewCo when submitted to NST in conformity with written procedures established by NewCo and recognized by the USG.

So the power to amend the root zone — and therefore decide which TLDs get to exist and who gets to run them — actually lies in NTIA’s hands, the hands of the US government.
NTIA says its role is “largely symbolic” in this regard.
That’s because the power to decide what changes should be made to the root zone has been delegated to ICANN via the “IANA functions” contract.

What you’re looking at here is a diagram, from the latest IANA contract, showing that whatever changes ICANN proposes to make to the root (such as adding a new gTLD) must be authorized by NTIA before somebody at Verisign sits at a keyboard and physically makes the change.
In the diagram, “IANA Functions Operator” is ICANN, “Administrator” is NTIA, and “Root Zone Maintainer” is Verisign.
What NTIA now proposes is to remove itself from this workflow. No longer would ICANN have to seek a US government rubber stamp in order to add a new TLD or change ownership of an existing TLD.
It’s possible that Verisign will also be removed from the diagram. ICANN runs a root server already, which could replace Verisign’s A-root as the authoritative one of the 13.
NTIA says that the Cooperative Agreement and the IANA contract are “inextricably intertwined” and that it will “coordinate a related and parallel transition in these responsibilities.”
If this all sounds dry and technical so far, that’s because it is.
So why is it so important?
An entry in the DNS root zone has economic value. The fact that the record for .com points to Verisign’s name servers and not yours means that Verisign is worth $7 billion and you’re not.
Whoever has power over the root therefore has the ability to dictate terms to the entities that want their TLD listed.
ICANN’s contract with Verisign makes Verisign pay ICANN $0.25 for every .com name sold, for example.
The contract also forces Verisign to only sell its names via registrars that have been accredited by ICANN.
This gives ICANN, by indirect virtue of its control of the root, power over registrars too.
The Registrar Accreditation Agreement contains terms that require registrars to publish, openly, the names and addresses of all of their customers, for example.
Suddenly, control of the root is not only about lines in a database, it’s about consumer privacy too.
The same goes for other important issues, such as free speech.
Should people have the right to say that a company or a politician “sucks”? Most of us would agree that they should.
However, if they want to register a .sucks domain name in future they’re going to have to abide by rules, developed by ICANN and its community, that protect trademark owners from cybersquatting.
Over the course of many years, ICANN has decided that trademark owners should always have the right to preemptively register any domain name that matches their brands. This will apply to .sucks too.
If I, militant vegetarian that I am, wanted to register mcdonalds.sucks after .sucks becomes available, there’s a significant probability that I’m not going to get the opportunity to do so.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you and I publishing our opinion of a worthless politician or corrupt company in other ways using other domain names, but it remains true that ICANN has essentially prioritized, for very good reasons, the rights of trademark owners over the rights of other internet users.
Theoretically, at some point in the future, ICANN could amend the Registrar Accreditation Agreement to require registrars to, for example, always deactivate a domain name when they receive a cease and desist letter, no matter how unfounded or spurious, from a trademark lawyer.
Suddenly, the web belongs to the IP attorneys, free speech is damaged, and it’s all because ICANN controls the DNS root.
I’m not saying that’s going to happen, I’m just using this as an example of how ruling the root has implications beyond adding records to a database.
What does US oversight have to do with this?
The question is, does the US removing itself from the root zone equation have any impact on what ICANN does in future? Has the US in fact been a good custodian of the root?
Commentators, many of them Republicans apparently seizing on the NTIA’s move as the latest opportunity to bash President Obama’s administration, would have you believe that the answer is yes.
I’m not so sure.
The US in fact has a track record of using its power in ways that would reduce free speech on the internet.
Back in 2005, there was a controversy about ICANN’s decision to add .xxx — a top-level domain for pornography — to the root zone. Whatever you think about porn, this is undeniably a free speech issue.
The US government, under the Bush administration, was initially ambivalent about the issue. Then a bunch of right-wing religious groups started lobbying the NTIA en masse, demanding .xxx be rejected.
The NTIA suddenly switched its position, and actually considered (ab)using its power over the root zone to block .xxx’s approval and therefore appease the Republican base.
This all came out due to .xxx operator ICM Registry’s Freedom of Information Act requests, which were detailed in the the declaration (pdf) of an Independent Review Panel — three neutral, respected judges — that oversaw ICM’s appeal against ICANN:

Copies of messages obtained by ICM under the Freedom of Information Act show that while officials of the Department of Commerce concerned with Internet questions earlier did not oppose and indeed apparently favored ICANN’s approval of the application of ICM, the Department of Commerce was galvanized into opposition by the generated torrent of negative demands, and by representations by leading figures of the so-called “religious right”, such as Jim Dobson, who had influential access to high level officials of the U.S. Administration. There was even indication in the Department of Commerce that, if ICANN were to approve a top level domain for adult material, it would not be entered into the root if the United States Government did not approve

US lobbying via ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee and other channels had the effect that ICANN rejected ICM’s .xxx application. It’s only because ICM was prepared to spend years and millions of dollars appealing the decision that .xxx was finally added to the root.
When you read an article claiming that the US government relinquishing its root oversight role will have a negative effect on free speech, ask yourself what the record actually shows.
The .xxx case is the only example I’m aware of the US leveraging or preparing to leverage its oversight role in any way. On free speech, USG is 0 for 1.
The US is also a powerful member of the Governmental Advisory Committee, the collection of dozens of national governments that have a strong voice in ICANN policy-making.
Under the rules of the new gTLD program, the GAC has right to veto any new gTLD — prevent it being added to the DNS root zone — if all the governments on the GAC unanimously agree to the veto.
Currently, there’s a controversy about the proposed gTLD .amazon, which has been applied for by the online retail behemoth Amazon.
Latin American countries that count the Amazonia region and Amazon river as part of their territories don’t want it approved; they believe they have the better rights to the .amazon string.
Despite this outrage, the GAC initially could not find unanimous consensus to veto .amazon. It transpired that the US, no doubt protecting the interests of a massive US-based corporation, was the hold-out.
Last July, NTIA decided to drop its opposition to the veto, leading to a GAC consensus that .amazon should be rejected.
In its position paper (pdf) announcing the .amazon veto block reversal, NTIA said the US “affirms our support for the free flow of information and freedom of expression”.
By its own definitions, the US made a decision that harmed free expression (not to mention Amazon’s business interests). It seems to have done so, again, in the name of political expediency.
I’m not saying that the US decision was right or wrong, merely that the record again shows that it’s not the great protector of free speech that many commentators are making it out to be.
What should replace the US?
The question for the ICANN community this week in Singapore and over the coming months is what, if anything, should replace the US in terms of root zone oversight.
The NTIA has been adamant that a “multi-stakeholder” solution is the way to go and that it “will not accept a proposal that replaces NTIA’s role with a government-led or an inter-governmental solution.”
The weirdness in this statement, and with the whole transition process in general, is ICANN is already a multi-stakeholder system.
In light of the US’ longstanding “hands off” approach (with the aforementioned exception of .xxx), does ICANN even need any additional oversight?
Today, legislative power in ICANN resides with its board of directors. The ICANN staff wield executive control.
In theory and under ICANN’s extensive governance rules, the board is only supposed to approve the consensus decisions of the community and the staff are only supposed to execute the wishes of the board.
In practice, both board and staff are often criticized for stepping beyond these bounds, making decisions that do not appear to have originated in the community policy-making process.
The ruling on vertical integration between registries and registrars, where the community could not even approach consensus, appears to have originated with ICANN’s legal department, for example.
There has also been substantial concern about the extent of the power handed to hand-picked advisory panels created by CEO Fadi Chehade recently.
In that light, perhaps what ICANN needs is not oversight from some third party but rather stronger community accountability mechanisms that prevent capture and abuse.
That’s certainly my view today. But I don’t have any particularly strong feelings on these issues, and I’m open to have my mind changed during this week’s discussions in Singapore.

Weirdest new gTLD launch yet? .wed launches with a single registrar

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .wed went into sunrise yesterday with the strangest pricing model yet and a stringent Registry-Registrar Agreement that seems to have scared off all but one registrar.
Atgron is positioning .wed as a space for marrying couples to celebrate their weddings, but only temporarily.
It seemingly has little interest in domain investors or ongoing customer relationships beyond one or two years.
If you register a second-level .wed domain, you can have it for $150 a year for the first two years, according to the Atgron web site. After that, the price rockets to $30,000 a year.
Registrars, resellers and wedding-oriented businesses are allowed to opt out of the third-year spike on their own .wed names if they join Atgron’s reseller program and sell at least 10 a year.
Unlike Vox Populi, which is actively marketing .sucks domains at $25,000 as a reasonable value proposition, Atgron jacks the price up as a deterrent to registrants holding on to names too long. It says:

.WED domain names are sold to couples for one or two years to celebrate their wedding. The domain names then become available to another couple… Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED and then YES the next Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED a year or two later and so on and so on.

That alone would be enough to put off most registrars, which value the recurring revenue from ongoing annual renewals, but I gather that the .wed RRA contains even more Draconian requirements.
Incredulous registrars tell me that Atgron wants them to create an entirely new web site to market .wed domains — they’re not allowed to sell the names via their existing storefronts.
The only registrar to bite so far is EnCirca, known historically for promoting obscure gTLDs such as .pro and .travel, which is selling .wed via a new standalone site at encirca.wed.
I also gather that Atgron won’t let registrars opt out of selling its third-level .wed domains, which are expected to go for about $50 a year with no third-year spike.
That didn’t work well for .name — registrars hated its three-level structure, forcing the registry to ultimately go two-level — and I don’t think it’s going to work for .wed either.
Registrars also tell me that Atgron wants to ban them from charging a fee for Whois privacy on .wed domains. They can offer privacy, but only if it’s free to the registrant.
With privacy a relatively high-margin value-add for registrars, it’s hardly surprising that they would balk at having this up-sell taken away from them.
As weird as this all sounds, it is of course an example of the kind of innovative business models that the new gTLD program was designed to create. Mission accomplished on that count.
Another thing the program was designed to create is competition, something Atgron will soon encounter when Minds + Machines arrives with .wedding and eats .wed’s lunch. In my view.
The .wed launch period is also quite unusual.
Atgron is running a landrush period concurrently with its 30-day sunrise period.
Even if you don’t own a trademark, you can apply for a .wed domain today. You’ll get a refund if your name is registered by a trademark owner during sunrise, and names won’t go live until April 20.
The registry has extended the 90-day Trademark Claims period to cover the sunrise period too, so it appears to be in compliance with ICANN rights protection rules on that count.
It’s a 30-day sunrise, so it’s first-come, first served if you’re a trademark owner.
As for sunrise pricing, the third-year spike appears to apply too.
Atgron documentation does say there’s going to be an option to purchase a 10-year trademark block for a one-time fee, but I couldn’t find any way to do this on the EnCirca.wed web site today.

Rockefeller slams .sucks as “predatory shakedown”

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2014, Domain Policy

US Senator Jay Rockefeller today came out swinging against the proposed .sucks new gTLD, saying it looks like little more than a “predatory shakedown” by applicants.
In a letter to ICANN (pdf), Rockefeller has particular concern about Vox Populi, the .sucks applicant owned by Canadian group Momentous.
As we’ve previously reported, Vox Populi plans to charge trademark owners $25,000 a year for defensive registrations and has already started taking pre-registrations even though .sucks is still in contention.
Rockefeller told ICANN:

I view it as little more than a predatory shakedown scheme… A gTLD like “sucks” has little or no socially redeeming value and it reinforces many people’s fears that the purpose of the gTLD expansion is to enrich the domain name industry rather than benefit the broader community of internet users.

Unusually, I find myself in agreement with Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee — Vox Populi’s plan does bring the domain industry into disrepute.
But it’s not the only applicant for .sucks. Top Level Spectrum and Donuts have also applied for the string.
While neither has revealed their proposed pricing, in Donuts’ case a blocking registration via its Domain Protected Marks List service will cost substantially less on a per-domain basis.
Rockefeller asks that ICANN keep his thoughts in mind when reviewing the application, and I’m sure ICANN will pay lip service to his concerns in response, but I don’t think the letter will have much impact.
A bigger question might be: does Rockefeller’s letter foreshadow more Congressional hearings into the new gTLD program?
The last one, which Rockefeller chaired (for about five minutes, before he buggered off to do more important stuff) was in December 2011, and they have tended to happen every couple of years.
Such a hearing would come at an inopportune moment for ICANN, which is trying to distance itself from the perception of US oversight in light of the Edward Snowden spying revelations.
It’s been setting up offices all over the world and championing the forthcoming NetMundial internet governance meeting, which is happening in Brazil next month.

Will .exposed see a big sunrise?

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2014, Domain Registries

Donuts’ new gTLD .exposed goes into sunrise today, but will it put the fear into trademark owners?
It’s arguably the first “ransom” TLD to go live in the current round and the first since .xxx, which scared mark holders into blocking over 80,000 domains back in late 2011.
Most new gTLD sunrise periods to date — most of which have been focused on vertical niches — have had sunrise registrations measured in tens or hundreds rather than thousands.
But .exposed, I would say, is in the same free speech zone as yet-to-launch .sucks and .gripe, which lend themselves well to having a company, product or personal name at the second level.
Brand protection registrars are encouraging their clients to pay special attention to this type of gTLD.
Will this cause a spike in sunrise sales for Donuts over the next 60 days?
It might be difficult to tell, given that Donuts also offers brand owners a blocking mechanism via the Domain Protected Marks List service, so the domains don’t show up in the zone files.
But DPML blocks can be overturned by others with matching trademarks, so some trademark owners may decide to register the name instead for an overabundance of caution.

Extortion.sucks — Vox Pop CEO defends “under-priced” $25,000 sunrise fee

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2013, Domain Registries

Vox Populi Registry, the .sucks new gTLD applicant backed by Momentous Corp, is to charge trademark owners $25,000 to participate in its Sunrise period, should it win the TLD.
Not only that, but it’s become the first new gTLD applicant that I’m aware of to start taking pre-registration fees from trademark owners while it’s still in a contention set with other applicants.
At first glance, it looks like plain old trademark-owner extortion, taken to an extreme we’ve never seen before.
But after 45 minutes talking to Vox Pop CEO John Berard this evening, I’m convinced that it’s worse than that.
The company is setting itself up as the IP lobby’s poster child for everything that is wrong with the new gTLD program.
If Vox Pop wins the .sucks contention set — it’s competing against Donuts and Top Level Spectrum — it plans to charge trademark owners $25,000 to participate in Sunrise and $25,000 a year thereafter.
Registrations during general availability, whether they match a trademark or not, will cost $300 a year.
During the pre-registration period, the Sunrise fee is $2,500 and the “Priority Reservation” fee is $250.
The Sunrise fee is, I believe, higher than any sunrise fee in any TLD ever to launch.
But Berard said that he believes Vox Pop’s .sucks proposition is, if anything, “under-priced”.
“Most companies spend far more than $25,000 a month on a public relations agency, most companies spend more than $25,000 a month on a Google ad campaign,” he said.
“Companies spend millions of dollars a year on customer service. We view .sucks as an element of customer service on the part of companies,” he said.
Berard, a 40-year veteran of the public relations business, said that he believes .sucks represents an opportunity for brands to engage with their customers, gaining valuable insight that could help them improve product development or customer service.
“The last thing I view .sucks as is a domain name. That’s the last value proposition for .sucks,” he said. “The primary value proposition is as a key and innovative part of customer service, retention and loyalty.”
It’s about giving companies “the ability to bring internet criticism and commentary out of the shadows and into the light” and “an opportunity to actually have a legitimate ability to correct misconceptions and engage, in much the way they’re doing now with Facebook”, he said.
It’s all about helping companies create a dialogue, in other words.
But Berard said that Vox Pop does not intend to launch any value-added services on .sucks domains.
While a domain name may be the “last value proposition” of .sucks, it is also the only thing that Vox Pop is actually planning to sell.
Asked to justify the $25,000 Sunrise fee, at first Berard pointed to policies that he said will ensure a transparent space for conversation.
“A company might not have to register its brand in .sucks, because if someone else does the policies and practices that we hope to deploy give that company a transparent opportunity to participate,” Berard said. “There’s no chasing unknown people down dark alleys for unfounded criticism. It will all be done in the light of day.”
“We have built-in policies that prevent sites from being parked pages,” he said. “The site must be put to that use — of customer service — whether you are the company that owns [the brand] or a customer that wants to complain about it.”
There was some confusion during our conversation about what the policies are going to be.
At first it sounded like companies would be obliged to run criticism/conversation sites targeting their own brands or risk losing their domains, but Berard later called to clarify that while pages cannot be parked under the policy, they can be left inactive.
It will be possible, in other words, for a company to register its brand.sucks and leave the associated site dark.
The registry would also have an “authenticated Whois database”, he said, though it would allow registrants to use privacy services.
There would also be prohibitions on cyber-bullying and porn in .sucks, if Vox Pop wins it. It has committed to these policies in its Public Interest Commitments (pdf)
But the company does not appear to be doing anything that ICM Registry did not already do when it launched .xxx a couple of years ago, when it comes to making brand owners’ lives easier.
In fact, it’s planning to do a lot less, while being literally a hundred times more expensive.
By contrast, if Donuts wins .sucks, brand owners will be able to defensively block their marks using the Domain Protected Marks List for $3,000 over five years, which would cover all of Donuts 200-300 new gTLDs.
There doesn’t appear to be any good reason Vox Pop is charging prices well above the market rate, in my view, other than the fact that the company reckons it can get away with it.
In what may well be a deliberate move to put pressure on trademark owners, Vox Pop is also the first registry I’ve encountered to say it will do a 30-day, as opposed to a 60-day, Sunrise period.
Under ICANN rules, registries have to give at least 30 days warning before a 30-day Sunrise starts, but once it’s underway they are allowed to allocate domains on a first-come-first-served basis.
All of the 30-odd registries currently in Sunrise have opted for the traditional 60-day option instead, where no domains are allocated until the end of the period.
There’s also the question of accepting Sunrise pre-registrations before Vox Pop even knows whether it will get to run .sucks.
There are two other applicants and Berard said that he reckons the contention set is likely to go to an ICANN last-resort auction.
Judging by ICANN’s preliminary timetable, the .sucks auction wouldn’t happen until roughly September next year, by my reckoning.
Anyone who pre-registers today will have to wait a year before they can use (or not) their domain, if they even get to register it at all.
Any money that is taken during the pre-reg period will be refunded if Vox Pop fails to launch.
In the meantime, it will be sitting in Momentous’ bank account where the company, presumably, will be able to use it to try to win the .sucks auction.
Trademark owners, in my view, should vote with their wallets and stay the hell away from Vox Pop’s pre-registration service.
I’m not usually in the business of endorsing one new gTLD applicant over another, but I think Vox Pop’s Sunrise pricing is going to make the whole new gTLD program — and probably also ICANN and the domain name industry itself — look bad.
It’s a horrible reminder of a time when domain name companies were often little better than spammers, operating at the margins and beyond of acceptable conduct, and it makes me sad.
The new gTLD program is about increasing choice and competition in the TLD space, it’s not supposed to be about applicants bilking trademark owners for whatever they think they can get away with.

Donuts’ trademark block list goes live, pricing revealed

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2013, Domain Registries

Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List, which gives trademark owners the ability to defensively block their marks across the company’s whole portfolio of gTLDs, has gone live.
The service goes above and beyond what new gTLD registries are obliged to offer by ICANN.
As a “block” service, in which names will not resolve, it’s reminiscent of the Sunrise B service offered by ICM Registry at .xxx’s launch, which was praised and cursed in equal measure.
But with DPML, trademark owners also have the ability to block “trademark+keyword” names, for example, so Pepsi could block “drinkpepsi” or “pepsisucks”.
It’s not a wildcard, however. Companies would have to pay for each trademark+keyword string they wanted blocking.
DPML covers all of the gTLDs that Donuts plans to launch, which could be as many as 300. It currently has 28 registry agreements with ICANN and 272 applications remaining in various stages of evaluation.
Trademark owners will only be able to sign up to DPML if their marks are registered with the Trademark Clearinghouse under the “use” standard required to participate in Sunrise periods.
Donuts is also excluding an unspecified number of strings it regards as “premium”, so the owners of marks matching those strings will be out of luck, it seems.
Blocks will be available for a minimum of five years an maximum of 10 years. After expiration, they can be renewed with minimum terms of one year.
The company has not disclose its wholesale pricing, but registrars we’ve found listing the service on their web sites so far (101domain and EnCirca) price it between $2,895 and $2,995 for a five-year registration.
It looks pricey, but it’s likely to be extraordinarily good value compared to the alternative of Sunrise periods.
If Donuts winds up with 200 gTLDs in its portfolio, a $3,000 price tag ($600 per year) works out to a defensive registration cost of $3 per domain per gTLD per year.
If it winds up with all 300, the price would be $2.
That’s in line (if we’re assuming non-budget pricing comparisons and registrars’ DPML markup), with Donuts co-founder Richard Tindal’s statement earlier this year: that DPML would be 5% to 10% the cost of a regular registration.
Tindal also spoke then about a way for rival trademark owners to “unblock” matching names, so Apple the record company could unblock a DPML on apple.music obtained by Apple the computer company, for example.
Donuts is encouraging trademark owners to participate before its first gTLDs goes live, which it expects to happen later this year.

Only 29 gTLD applications still in IE as 101 pass and nine fail

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has published what was scheduled to be its final week of Initial Evaluation results for new gTLD applications.
It was a bumper week for results as evaluators mopped up stragglers that had previously been asked to provide more information via Clarifying Questions. There were 101 passes and 9 failures.
There are still 29 applications without published results. An ICANN spokesperson said that the results for these will continue to be delivered on a weekly basis as usual until all are done.
One hundred and one applications passed. These ones:

.origins .free .banamex .sex .dog .prof .rockwool .weather .farmers .itv .ford .hkt .inc .phd .blog .kid .esq .memorial .ira .art .gmbh .pccw .music .citi .bms .live .game .news .kone .shop .able .llc .frontier .flir .watches .tires .love .dds .ericsson .dunlop .volvo .fujitsu .telecity .movie .fidelity .mutuelle .stockholm .xperia .search .lupin .med .jewelry .kddi .tires .monster .news .lincoln .book .tube .mint .clinique .buy .goodyear .lego .seven .fresenius .richardli .llp .csc .ses .ftr .ikano .gallup .saxo .mutualfunds .baby .progressive .firestone .corp .music .movie .srl .retirement .seat .mba .pars .islam .nowruz .boston .persiangulf .tci .design .rip .sucks .shia .ally .style .halal .hotel .lifeinsurance .shriram

The failures, which are all “Eligible for Extended Evaluation” are:

  • .livestrong (Lance Armstrong Foundation) — failed on both financial and technical questions. The first I recall seeing to be pushed into EE based on its proposed Registry Services. Also failed a drug test.
  • .unicorn — Scored only 5 out of the required 22 points on its technical evaluation, easily the worst score I can recall seeing. Its back end provider is Gransy sro, a Czech-based registrar.
  • .home (Dothome Ltd) — this is the .home bid Defender Security bought from CGR E-Commerce. The same one that filed all the Legal Rights Objections against other .home applicants. It failed its financial evaluation, but not because it failed to file its financial statements, which is usually the case.
  • .smart (Smart Communications, Inc) — a dot-brand that failed technical.
  • .art (EFLUX.ART, LLC) — failed technical and financial.
  • These applications didn’t provide financial statements, so failed the financial questions: .transunion (Trans Union LLC), .pnc (PNC Domains LLC), .cipriani (Cipirani Hotel), .jcp (JCP Media Inc)

86 passes and two failures in this week’s new gTLDs

ICANN has just published this week’s batch of new gTLD Initial Evaluation results, revealing 86 passing scores and two applications that must go to Extended Evaluation.
The two failures are .ged and .bcg.
The .ged bid, which is intended to represent General Educational Development, was filed by a joint venture of the American Council on Education and the big publisher Pearson.
It’s the first example of an application to receive passing scores on both its financial and technical questions but to still require Extended Evaluation anyway.
The applicant had proposed a registry service related to internationalized domain names that gave the evaluation panels reason to believe a deeper evaluation was needed.
Uniquely so far, Extended Evaluation is likely to cost this applicant more money, due to the cost of a Registry Services Evaluation Panel.
Boston Consulting Group applied for .bcg as a dot-brand and failed because it scored a zero on its “Financial Statements” question, as most other IE failures have to date.
This weeks passing scores belong to these applications:

.redstone .institute .website .airtel .bestbuy .education .charity .shouji .alstom .multichoice .reit .bible .holiday .deutschepost .chrysler .terra .cam .inc .farm .cars .florist .financial .bet .design .cafe .sale .lundbeck .latino .iveco .inc .dodge .security .global .food .tradershotels .design .bond .zappos .rwe .commbank .landrover .house .cars .blog .fish .amazon .adult .wine .group .property .free .living .maserati .beauty .amsterdam .foodnetwork .broker .design .sucks .fans .tushu .discount .glass .fashion .search .school .linde .off .office .miami .trust .red .boats .immo .repair .dstv .claims .iinet .soccer .inc .mail .toshiba .law .love .suzuki .africa

There are now 730 applications still in Initial Evaluation. So far 1,092 have passed and 13 have failed.

Big week for new gTLDs as 114 apps pass

ICANN has just released this week’s Initial Evaluation results and it’s the biggest dump to date, with 114 applications getting through to the next stage of the process.
We’re now up to 628 passes, which is roughly one third of the original 1,930 applications.
Applications for these strings achieved passing scores (links to DI PRO):

.help .hosting .property .fashion .warman .love .yoga .winners .bnl .sexy .bauhaus .mnet .health .gratis .save .cfd .inc .tjmaxx .homegoods .tjx .deal .restaurant .spa .link .tech .airbus .city .dealer .bnpparibas .tvs .latino .boo .makeup .website .tips .amp .jpmorgan .kyknet .dad .vivo .kerryproperties .sucks .emerson .sas .lancaster .vin .lotto .homes .rodeo .goldpoint .movie .next .bloomberg .moda .tennis .song .nrw .alfaromeo .web .press .london .hot .futbol .windows .webjet .green .sarl .home .video .apartments .bingo .hotel .allstate .software .lanxess .mango .ferrari .coupon .broadway .drive .gea .law .engineering .epost .swiftcover .country .army .weber .broadway .marshalls .style .theater .samsung .firmdale .design .booking .tatamotors .komatsu .mls .abudhabi .vip .game .alibaba .like .store .lgbt .team .boats .tax .nikon .sony .you .citic .trade

No applications failed this week. We’re up to 700 in the prioritization queue.

The True Historie of Trademark+50 and the Deathe of the GNSO (Parte the Thirde)

Kevin Murphy, May 28, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN’s decision to press ahead with the “Trademark+50” trademark protection mechanism over the objections of much of the community may not be the end of the controversy.
Some in the Generic Names Supporting Organization are even complaining that ICANN’s rejection of a recent challenge to the proposal may “fundamentally alter the multi-stakeholder model”.
Trademark+50 is the recently devised adjunct to the suite of rights protection mechanisms created specially for the new gTLD program.
It will enable trademark owners to add up to 50 strings to each record they have in the Trademark Clearinghouse, where those strings have been previously ruled abusive under UDRP.
Once in the TMCH, they will generate Trademark Claims notices for both the trademark owner and the would-be registrant of the matching domain name during the first 60 days of general availability in each new gTLD.
Guinness, for example, will be able to add “guinness-sucks” to its TMCH record for “Guinness” because it has previously won guinness-sucks.com in a UDRP decision.
If somebody then tries to register guinness-sucks.beer, they’ll get a warning that they may be about to infringe Guinness’ trademark rights. If they go ahead and register anyway, Guinness will also get an alert.
Trademark+50 was created jointly by ICANN’s Business Constituency and Intellectual Property Constituency late last year as one of a raft of measures designed to strengthen rights protection in new gTLDs.
They then managed to persuade CEO Fadi Chehade, who was at the time still pretty new and didn’t fully appreciate the history of conflict over these issues, to convene a series of invitation-only meetings in Brussels and Los Angeles to try to get other community members to agree to the proposals.
These meetings came up with the “strawman solution”, a list of proposed changes to the program’s rights protection mechanisms.
Until two weeks ago, when DI managed to get ICANN to publish a transcript and audio recording of the LA meetings, what was said during these meetings was shrouded in a certain degree of secrecy.
I don’t know why. Having listened to the 20-hour recording, I can tell you there was very little said that you wouldn’t hear during a regular on-the-record public ICANN meeting.
Everyone appeared to act in good faith, bringing new ideas and suggestions to the table in an attempt to find a solution that was acceptable to all.
The strongest resistance to the strawman came, in my view, from the very small number (only one remained by the end) of non-commercial interests who had been invited, and from the registrars.
The non-coms were worried about the “chilling effect” of expanding trademark rights, while registrars were worried that they would end up carrying the cost of supporting confused or frightened registrants.
What did emerge during the LA meeting was quite a heated discussion about whether the IPC/BC proposals should be considered merely “implementation” details or the creation of new “policy”.
That debate spilled over into 2013.
Under the very strictest definition of “policy”, it could be argued that pretty much every aspect of every new rights protection mechanism in the Applicant Guidebook is “implementation”.
The only hard policy the GNSO came up with on trademarks in new gTLDs was back in 2008. It reads:

Strings must not infringe the existing legal rights of others that are recognized or enforceable under generally accepted and internationally recognized principles of law.

Pretty much everything that has come since has been cobbled together from community discussions, ad hoc working groups, ICANN staff “synthesis” of public comments, and board action.
But many in the ICANN community — mainly registries, registrars and non-commercial interests — say that anything that appears to create new rights and/or imposes significant new burdens on the industry should be considered “policy”.
During the LA meetings, there was broad agreement that stuff like extending Trademark Claims from 60 to 90 days and instituting a mandatory 30-day notice period before each Sunrise period was “implementation”.
Those changes won’t really incur any major new costs for the industry; they merely tweak systems that already have broad, if sometimes grudging, community support.
But the attendees were split (IPC/BC on the one side, most everyone else on the other) about whether Trademark+50, among other items, was new policy or just an implementation detail.
If something is “policy” there are community processes to deal with it. If it’s implementation it can be turned over to ICANN staff and forgotten.
Because the registries and registrars have an effective veto on GNSO policy-making and tend to vote as a bloc, many others view a “policy” label as a death sentence for something they want done.
A month after the strawman meetings, in early December, ICANN staff produced a briefing paper on the strawman solution (pdf) for public comment. Describing what we’re now calling Trademark+50, the paper stated quite unambiguously (it seemed at the time):

The inclusion of strings previously found to be abusively registered in the Clearinghouse for purposes of Trademark Claims can be considered a policy matter.

Chehade had previously — before the strawman meetings — strongly suggested in a letter to members of the US Congress that Trademark+50 was not doable:

It is important to note that the Trademark Clearinghouse is intended be a repository for existing legal rights, and not an adjudicator of such rights or creator of new rights. Extending the protections offered through the Trademark Clearinghouse to any form of name (such as the mark + generic term suggested in your letter) would potentially expand rights beyond those granted under trademark law and put the Clearinghouse in the role of making determinations as to the scope of particular rights.

Personally, I doubt then-new Chehade wrote the letter (at least, not without help). It mirrors Beckstrom-era arguments and language and contrasts with a lot of what he’s said since.
But it’s a pretty clear statement from ICANN’s CEO that the expansion of Trademark Claims to Trademark+50 night expand trademark rights and, implicitly, is not some throwaway implementation detail.
Nevertheless, a day after the staff briefing paper Chehade wrote to GNSO Council chair Jonathan Robinson in early December to ask for “policy guidance” on the proposal.
Again, there was a strong suggestion that ICANN was viewing Trademark+50 as a policy issue that would probably require GNSO input.
Robinson replied at the end of February, after some very difficult GNSO Council discussions, saying “the majority of the council feels that is proposal is best addressed as a policy concern”.
The IPC disagreed with this majority view, no doubt afraid that a “policy” tag would lead to Trademark+50 being gutted by the other GNSO constituencies over the space of months or years.
But despite ICANN staff, most of the GNSO Council and apparently Chehade himself concluding that Trademark+50 was policy, staff did a U-turn in March and decided to go ahead with Trademark+50 after all.
An unsigned March 20 staff report states:

Having reviewed and balanced all feedback, this proposal appears to be a reasonable add-on to an existing service, rather than a proposed new service.

It is difficult to justify omission of a readily available mechanism which would strengthen the trademark protection available through the Clearinghouse. Given that the proposal relies on determinations that have already been made independently through established processes, and that the scope of protection is bounded by this, concerns about undue expansion of rights do not seem necessary.

This caught the GNSO off-guard; Trademark+50 had looked like it was going down the policy track and all of a sudden it was a pressing reality of implementation.
Outraged, the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, which had been the strongest (if smallest through no fault of their own) voice against the proposal during the strawman meetings filed a formal Reconsideration Request (pdf) with ICANN.
Reconsideration Requests are one of the oversight mechanisms built into ICANN’s bylaws. They’re adjudicated by ICANN’s own Board Governance Committee and never succeed.
In its request, the NCSG told a pretty similar history to the one I’ve just finished relating and asked the BGC to overturn the staff decision to treat Trademark+50 as implementation.
The NCSG notes, rightly, that just because a domain has been lost at UDRP the string itself is not necessarily inherently abusive. To win a UDRP a complainant must also demonstrate the registrant’s bad faith and lack of rights to the string at issue.
To return to the earlier example, when notorious cybersquatter John Zuccarini — an unambiguously bad guy — registered guinness-sucks.com back in 2000 he told Guinness he’d done it just to piss them off.
That doesn’t mean guinness-sucks.beer is inherently bad, however. In many jurisdictions I would be well within my rights to register the domain to host a site criticizing the filthy brown muck.
But if I try to register the name, I’m going to get a Trademark Claims notice asking me to verify that I’m not going to infringe Guinness’ legal rights and advising me to consult a lawyer.
Chilling effect? Maybe. My own view is that many people will just click through the notice as easily as they click through the Ts&Cs on any other web site or piece of software.
Either way, I won’t be able to claim in court that I’d never heard of GuinnessTM, should the company ever decide to sue me.
Anyway, the NCSG’s Reconsideration Request failed. On May 16 the BGC issued a 15-page determination (pdf) denying it.
It’s this document that’s causing consternation and death-of-the-GNSO mutterings right now.
Last week, Neustar’s lead ICANN wonk Jeff Neuman asked for the Reconsideration Request to be put on the agenda of the GNSO Council’s June 13 meeting. He wants BGC representatives to join the call too. He wrote:

This decision was clearly written by legal counsel (and probably from outside legal counsel). It was written as a legal brief in litigation would be written, and if upheld, can undermine the entire bottom-up multi-stakeholder model. If ICANN wanted to justify their decision to protect their proclamation for the 50 variations, they could have done it in a number of ways that would have been more palatable. Instead, they used this Reconsideration Process as a way to fundamentally alter the multi-stakeholder model. It not only demonstrates how meaningless the Reconsideration process is as an accountability measure, but also sends a signal of things to come if we do not step in.

He has support from other councilors.
I suspect the registries that Neuman represents on the Council are not so much concerned with Trademark+50 itself, more with the way ICANN has forced the issue through over their objections.
The registries, remember, are already nervous as hell about the possibility of ICANN taking unilateral action to amend their contracts in future, and bad decision-making practices now may set bad precedents.
But Neuman has a point about the legalistic way in which the Reconsideration Request was handled. I spotted a fair few examples in the decision of what can only be described as, frankly, lawyer bullshit.
For example, the NCSG used Chehade’s letter to Congress as an example of why Trademark+50 should be and was being considered “policy”, but the BGC deliberately misses the point in its response, stating:

The NCSG fails to explain, however, is how ICANN policy can be created through a proclamation in a letter to Congress without following ICANN policy development procedures. To be clear, ICANN cannot create policy in this fashion.

Only a lawyer could come up with this kind of pedantic misinterpretation.
The NCSG wasn’t arguing that Chehade’s letter to Congress created a new policy, it was arguing that he was explaining an existing policy. It was attempting to say “Hey, even Fadi thought this was policy.”
Strike two: the NCSG had also pointed to the aforementioned staff determination, since reversed, that Trademark+50 was a policy matter, but the BCG’s response was, again, legalistic.
It noted that staff only said Trademark+50 “can” be considered a policy matter (rather than “is”, one assumes), again ignoring the full context of the document.
In context, both the Chehade letter and the March staff document make specific reference to the fact that the Implementation Recommendation Team had decided back in 2009 that only strings that exactly match trademarks should be protected. But the BGC does not mention the IRT once in its decision.
Strike three: the BGC response discounted Chehade’s request for GNSO “policy guidance” as an “inartful phrase”. He wasn’t really saying it was a policy matter, apparently. No.
Taken as a whole, the BGC rejection of the Reconsideration Request comes across like it was written by somebody trying to justify a fait accompli, trying to make the rationale fit the decision.
In my view, Trademark+50 is quite a sensible compromise proposal with little serious downside.
I think it will help trademark owners lower their enforcement costs and the impact on registrars, registries and registrants’ rights is likely to be minimal.
But the way it’s being levered through ICANN — unnecessarily secretive discussions followed by badly explained U-turns — looks dishonest.
It doesn’t come across like ICANN is playing fair, no matter how noble its intentions.