ICA Comments on Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy Report

While not every ICANN policy issue generates as much controversy or notice as new gTLDs, many seemingly mundane matters can nonetheless have a substantial impact on domainers and other registrants.

One of those is the Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy (IRTP) that sets the rules for domain transfers between registrars. Good rules facilitate the workings of the secondary domain marketplace and help protect registrants against hijackings and scams, while poor rules can undermine the finality of domain sales and leave registrants exposed to fraud.

An ICANN working group (WG) charged with reviewing certain aspects of the IRTP recently issued its proposed Final Report, and ICA filed a comment letter on March 31st. This was our second comment on the WG’s efforts – the first was filed last August. At that time we had strongly objected to a proposed Emergency Transfer Reversal Policy (ERTP) that would have allowed registrants with seller’s remorse to reverse sales up to six months after they occurred, and that provided wholly inadequate protections to domain purchasers. We were happy to see that the ETRP concept had been dropped entirely from the Final Report. However, the report does call for exploration of an Emergency Action Channel (EAC) between registrars. The EAC could be a good mechanism to facilitate quick reaction to domain thefts or hijackings, but the devil is in the details and ICA will continue to monitor this concept and provide input as it is further developed.

Other key recommendations in the Final Report were consistent with ICA’s prior comments, so we have no problem with them. But, again, we shall closely monitor their further development to assure that the rights of domain registrants are taken into account and fully protected. While the IRTP may not be as high-profile as new gTLDs, nothing could be more important than assuring that domain transfers between registrars are accomplished in a manner that protects the significant investment of domain investors and developers.

The full text of our comment letter follows —

VIRTUALAW LLC



Philip S. Corwin, Founding Principal


1155 F Street, NW  Suite 1050


Washington, DC 20004


202-559-8597/Direct
202-559-8750/Fax
202-255-6172/Cell
psc@vlaw-dc.com
 

March 31, 2011

By E-Mail to irtp-b-proposed-final-report@icann.org

Board of Directors
Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 330 
Marina del Rey, CA 90292-6601

Re:  Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy Part B Working Group Proposed Final Report

Dear Members of the ICANN Board:

This comment letter is submitted by the Internet Commerce Association (ICA) in regard to ICANN’s February 21st notice establishing a period for public comments on the Proposed Final Report (PFR) of the Working Group (WG) on Inter-Registrar Transfer Policy Part B. This letter supplements our prior comment letter on the Working Group’s Initial Report (IR), which we filed on August 8, 2010.

ICA is a not-for-profit trade association representing the domain name industry, including domain registrants, domain marketplaces, and direct search providers. Its membership is composed of domain name registrants who invest in domain names (DNs) and develop the associated websites, as well as the companies that serve them. Professional domain name registrants are a major source of the fees that support registrars, registries, and ICANN itself.

Executive Summary

•    We appreciate that the PFR deletes suggesting the creation of an Expedited Transfer Reversal Policy. However, it appears that the creation of a proposed Emergency Action Channel could provide the same functions in certain circumstances. We agree that many important details of such a Channel remain to be worked out – and we believe that they must be fashioned in a manner so as to be restricted to true emergency situations and not to cause substantial potential disruption of the secondary domain marketplace. In addition, the range of responses to be provided by contracted parties in the EAC context must be clearly delineated, and mechanisms must be set in place to prevent abuse of the EAC in non-emergency situations.

•    We have no objection to Recommendations #3, 4, 7, and 9 as they are generally consistent with our prior comments.

Discussion

The primary issue addressed in our comment letter of last August was the proposed Expedited Transfer Reversal Policy (ERTP).

While recognizing the preliminary nature of the IR, we expressed strong objection to the ETRP:

Nonetheless, we must strenuously object to adoption of the proposed ETRP in its current form. It could be extremely disruptive to the secondary domain marketplace to the detriment of both sellers and purchasers. It could also be subject to substantial abuse given the lack of effective sanctions for unjustified ETRP filings and the complete absence of any suggestions for a timely, fair and due process mechanism through which good faith domain purchasers could object to ETRP filings that they believe to be unjustified.  

Our review of the full text of the PFR reveals that many other comment letters raised similar concerns. (We would also note in passing that the PFR contains comprehensive and generally accurate summaries of our comments on this and other subjects, for which we thank members of the WG and supportive ICANN staff).

The PFR appears to have deleted any recommendation for establishment of an ETRP. Rather, the issues for which the ERTP was originally proposed appear to be encompassed within Recommendation #1, which states, “The WG is considering recommending requiring registrars to provide an Emergency Action Channel” (EAC).

The PFR goes on to raise a number of details that would need to be worked out in regard to this new proposal, including:

•    Is there a limited time following a transfer during which the Emergency Action Channel can be used?

•    Which issues may be raised through the Emergency Action Channel?

•    How/who should document the exchanges of information on the Emergency Action Channel?

•    Who is entitled to make use of the Emergency Action Channel?

The 2005 ICANN SSAC Report on Domain Name Hijacking (http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/hijacking-report-12jul05.pdf) that suggested creation of the EAC described its purpose as follows:

The purpose of this channel is to provide 24 x 7 access to registrar technical support staff that are authorized to assess an emergency situation, establish the magnitude and immediacy of harm, and take measures to restore registration records and DNS configuration in circumstances which merit such intervention.

The PFR goes on to state the following in regard to Recommendation #1, “The WG is requesting input from the ICANN Community on these questions and the recommendation itself, so this can be factored into the WG deliberations going forward.”

Unfortunately, we find ourselves unable to respond further in substantial detail at this time until we arrive at a better understanding of whether the WG intends the proposed EAC to be a substitute for the former ERTP in certain instances. Again, while we have no quarrel with, and support the goal of having an expedited process that would supplement the existing Transfer Dispute Resolution Policy (TDRP) to more expeditiously address the return of domains that have been stolen or otherwise obtained through fraud and deception, any new mechanism created to further that goal must avoid substantial potential disruption of the secondary domain marketplace and contain other important safeguards.

At a minimum, especially if the EAC is envisioned as a substitute for the ERTP under any circumstances –

•    The time period in which a domain transfer reversal can be sought must be far shorter than six months post-transfer.

•    Effective sanctions must be established against a domain seller who initiates an illicit reversal action.

•    There must be a workable dispute mechanism that contains clearly delineated due process rights and procedures for domain purchasers who believe that a reversal action has been illicitly initiated.

In addition, any proposed EAC should be available only for true crisis situations under a clear and narrow definition of “emergency” that is based upon current and reliable metrics of actual, non-hypothetical instances of abuses, including those arising from fraud and deception; must articulate the exact response or range of responses to be provided by contracted parties in response to a true emergency situation; and must contain measures that dissuade or sanction abusive employment of the EAC in non-emergency situations.

We look forward to learning more about the specifics of the proposed EAC and to providing informed input to the WG as its deliberations move forward.

As regards other issues that we raised in our letter of last August, we have no objection to the following PFR recommendations as they are generally consistent with our prior comments:

•    Recommendation #3, which would request an Issues Report on the requirement of ‘thick’ WHOIS for all incumbent gTLDs.

•    Recommendation #4, which would request an Issues Report regarding a proper definition of “change in control” based on current practices.

•    Recommendation #7, which would take into consideration the issue of requiring the locking of a domain name subject to UDRP proceedings within the context of comprehensive UDRP reform.

•    Recommendation #9, which would delete denial reason #7 and replace it by adding a new provision in a different section of the IRTP on when and how domains may be locked or unlocked,  with such proposed provision to be developed by ICANN staff for further consideration by the overall ICANN community.

Conclusion

We commend the dedicated members of the WG for producing a generally excellent PFR. We look forward to providing further input to the WG as it continues deliberations, especially in regard to the proposed EAC.

Thank you for your consideration of our views on this matter.

Sincerely,
Philip S. Corwin
Counsel, Internet Commerce Association

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