ICANN

7
Mar

ICA Supports Retention of Court Access for Registrants in IGO UDRPs

ICA has just filed its comment letter supporting all five recommendations contained in the GNSO Initial Report on the IGO-INGO Access to Curative Rights Protection Mechanisms Policy Development Process. ICA Counsel Philip Corwin is Co-Chair of the Working Group (WG) that prepared this Report, issued after two years of extensive research into the underlying legal and policy issues.

From the viewpoint of domain registrants, the most important recommendation is that, in the rare instance where a domain registrant targeted by an IGO believes that an adverse UDRP or URS decision is in error, the registrant will retain the right to seek de novo judicial review by a court of mutual jurisdiction. The WG did not find a sound basis for accepting the recommendation of the “IGO Small Group” that the accepted scope of jurisdictional immunity for International Intergovernmental Organizations required any appeal be heard by another arbitrator rather than a court.

Addressing this issue in its letter, ICA stated:

Creating additional rights protection schemes that apply to only an extremely small subset of Internet users is impractical and would only be justified if the mutual jurisdiction appeals clause of current DRPs would always offend the degree of judicial immunity that is generally recognized for IGOs. However, based upon the input of its legal expert, the WG properly concluded that there is no such universal absolute immunity for IGOs in domain-related disputes, and that the proper forum for adjudicating an IGO’s immunity claim is a national court.

This cautious approach is consistent with the principle that, while ICANN policies should recognize and respect existing law, ICANN has no authority to grant legal rights that go beyond contemporary law. A California non-profit corporation’s attempt to deprive domain registrants of their statutory right to judicial process might well be spurned by many national courts, and would also run afoul of many national laws prohibiting involuntary dispute arbitration that deny access to court.

Further, given the demonstrated lack of quality control, consistency, and predictability in UDRP determinations it would be fundamentally unfair to attempt to bar the owner of a valuable domain who believes that a UDRP or URS has been wrongly decided from seeking truly independent de novo judicial review. The fact that the IGO’s preferred alternative, “appeal” to another non-judicial DRP provider, might well result in a rehearing by WIPO – an UN-affiliated IGO – would inevitably raise questions about whether it was an impartial and balanced forum or one disposed to favor its IGO brethren. Likewise, as both the UDRP and URS are supplements to and not substitutes for litigation, ICANN policy should never seek to deny the citizens of any jurisdiction access to courts in order to adjudicate their statutory rights unless such a result is required by other clear and universally recognized preemptive legal principles.

In regard to what should happen when an IGO successfully asserts its immunity from the jurisdiction of such court, ICA favored adoption of Option 1 put out for comment by the WG, that “the decision rendered against the registrant in the predecessor UDRP or URS shall be vitiated”.

In explaining that preference, ICA’s letter states:

Our rationale in favor of this option is that the UDRP and URS are convenient, expedited, and lower cost supplements to available judicial process, not preemptive substitutes, and that ICANN has no authority to require a non-judicial appeal and thereby strip domain registrants of those legal rights they may possess under relevant national law. Further, our members’ overall experience with the UDRP is that panel decisions can be seriously flawed — and it is precisely in those instances where the registrant believes that panel error has occurred and the loss of a valuable or functionally important domain is imminent that availability of independent, de novo judicial review is most critically required. Given the cost of litigation, such registrant appeals will likely be rare and reserved only for the most egregious mistakes in judgment by UDRP or URS panelists.

Successful assertion of an immunity defense by an IGO in such an appeal would essentially deprive the registrant of the opportunity for independent judicial appeal. In that circumstance, the UDRP/URS would no longer be a supplement to relevant law but a preemptive substitute for it. Such a result would go far beyond ICANN’s authority, remit and mandate. Therefore, if the IGO succeeds in its immunity claim and thereby effectively strips the registrant of its only meaningful opportunity for appeal, the predecessor UDRP should be vitiated and the situation should return to the status quo ante.

While the WG did not adopt the “Small Group” proposal, its Initial Report nonetheless recommends necessary adjustments and enhancements of existing UDRP and URS practice that will enable IGOs and INGOs to more readily access these existing expedited and low-cost curative rights mechanisms to effectively respond to misuse of their names and acronyms in the domain name system (DNS). These include allowing an IGO to assert standing to file a case based upon either trademark rights or, in the alternative, demonstration that it has complied with the simple communication and notification to WIPO prerequisite for gaining the protections for its names and acronyms in national trademark law systems in accordance with Article 6ter of the Paris Convention. The Report also clarifies that an IGO may avoid any concession on the matter of jurisdictional immunity by electing to file a UDRP or URS through an assignee, agent or licensee.

The comment period on the Initial Report has been extended through March 30th at the request of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) so that its members may have the benefit of attending sessions on the WG Report as well as facilitated GNSO-GAC discussions on outstanding IGO issues during the upcoming ICANN 58 meeting in Copenhagen. The WG will evaluate all the comments and consider whether changes should be made to its recommendations prior to issuing a Final Report for consideration by the GNSO Council. Any recommendations endorsed by Council will be sent on to ICANN’s Board for approval and implementation; the GAC can render its own advice on the Final Report and the Board is bound to consider that advice if it is adopted by full GAC consensus.

The full text of ICA’s comment letter is available here: ICA-IGO-CRP-Comment-Final

6
Oct

In Extending .Com RA, ICANN Board also Extended Price Freeze Through 2024

We have previously reported that, at is September 15th meeting, ICANN’s Board approved the proposed extension of the .Com registry Agreement (RA). What we did not know at the time was that the Board simultaneously approved an extension of the existing $7.85 ceiling on .Com wholesale prices through 2024.

 

That additional information recently became available when ICANN published its Preliminary Report | Regular Meeting of the ICANN Board for the September 15th meeting. The full text regarding the Board’s approval of the .Com RA extension is reproduced at the end of this blog, with key provisions related to wholesale pricing highlighted.

 

The key passage in that meeting narrative is:

The Vice Chair informed that Board that staff worked with Verisign to address this comment by proposing to revise the version of the amendment posted for public comment by adding additional language to extend the maximum price provision through 30 November 2024. The Board continued its discussion of the proposed amendment with the understanding that the amendment would be revised to reflect the noted change.

 

A revised version of the adopted RA extension language has also been published. The relevant language change reads as follows:

(b) Section 7.3(d)(i) of the Agreement is hereby deleted and replaced in its entirety by the following new Section 7.3(d)(i): “(i) from the Effective Date through November 30, 2024, US $7.85;”

 

There are two important caveats to keep in mind in understanding the import of this ICANN Board action:

  1. While the revised .Com RA now extends the price freeze through 2024, the issue could be raised again in negotiations between ICANN and Verisign if the US decides not extend the Cooperative Agreement (CA) in 2018, or does extend it but alters the pricing terms. That’s because the RA extension amendment also contains this provision—

Future Amendments. The parties shall cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the terms of the Agreement (a) by the second anniversary of the Amendment Effective Date, to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD, and (b) as may be necessary for consistency with changes to, or the termination or expiration of, the Cooperative Agreement between Registry Operator and the Department of Commerce.

 

Under that provision, if the CA is terminated or revised in 2018 that would lead to discussion of amendments to the RA necessary for consistency with the CA. The Department of Justice recently advised Senator Cruz that the RA extension has no effect on the .Com price freeze, and that NTIA has the authority to extend the price freeze through 2024.

 

So what ICANN’s Board has done with this action is, in effect, pre-approve an extension of the existing .Com price freeze in anticipation that the NTIA may extend it through 2024. But what NTIA will actually do in the next two years cannot be predicted at this time, and if that agency takes a different course of action then ICANN and Verisign will enter into new discussions to reconcile the RA and CA (or reconcile the RA with the expiration of the CA).

 

  1. By extending the RA now, rather than having it come up for renewal in 2018, the possibility of ICANN staff pushing Verisign to adopt URS or other new gTLD RPMs in .Com contract renewal negotiations – as they did last year for .cat, .pro, and .travel — has been eliminated. That was one of the principal considerations underlying ICA’s non-objection to the RA extension, along with an understanding that it would have no effect on the price freeze.

 

However, adoption of those RPMs by .Com was advocated by trademark and other interests who commented on the proposed RA extension, and could come up in the talks between ICANN and Verisign that the amended RA requires “to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD”.

 

But the question of whether and in what form URS should become an ICANN Consensus Policy applicable to legacy gTLDs like .Com will likely be addressed by the RPM Review Working Group when it issues its phase one preliminary report and recommendations in 2017, and its decision should have substantial impact on any subsequent security and stability discussions between ICANN and Verisign.

 

 

Here’s the relevant language of the Preliminary Report —

 

 

.COM Registry Agreement Amendment

Ram Mohan abstained noting potential conflicts of interest. The Vice Chair presented the agenda item. He gave the Board an overview of the proposed amendment to the .COM registry agreement to extend the term of the agreement to 2024. The original term of the registry agreement was set to expire in 2018. He reported that there were some concerns raised during the public comment period about clarifying whether the maximum price provision in the .COM registry agreement would continue. The Vice Chair informed that Board that staff worked with Verisign to address this comment by proposing to revise the version of the amendment posted for public comment by adding additional language to extend the maximum price provision through 30 November 2024. The Board continued its discussion of the proposed amendment with the understanding that the amendment would be revised to reflect the noted change.

The Vice Chair stated that another topic of concern raised during the public comment period was about moving the existing.COM registry agreement to the form of the New gTLD Registry Agreement. The Board considered this concern, and took note of the provision in the proposed amendment obligating Verisign to ICANN to negotiate in good faith in two years potential changes to the registry agreement in order to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the TLD.

The Board also discussed the extension of the term of the .COM registry agreement as it relates to other provisions in the existing .COM registry agreement that might allow for future changes of the agreement. As part of this discussion, the Board considered the provisions in the .COM registry agreement concerning renewals being upon similar terms of the largest five gTLDs, and provisions addressing the implementation of consensus policies developed through the GNSO policy development process.

As part of its deliberations, the Board also considered comments raised by some members of the community about whether approving the proposed amendment raised concerns about fairness and whether similarly situated parties were unjustifiably receiving different treatment.

The Board discussed the interplay between the proposed amendment to the .COM registry agreement and the Root Zone Maintainer Services Agreement (RZMA) approved by the Board on 9 August 2016. The Board considered whether the proposed resolutions needed to be revised to make sure the dates of the two agreements would be aligned as anticipated. After discussion, the Board took the following action:

Resolved (2016.09.15.09a), the text of the proposed resolution to amend the .COM registry agreement is modified to make approval of the amendment subject to the execution of the RZMA.

The Board adopted the following amended resolution regarding the proposed .COM amendment2:

Whereas, ICANN and Verisign engaged in discussions on a proposed amendment to the 1 December 2012 .COM Registry Agreement (“Amendment”) and agreed to extend the term of the Agreement to 30 November 2024 to coincide with the term of the Root Zone Maintainer Services Agreement in order to enhance the security, stability and resiliency of root zone operations.

Whereas, the proposed Amendment also requires Verisign and ICANN to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to: (1) amend the .COM Registry Agreement by the second anniversary date of the proposed Amendment in order to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the TLD; and (2) as may be necessary for consistency with changes to the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the U.S. Department of Commerce. All other terms and conditions in the existing Registry Agreement remain unchanged.

Whereas, ICANN commenced a public comment period from 30 June 2016 to 12 August 2016 <https://www.icann.org/public-comments/com-amendment-2016-06-30-en> on the proposed Amendment. Ninety-nine (99) comment submissions were posted by both individuals and organizations/groups.

Whereas, the Board carefully considered the comments and the staff summary and analysis of comments.

Whereas, ICANN conducted a review of Verisign’s recent performance under the current .COM Registry Agreement and found that Verisign substantially met its contractual requirements.

Resolved (2016.09.15.09b), the proposed amendment to the .COM Registry Agreement <https://www.icann.org/sites/default/files/tlds/com/com-amend-1-pdf-30jun16-en.pdf> is approved, subject to the RZMA being executed, and the President and CEO, or his designee(s), is authorized to take such actions as appropriate to finalize and execute the Amendment.

All members of the Board present voted in favor of Resolutions 2016.09.15.09a – 2016.09.15.09b. One member of the Board was unavailable to vote on the Resolutions. The Resolutions carried.

Rationale for Resolutions 2016.09.15.09a – 2016.09.15.09b

Why the Board is addressing the issue now?

On 1 December 2012, ICANN and Verisign, entered into a Registry Agreement under which Verisign operates the .COM top-level domain. The agreement is set to expire on 30 November 2018. ICANN and Verisign have negotiated a proposed Amendment, which was posted for a 42-day ICANN public comment period between 30 June 2016 and 12 August 2016. At this time, the Board is approving the proposed Amendment for the continued operation of .COM TLD by Verisign.

What is the proposal being considered?

The proposed Amendment: (1) extends the term of the .COM Registry Agreement to 30 November 2024 to coincide with the term of the Root Zone Maintainer Services Agreement (RZMA) between ICANN and Verisign; (2) commits Verisign and ICANN to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the .COM Registry Agreement by the second anniversary date of the proposed Amendment in order to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the TLD; (3) commits Verisign and ICANN to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the terms of the .COM Registry Agreement as may be necessary for consistency with changes to the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the U.S. Department of Commerce. All other terms and conditions of the existing Registry Agreement remain unchanged.

Which stakeholders or others were consulted?

ICANN engaged in bilateral negotiations with Verisign to agree to the terms of the proposed Amendment. The proposed Amendment was then published for public comment from 30 June 2016 to 12 August 2016. Following the public comment period, the comments were summarized and analyzed.

What concerns or issues were raised by the community?

There were 99 comment submissions from individuals and groups/organizations during the 42-day public comment period. Some commenters were generally supportive of the proposed Amendment while others raised concerns. A summary and analysis of the comments is provided below and also posted at <https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/report-comments-com-amendment-09sep16-en.pdf>.

What significant materials did the Board review?

As part of its deliberations, the Board reviewed various materials, including, but not limited to, the following materials and documents:

What factors has the Board found to be significant?

The Board carefully considered the public comments received for the proposed Amendment, along with the summary and analysis of those comments.

The Board acknowledges that some commenters were generally supportive of the proposed Amendment, and some expressed general support but also asked ICANN and/or Verisign to clarify the relationship of the Cooperative Agreement and proposed Amendment, particularly around pricing, and the provisions or topics that would be the subject of good faith negotiations by the second anniversary of the effective date of the proposed Amendment.

While the Board acknowledges the suggested changes to the proposed Amendment to specify what provisions will be discussed by the two-year anniversary of the proposed Amendment, the Board notes that the language as drafted in the proposed Amendment balances providing a commitment to engage in negotiations, while providing leeway to consider future topics related to preserving and enhancing the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD in this changing landscape.

With respect to revising the proposed Amendment to account for potential changes to, or cancelation of the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the Department of Commerce, the Board notes that the proposed Amendment already takes into account the Cooperative Agreement. The proposed Amendment includes language, requiring ICANN and Verisign to engage in good faith negotiations to make changes to the .COM Registry Agreement as may be necessary for consistency with changes to, or the termination or expiration of, the Cooperative Agreement.

The Board also acknowledges that there were several comments submitted relating to prices for .COM domain names. Some commenters suggested that the current price cap in the Registry Agreement must remain in place, while others recommended that prices must be reduced. The Board notes that Section 7.3(d) of the .COM Registry Agreement specifies the maximum price that Verisign can charge for registry services. The proposed Amendment does not change this provision.

The Board also acknowledges the comments submitted opposing the presumptive renewal right provision in the .COM Registry Agreement and suggestions that the presumptive renewal right should be taken away if certain events occur, such as an uncured material breach of the Registry Agreement. Others suggested that instead of extending the .COM Registry Agreement, it should be put out for a competitive public tender to ensure that the registrants are charged lower prices. The Board notes that the presumptive right of renewal in Section 4.2 of the .COM Registry Agreement is a provision that is in all of ICANN’s registry agreements. The provision allows a registry operator the right to renew the agreement at its expiration, provided that the registry operator is in good standing at the time of renewal as set forth under the terms of the presumptive renewal provision. This presumptive renewal provision is in place to ensure stability, security, and reliability in the operation of the TLD, i.e., to encourage long-term investment in robust TLD operations. This has served public interest by encouraging investment in the TLD registry infrastructure and improvements in reliability of the TLD operations. ICANN has previously described the rationale for presumptive renewal for registries: “Absent countervailing reasons, there is little public benefit, and some significant potential for disruption, in regular changes of a registry operator. In addition, a significant chance of losing the right to operate the registry after a short period creates adverse incentives to favor short-term gain over long-term investment. On the other hand, the community, acting through ICANN, must have the ability to replace a registry operator that is not adequately serving the community in the operation of a registry.”

The Board acknowledges the comments that the .COM Registry Agreement should be brought in line with new safeguards and intellectual property protections found in the New gTLD Registry Agreement. Some of the commenters noted that certain legacy gTLD Registry Operators have adopted the general form of the New gTLD Registry Agreement (e.g. .PRO, .CAT, .TRAVEL) including the additional enhancements and safeguards, and .COM should be required to do the same. Some suggested that not requiring .COM to be subject to the new enhancements, safeguards, and intellectual property protections in the New gTLD Registry Agreement raises concerns about whether ICANN is adhering to its core values related to non-discriminatory or preferential treatment, serving the public interest, transparency, and competition. The Board notes that the proposed Amendment posted for public comment is a simple extension of the current term of the agreement, and moving to the form of the new gTLD Registry Agreement would require longer discussion and community consultation. Proposing a simple Amendment at this time to extend the term of the .COM registry agreement is intended to maintain the stable, secure, and reliable operations of the .COM TLD.

The Board also notes that the proposed Amendment provides a provision that commits ICANN and Verisign to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the .COM Registry Agreement by the second anniversary date of the proposed amendment in order to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the TLD. This language was negotiated to provide an opportunity for future discussions that may be needed to discuss potential changes to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the .COM TLD.

The Board acknowledges comments asking for confirmation that Verisign will be required to implement future developed consensus policies that may provide for additional safeguards and enhancements. The Board notes that Section 3.1 (b) of the .COM Registry Agreement states that, “At all times during the term of this Agreement and subject to the terms hereof, Registry Operator will fully comply with and implement all Consensus Policies found at http://www.icann.org/en/general/consensus-policies.htm, as of the Effective Date and as may in the future be developed and adopted in accordance with ICANN’s Bylaws and as set forth below.”

The Board acknowledges the comments that opposed the early renewal of the .COM Registry Agreement and the linkage to the Root Zone Maintainer Agreement (RZMA). These comments noted that the root zone maintainer infrastructure should never have become “inextricably intertwined” with Verisign’s .COM operations. Some questioned how linking the two agreements would enhance the security, stability and resiliency of root operations and argued that the linkage represents a single source of failure. These commenters urged ICANN technical staff to begin exploring how some practical separation between root zone and .COM technical operations might be achieved if that eventuality ever arises, and to assure that such action does not pose a threat to the security and stability of the DNS.

The Board notes that Verisign has been providing “registration services” under its Cooperative Agreement with NTIA for many years, which was broadly defined to include root zone maintainer function and .COM Top Level Domain registry services. Given the unified nature of these two functions under the Cooperative Agreement, much of the infrastructure supporting the root zone maintainer function is “intertwined” with Verisign’s TLD operations for .COM. A key component of ensuring security of the root operations was making sure that those operations continued to benefit from its historic association with the .COM operations. This was achieved by the proposed simple extension of the .COM Registry Agreement to coincide with the term of the new RZMA. While the terms of the agreements are linked together in the sense that they would expire at the same time, the agreements do not contain any provisions linking the performance of the obligations under the .COM Registry Agreement with the obligations under the RZMA. In fact, the Root Zone Maintainer Services Agreement (“RZMA”), approved by the ICANN Board on 9 August 2016, includes provisions that provide the community the ability – through a consensus-based, community-driven process – to require ICANN to transition the root zone maintainer function to another service provider three years after the effective date of the agreement.

The Board acknowledges the comments suggesting that not requiring .COM to be subject to the new enhancements, safeguards, and intellectual property protections in the New gTLD Registry Agreement raises concerns about whether ICANN is adhering to its core values related to non-discriminatory or preferential treatment, serving the public interest, transparency, and competition.

The Board notes that the Bylaws enumerate core values that should guide the decisions and actions of ICANN in performing its mission, and ICANN takes seriously its commitment to those values. As provided in the Bylaws, the “core values are deliberately expressed in very general terms, so that they may provide useful and relevant guidance in the broadest possible range of circumstances. Because they are not narrowly prescriptive, the specific way in which they apply, individually and collectively, to each new situation will necessarily depend on many factors that cannot be fully anticipated or enumerated; and because they are statements of principle rather than practice, situations will inevitably arise in which perfect fidelity to all eleven core values simultaneously is not possible. Any ICANN body making a recommendation or decision shall exercise its judgment to determine which core values are most relevant and how they apply to the specific circumstances of the case at hand, and to determine, if necessary, an appropriate and defensible balance among competing values.” When considering the comments and approval of the proposed Amendment, the Board has taken into consideration the relevant core values in order to balance the competing priorities.

The Board further acknowledges comments concerning competitive issues and providing a level playing field. Article II, Section 3 of ICANN’s Bylaws state, “ICANN shall not apply its standards, policies, procedures, or practices inequitably or single out any particular party for disparate treatment unless justified by substantial and reasonable cause, such as the promotion of effective competition.” The Board notes the .COM Registry Agreement contains many different terms that are not present in other registry agreements. These unique terms might be considered either favorable or unfavorable depending on one’s point of view. For example, the price control provision in Section 7.3 of the .COM registry agreement tightly controls the ability of the registry operator to raise prices in a manner that is not present in any other registry agreement.

Are there positive or negative community impacts?

ICANN conducted a review of Verisign’s recent performance under the current .COM Registry Agreement and found that Verisign substantially met its contractual requirements.

The Board’s approval of the proposed Amendment is intended to ensure the continued stable, secure, and reliable operations of the .COM TLD.

Are there fiscal impacts or ramifications on ICANN (strategic plan, operating plan, budget); the community; and/or the public?

There is no significant fiscal impact expected if the Board approves the proposed Amendment.

Are there any security, stability or resiliency issues relating to the DNS?

There are no expected security, stability, or resiliency issues related to the DNS if the Board approves the proposed Amendment

 

20
Sep

ICANN Board Approves .Com RA Extension

ICANN has just released the Approved Board Resolutions from its meeting of Thursday, September 15th, and one of its major actions was to approve the proposed extension of the .Com registry Agreement (RA) through November 2024. The complete text of the Resolution and the rationale for its adoption can be found at the end of this post.

Wholesale prices of .Com domains are unaffected by the RA extension and remain frozen at $7.85 through the end of November 2018 under the terms of the separate Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the NTIA. As the Department of Justice explained in an August 31st letter to Sen. Ted Cruz, once the RA is extended the NTIA will have full leeway to extend the price freeze through 2024.

ICA had filed a public comment, in which we indicated non-opposition to the proposed extension so long as it did not affect .Com pricing or get tied to policy decisions that should not properly be injected into contract negotiations between ICANN and registries.

As stated in the Executive Summary of ICA’s comment letter:

  • ICA has no objection to the proposed .Com RA extension as it simply provides the same additional six year contract term that Verisign would be entitled to in 2018 under its contractual right of presumptive renewal. It will have the salutary effect of preventing GDD staff from attempting to impose the URS and other new gTLD RPMs on .Com during a time when an active ICANN Working Group is exploring the policy question of whether any of these RPMs should become Consensus Policy applicable to legacy gTLDs.
  • Our non-objection is based on our understanding that the contract term extension will have no impact on the pricing of .Com domains, as the current price freeze they are subject to is contained in the separate Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the NTIA.
  • While we have no general objection to ICANN’s practice of non-interference with the pricing policies of gTLD registries, we do believe that any registry’s abuse of pricing power should weigh against its right of presumptive renewal. We therefore believe that ICANN should amend all registry contracts to make clear that, at a minimum, a registry operator subject to successful government action for violations of antitrust or competition laws should face competitive rebid of its contract. Such amendment would further discourage all gTLD registries from engaging in abusive and anticompetitive market conduct.
  • While the proposed RA extension is justified by the present intermingling of .Com and Root Zone technical operations, given that the related RZMA between ICANN and Verisign contemplates the possibility of future termination or transition, we would urge ICANN to take steps to assure that the intermingling does not continue to such an extent that would make the exercise of those options technically infeasible or contrary to the security and stability of the DNS.

As ICA anticipated, trademark interests such as the International Trademark Association (INTA) and ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) opposed approval of the proposed RA extension unless Verisign committed in advance to adopt the rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) created for the new gTLD program. Some new gTLD registry operators took a similar position. The question of whether those RPMs should become applicable to legacy gTLDs like .Com is presently being considered by an ICANN working group reviewing all RPMs in all gTLDs, and it is expected to issue a draft report and recommendations in mid-2017. That GNSO-created policy review group is the proper place for such issues to be transparently studied and decided, rather than in closed door negotiations between ICANN staff and registry operators.

In explaining its decision, the Board noted that some commenters had wanted the Board to specify what additional subjects should be discussed by ICANN and Verisign in potential negotiations between now and 2018, but it refused to do so, explaining:

While the Board acknowledges the suggested changes to the proposed Amendment to specify what provisions will be discussed by the two-year anniversary of the proposed Amendment, the Board notes that the language as drafted in the proposed Amendment balances providing a commitment to engage in negotiations, while providing leeway to consider future topics related to preserving and enhancing the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD in this changing landscape.

The Board also noted the comments that had called for it to impose the new gTLD RPMs as part of this approval, and explained why it had declined to do so:

The Board acknowledges the comments that the .COM Registry Agreement should be brought in line with new safeguards and intellectual property protections found in the New gTLD Registry Agreement. Some of the commenters noted that certain legacy gTLD Registry Operators have adopted the general form of the New gTLD Registry Agreement (e.g .PRO, .CAT, .TRAVEL) including the additional enhancements and safeguards, and .COM should be required to do the same. Some suggested that not requiring .COM to be subject to the new enhancements, safeguards, and intellectual property protections in the New gTLD Registry Agreement raises concerns about whether ICANN is adhering to its core values related to non-discriminatory or preferential treatment, serving the public interest, transparency, and competition. The Board notes that the proposed Amendment posted for public comment is a simple extension of the current term of the agreement, and moving to the form of the new gTLD Registry Agreement would require longer discussion and community consultation. Proposing a simple Amendment at this time to extend the term of the .COM registry agreement is intended to maintain the stable, secure, and reliable operations of the .COM TLD.

The Board’s explanation also contains this very relevant language:

The Board acknowledges the comments suggesting that not requiring .COM to be subject to the new enhancements, safeguards, and intellectual property protections in the New gTLD Registry Agreement raises concerns about whether ICANN is adhering to its core values related to non-discriminatory or preferential treatment, serving the public interest, transparency, and competition….When considering the comments and approval of the proposed Amendment, the Board has taken into consideration the relevant core values in order to balance the competing priorities.

The Board further acknowledges comments concerning competitive issues and providing a level playing field. Article II, Section 3 of ICANN’s Bylaws state, “ICANN shall not apply its standards, policies, procedures, or practices inequitably or single out any particular party for disparate treatment unless justified by substantial and reasonable cause, such as the promotion of effective competition.” The Board notes the .COM Registry Agreement contains many different terms that are not present in other registry agreements. These unique terms might be considered either favorable or unfavorable depending on one’s point of view. For example, the price control provision in Section 7.3 of the .COM registry agreement tightly controls the ability of the registry operator to raise prices in a manner that is not present in any other registry agreement.

Summing up, ICA commends the Board for not entangling a simple extension of the .Com RA intended to assure the security and stability of the DNS with policy decisions that are being properly addressed in an ongoing ICANN working group. Although the extension commits both ICANN and Verisign to engage in such additional discussions as are necessary for consistency with any changes to, or the termination or expiration of, the Cooperative Agreement between NTIA and Verisign, any such discussions will likely take place after the RPM Review WG has rendered its consensus on whether any of the new gTLD RPMs should become Consensus Policy and, equally important, whether any of them should be modified going forward.

*****

Text of ICANN Board Resolution and Rationale—

 

.COM Registry Agreement Amendment

Whereas, ICANN and Verisign engaged in discussions on a proposed amendment to the 1 December 2012 .COM Registry Agreement (“Amendment”) and agreed to extend the term of the Agreement to 30 November 2024 to coincide with the term of the Root Zone Maintainer Services Agreement in order to enhance the security, stability and resiliency of root zone operations.

Whereas, the proposed Amendment also requires Verisign and ICANN to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to: (1) amend the .COM Registry Agreement by the second anniversary date of the proposed Amendment in order to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the TLD; and (2) as may be necessary for consistency with changes to the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the U.S. Department of Commerce. All other terms and conditions in the existing Registry Agreement remain unchanged.

Whereas, ICANN commenced a public comment period from 30 June 2016 to 12 August 2016 <https://www.icann.org/public-comments/com-amendment-2016-06-30-en> on the proposed Amendment. Ninety-nine (99) comment submissions were posted by both individuals and organizations/groups.

Whereas, the Board carefully considered the comments and the staff summary and analysis of comments.

Whereas, ICANN conducted a review of Verisign’s recent performance under the current .COM Registry Agreement and found that Verisign substantially met its contractual requirements.

Resolved (2016.09.15.09), the proposed amendment to the .COM Registry Agreement <https://www.icann.org/sites/default/files/tlds/com/com-amend-1-pdf-30jun16-en.pdf> [PDF, 100 KB] is approved, subject to the RZMA being executed, and the President and CEO, or his designee(s), is authorized to take such actions as appropriate to finalize and execute the Amendment.

Rationale for Resolution 2016.09.15.09

Why the Board is addressing the issue now?

On 1 December 2012, ICANN and Verisign, entered into a Registry Agreement under which Verisign operates the .COM top-level domain. The agreement is set to expire on 30 November 2018. ICANN and Verisign have negotiated a proposed Amendment, which was posted for a 42-day ICANN public comment period between 30 June 2016 and 12 August 2016. At this time, the Board is approving the proposed Amendment for the continued operation of .COM TLD by Verisign.

What is the proposal being considered?

The proposed Amendment: (1) extends the term of the .COM Registry Agreement to 30 November 2024 to coincide with the term of the Root Zone Maintainer Services Agreement(RZMA) between ICANN and Verisign; (2) commits Verisign and ICANN to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the .COM Registry Agreement by the second anniversary date of the proposed Amendment in order to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or theTLD; (3) commits Verisign and ICANN to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the terms of the .COM Registry Agreement as may be necessary for consistency with changes to the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the U.S. Department of Commerce. All other terms and conditions of the existing Registry Agreement remain unchanged.

Which stakeholders or others were consulted?

ICANN engaged in bilateral negotiations with Verisign to agree to the terms of the proposed Amendment. The proposed Amendment was then published for public comment from 30 June 2016 to 12 August 2016. Following the public comment period, the comments were summarized and analyzed.

What concerns or issues were raised by the community?

There were 99 comment submissions from individuals and groups/organizations during the 42-day public comment period. Some commenters were generally supportive of the proposed Amendment while others raised concerns. A summary and analysis of the comments is provided below and also posted at <https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/report-comments-com-amendment-09sep16-en.pdf> [PDF, 200 KB].

What significant materials did the Board review?

As part of its deliberations, the Board reviewed various materials, including, but not limited to, the following materials and documents:

What factors has the Board found to be significant?

The Board carefully considered the public comments received for the proposed Amendment, along with the summary and analysis of those comments.

The Board acknowledges that some commenters were generally supportive of the proposed Amendment, and some expressed general support but also asked ICANN and/or Verisign to clarify the relationship of the Cooperative Agreement and proposed Amendment, particularly around pricing, and the provisions or topics that would be the subject of good faith negotiations by the second anniversary of the effective date of the proposed Amendment.

While the Board acknowledges the suggested changes to the proposed Amendment to specify what provisions will be discussed by the two-year anniversary of the proposed Amendment, the Board notes that the language as drafted in the proposed Amendment balances providing a commitment to engage in negotiations, while providing leeway to consider future topics related to preserving and enhancing the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD in this changing landscape.

With respect to revising the proposed Amendment to account for potential changes to, or cancelation of the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the Department of Commerce, the Board notes that the proposed Amendment already takes into account the Cooperative Agreement. The proposed Amendment includes language, requiring ICANN and Verisign to engage in good faith negotiations to make changes to the .COM Registry Agreement as may be necessary for consistency with changes to, or the termination or expiration of, the Cooperative Agreement.

The Board also acknowledges that there were several comments submitted relating to prices for .COM domain names. Some commenters suggested that the current price cap in the Registry Agreement must remain in place, while others recommended that prices must be reduced. The Board notes that Section 7.3(d) of the .COM Registry Agreement specifies the maximum price that Verisign can charge for registry services. The proposed Amendment does not change this provision.

The Board also acknowledges the comments submitted opposing the presumptive renewal right provision in the .COM Registry Agreement and suggestions that the presumptive renewal right should be taken away if certain events occur, such as an uncured material breach of the Registry Agreement. Others suggested that instead of extending the .COM Registry Agreement, it should be put out for a competitive public tender to ensure that the registrants are charged lower prices. The Board notes that the presumptive right of renewal in Section 4.2 of the .COM Registry Agreement is a provision that is in all of ICANN’s registry agreements. The provision allows a registry operator the right to renew the agreement at its expiration, provided that the registry operator is in good standing at the time of renewal as set forth under the terms of the presumptive renewal provision. This presumptive renewal provision is in place to ensure stability, security, and reliability in the operation of the TLD, i.e., to encourage long-term investment in robust TLD operations. This has served public interest by encouraging investment in the TLD registry infrastructure and improvements in reliability of the TLD operations. ICANN has previously described the rationale for presumptive renewal for registries: “Absent countervailing reasons, there is little public benefit, and some significant potential for disruption, in regular changes of a registry operator. In addition, a significant chance of losing the right to operate the registry after a short period creates adverse incentives to favor short-term gain over long-term investment. On the other hand, the community, acting through ICANN, must have the ability to replace a registry operator that is not adequately serving the community in the operation of a registry.”

The Board acknowledges the comments that the .COM Registry Agreement should be brought in line with new safeguards and intellectual property protections found in the New gTLD Registry Agreement. Some of the commenters noted that certain legacy gTLD Registry Operators have adopted the general form of the New gTLD Registry Agreement (e.g .PRO, .CAT, .TRAVEL) including the additional enhancements and safeguards, and .COM should be required to do the same. Some suggested that not requiring .COM to be subject to the new enhancements, safeguards, and intellectual property protections in the New gTLD Registry Agreement raises concerns about whether ICANN is adhering to its core values related to non-discriminatory or preferential treatment, serving the public interest, transparency, and competition. The Board notes that the proposed Amendment posted for public comment is a simple extension of the current term of the agreement, and moving to the form of the new gTLD Registry Agreement would require longer discussion and community consultation. Proposing a simple Amendment at this time to extend the term of the .COM registry agreement is intended to maintain the stable, secure, and reliable operations of the .COM TLD.

The Board also notes that the proposed Amendment provides a provision that commits ICANN and Verisign to cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the .COM Registry Agreement by the second anniversary date of the proposed amendment in order to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the TLD. This language was negotiated to provide an opportunity for future discussions that may be needed to discuss potential changes to preserve and enhance the security of the Internet or the .COM TLD.

The Board acknowledges comments asking for confirmation that Verisign will be required to implement future developed consensus policies that may provide for additional safeguards and enhancements. The Board notes that Section 3.1 (b) of the .COM Registry Agreement states that, “At all times during the term of this Agreement and subject to the terms hereof, Registry Operator will fully comply with and implement all Consensus Policies found athttp://www.icann.org/en/general/consensus-policies.htm, as of the Effective Date and as may in the future be developed and adopted in accordance with ICANN’s Bylaws and as set forth below.”

The Board acknowledges the comments that opposed the early renewal of the .COM Registry Agreement and the linkage to the Root Zone Maintainer Agreement (RZMA). These comments noted that the root zone maintainer infrastructure should never have become “inextricably intertwined” with Verisign’s .COM operations. Some questioned how linking the two agreements would enhance the security, stability and resiliency of root operations and argued that the linkage represents a single source of failure. These commenters urged ICANN technical staff to begin exploring how some practical separation between root zone and .COM technical operations might be achieved if that eventuality ever arises, and to assure that such action does not pose a threat to the security and stability of the DNS.

The Board notes that Verisign has been providing “registration services” under its Cooperative Agreement with NTIA for many years, which was broadly defined to include root zone maintainer function and .COM Top Level Domain registry services. Given the unified nature of these two functions under the Cooperative Agreement, much of the infrastructure supporting the root zone maintainer function is “intertwined” with Verisign’s TLD operations for .COM. A key component of ensuring security of the root operations was making sure that those operations continued to benefit from its historic association with the .COM operations. This was achieved by the proposed simple extension of the .COM Registry Agreement to coincide with the term of the new RZMA. While the terms of the agreements are linked together in the sense that they would expire at the same time, the agreements do not contain any provisions linking the performance of the obligations under the .COM Registry Agreement with the obligations under the RZMA. In fact, the Root Zone Maintainer Services Agreement (“RZMA”), approved by theICANN Board on 9 August 2016, includes provisions that provide the community the ability – through a consensus-based, community-driven process – to require ICANN to transition the root zone maintainer function to another service provider three years after the effective date of the agreement.

The Board acknowledges the comments suggesting that not requiring .COM to be subject to the new enhancements, safeguards, and intellectual property protections in the New gTLD Registry Agreement raises concerns about whether ICANN is adhering to its core values related to non-discriminatory or preferential treatment, serving the public interest, transparency, and competition.

The Board notes that the Bylaws enumerate core values that should guide the decisions and actions of ICANN in performing its mission, and ICANN takes seriously its commitment to those values. As provided in the Bylaws, the “core values are deliberately expressed in very general terms, so that they may provide useful and relevant guidance in the broadest possible range of circumstances. Because they are not narrowly prescriptive, the specific way in which they apply, individually and collectively, to each new situation will necessarily depend on many factors that cannot be fully anticipated or enumerated; and because they are statements of principle rather than practice, situations will inevitably arise in which perfect fidelity to all eleven core values simultaneously is not possible. Any ICANN body making a recommendation or decision shall exercise its judgment to determine which core values are most relevant and how they apply to the specific circumstances of the case at hand, and to determine, if necessary, an appropriate and defensible balance among competing values.” When considering the comments and approval of the proposed Amendment, the Board has taken into consideration the relevant core values in order to balance the competing priorities.

The Board further acknowledges comments concerning competitive issues and providing a level playing field. Article II, Section 3 of ICANN’s Bylaws state, “ICANN shall not apply its standards, policies, procedures, or practices inequitably or single out any particular party for disparate treatment unless justified by substantial and reasonable cause, such as the promotion of effective competition.” The Board notes the .COM Registry Agreement contains many different terms that are not present in other registry agreements. These unique terms might be considered either favorable or unfavorable depending on one’s point of view. For example, the price control provision in Section 7.3 of the .COM registry agreement tightly controls the ability of the registry operator to raise prices in a manner that is not present in any other registry agreement.

Are there positive or negative community impacts?

ICANN conducted a review of Verisign’s recent performance under the current .COM Registry Agreement and found that Verisign substantially met its contractual requirements.

The Board’s approval of the proposed Amendment is intended to ensure the continued stable, secure, and reliable operations of the .COM TLD.

Are there fiscal impacts or ramifications on ICANN (strategic plan, operating plan, budget); the community; and/or the public?

There is no significant fiscal impact expected if the Board approves the proposed Amendment.

Are there any security, stability or resiliency issues relating to the DNS?

There are no expected security, stability, or resiliency issues related to the DNS if the Board approves the proposed Amendment

 

 

13
Sep

.Com RA Extension on ICANN Board’s 9/15 Agenda

 

The “.COM Registry Agreement Amendment” is on the Main Agenda for this Thursday’s Regular Meeting of the ICANN Board.

The proposed extension of the RA was announced and put out for public comment on June 30th. The public comment period closed on August 12th and ICANN staff’s Report of Public Comments was due on September 15th, coincident with the Board meeting. The original due date for that staff Report was August 26th, but was pushed back to accommodate the large number of comments and the divergent views they expressed. ICANN staff, however, beat the September 15th deadline and filed their Report on September 10th.

The .Com RA is designed to synchronize the start and end dates of that Agreement with the new Root Zone Management Agreement (RZMA) that will be entered into by CANN and Verisign and take effect on the day of the IANA transition, currently scheduled for October 1st. If the transition is delayed by Washington political maneuvering that will of course affect the start dates for both the extended .Com RA and the RZMA.

In its announcement of the proposed extension, ICANN explained:

Verisign has been providing “registration services” under its Cooperative Agreement with NTIA, which was broadly defined to include root zone management functions and Top Level Domain registry services. Given the unified nature of the present Cooperative Agreement, much of the root zone infrastructure itself is inextricably intertwined with Verisign’s TLD operations for .com as discussed in greater detail in the blog.

The extension of the term of the .com registry agreement is intended to maintain stable, secure, and reliable operations of the root zone not only for direct root zone management service customers (Registry Operators, Registrars and Root Server Operators), but also to maintain the security and stability of the Internet’s domain name system.

The referenced blog post was penned by Global Domains Division (GDD) head Akram Atallah and further explained:

Given the unified nature of the present Cooperative Agreement, much of the root zone infrastructure itself is “inextricably intertwined” with Verisign’s TLD operations for .com: the servers that provide root services are hosted at every .com resolution site (over 100 locations). These servers share bandwidth, routing and monitoring with the .com operations, and the servers use the same code base as the .com TLD name servers and are operated and maintained by the same operation and engineering group. On the provisioning side, the root zone’s provisioning system is derived from the .com Shared Registration System (SRS), using the structure, schema, and software used for .com provisioning operations. Verisign builds and signs the root zone today using the same cryptographic facilities used for .com as well as signing software derived from that used for signing .com. Importantly, Verisign’s root zone operations are also within the .com’s Denial of Service attack detection and mitigation framework including independent internal and external monitoring and packet filtering at all layers. A key component of ensuring security of the root operations was making sure that those operations continued to benefit from its historic association with the .com operations.

As noted, the volume of public comments was heavy and the views contradictory.

A great many comments were generated by domain registrants under the wholly mistaken impression that the RA extension would somehow lift the current wholesale price freeze on .Com and allow Verisign to immediately double prices or more (a move that would likely attract the immediate attention of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division as well as the Federal Trade Commission for possible abuse of market power). But those comments were based on a false premise, as the .Com price freeze is contained in an entirely separate document, the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). That agreement runs through the end of November 2018 and, as the Department of Justice recently explained in a letter to Sen. Ted Cruz:

As you may know, Verisign may not extend the .com Registry Agreement without obtaining NTIA’s prior written approval. Amendment 30 of the Cooperative Agreement requires such prior approval and provides the standard for NTIA’s review. In pertinent part, Amendment 30 provides: “[t]he Department [of Commerce] shall provide such written approval if it concludes that approval will serve the public interest in (a) the continued security and stability of the Internet domain name system and the operation of the .com registry … , and (b) the provision of Registry Services … offered at reasonable prices, terms, and conditions.” We note that the current extension proposal contemplated by ICANN and Verisign does not change the price cap contained in the 2012 .com Registry Agreement, which will remain in effect through November 30, 2018. Nor does the current extension proposal alter the price cap in Amendment 32 of the Cooperative Agreement. Moreover, if NTIA were to approve an extension of the .com Registry Agreement, it would have the right in its sole discretion to extend the term of the Cooperative Agreement with the current price cap in place until 2024 at any time prior to November 30, 2018, the date on which the Cooperative Agreement is currently scheduled to expire. If this occurs, the $7.85 fee cap would be extended another six years to 2024. (Emphasis added)

The Internet Commerce Association ICA), which represents professional domain investors, took a stance of non-opposition to the proposed RA extension. For one thing, the RA is virtually certain to be extended to 2024 when it comes up for renewal in 2018 under the terms of its presumptive renewal clause, so there’s no real harm in effecting that extension two years earlier.

And for domainers there is a net benefit, as an extension – as opposed to a renewal – would deny any negotiating leverage to GDD staff who have shown a propensity to illicitly inject themselves into the policy process by pushing for the general acceptance of certain contract revisions as legacy gTLD agreements come up for renewal, and specifically for the new gTLD Rights Protection Mechanism (RPM) of Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS), that are not Consensus Policy.

There is currently a GNSO Council-authorized working group, which I Co-Chair, that is specifically tasked under its Charter to review the efficacy of the new gTLD RPMs, recommend any adjustments, and only then consider the question of whether they should become Consensus Policy and thereby be applicable to legacy gTLDs like .Com. That standard GNSO Policy Development Process (PDP) is the proper and established route for deciding the applicability of the new RPMs to legacy gTLDs, which is clearly identified as a policy decision .

Specifically, ICA stated on this point:

“Further, changing the end date of the .Com RA through an extension now rather than a renewal in two years will have the salutary effect of depriving ICANN Global Domain Division (GDD) staff of any opportunity to seek the imposition of Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) or any other new gTLD Rights protection Mechanisms (RPMs) through contractual imposition as they did in 2105 in regard to the RAs for .Cat, .Pro, and .Travel. While the Board later stated, in approving the amended RAs, that “the Board’s approval of the Renewal Registry Agreement is not a move to make the URS mandatory for any legacy TLDs, and it would be inappropriate to do so”, we have no assurance that GDD staff does not still hold its previously stated position that, “With a view to increase the consistency of registry agreements across all gTLDs, ICANN has proposed that the renewal agreement be based on the approved new gTLD Registry Agreement as updated on 9 January 2014.” Further, notwithstanding Reconsideration Requests filed with the Board Governance Committee (BGC) by ICA, the Business Constituency (BC), and the Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC), the BGC let the imposition of URS by ICANN staff via contract renegotiation stand.

Extending the .Com RA through 2024 through the proposed extension, rather than via a negotiated renewal, will preserve the question of whether the URS and other new gTLD RPMs should become Consensus Policies applicable to legacy gTLDs for decision by the Working Group established to review all RPMs at all gTLDs – which is precisely where this key policy question should be fully and objectively considered and decided by the ICANN community.” (Emphasis in original)

ICA’s comment letter also suggested that the presumptive renewal clauses of all gTLDs should be reviewed and revised to constrain potential future pricing abuses, stating:

While we have no general objection to ICANN’s practice of non-interference with the pricing policies of gTLD registries, we do believe that any registry’s abuse of pricing power should weigh against its right of presumptive renewal. We therefore believe that ICANN should amend all registry contracts to make clear that, at a minimum, a registry operator subject to successful government action for violations of antitrust or competition laws should face competitive rebid of its contract. Such amendment would further discourage all gTLD registries from engaging in abusive and anticompetitive market conduct.

Trademark interests, for their part, saw the proposed extension as a means of bypassing the bottom-up, multistakeholder consensus policy process and imposing the new RPMs by ICANN staff fiat. The comments of the International Trademark Association (INTA) opposed the extension on these grounds:

INTA was hopeful that ICANN and Verisign would fill this gap and level the playing field by bilaterally negotiating the inclusion of the Relevant Terms when the .COM Registry Agreement was to be renewed in 2018.5 Yet in the proposed amendment to the .COM Registry Agreement that is the subject of the current public comment period, ICANN has proposed to mechanically extend that agreement until 2024, without any effort to update Verisign’s terms at all. Instead, the proposed amendment merely requires ICANN and Verisign to cooperate and negotiate in good faith sometime in the next two years to amend the agreement to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the Internet and of the .COM gTLD. That is not enough. ICANN should acknowledge that the Relevant Terms are essential to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the Internet and of the .COM gTLD, such that the requirement that ICANN and Verisign negotiate in good faith to add further amendments within a two-year time period includes a requirement to implement the Relevant Terms at that time. Given the importance of the Relevant Terms, that requirement should be explicit – not implicit.

The comments of ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) took the same tack:

The proposed 6-year extension should be accompanied by steps to promptly bring the .com registry agreement into closer harmonization with ICANN’s other registry agreements, including those entered into with new gTLDs and many legacy gTLDs since 2013 in accordance with the multi-stakeholder process in furtherance of ICANN’s mission… IPC urges ICANN and Verisign to publicly commit to making these changes within the next two years as part of the “future amendments” provision of the .com registry agreement extension.

Sadly, neither the INTA nor IPC comments even notes the existence of the Working Group to Review all RPMs in all gTLDs, even though both entities and many of their members are actively participating in it (indeed, INTA’s immediate Past President is another of the WG’s Co-Chairs). In 2015, when GDD staff successfully pushed for the incorporation of the URS in the renewal agreements for the legacy registries of .Cat, .Travel and .Pro, both organizations justified that result on the thin grounds that the registries’ acquiescence was “voluntary”. Now even that fictional fig leaf has been abandoned, with both organizations now on record that the .Com extension should be approved only if Verisign involuntarily commits now to take that step within the next two years – regardless of the recommendations of the WG regarding the adoption of the new RPMs as Consensus Policy.

ICANN’s Business Constituency (BC), for its part, also favored application of the new RPMs to .Com, but recognized that this must be accomplished via proper policy channels. The BC comment stated:

The BC believes that .COM should embrace the standardized new gTLD registry agreement at this time, instead of deferring that decision until 2024 when the proposed agreement will expire; or earlier than 2024, if any or all of these aspects of the standard new gTLD registry contract should become Consensus Policy as a result of WG recommendations that are subsequently adopted by ICANN’s Board. The BC acknowledges that there is an open legal question whether any of these aspects can be enforced against .Com registrants unless they become Consensus Policies or are adopted through a further amendment of the .COM registry agreement made subsequent to the one we are addressing in this comment letter. (Note: ICA is a BC member and the author contributed to, but was not the lead drafter of, the BC comment)

New gTLD competitors of .Com also used the comment window as an opportunity to inject that market rivalry into the policy process. Portfolio new gTLD operator Donuts stated:

Donuts is opposed to the extension of ICANN’s agreement with Verisign in its proposed form. By simply renewing the .COM agreement under its current terms, ICANN and Verisign will have missed a significant opportunity to fulfill ICANN’s self-defined mandate to increase competition in the DNS marketplace and preserve the security, stability and resiliency of the DNS by bringing provisions of the .COM agreement more in harmony with the contracts governing new gTLDs and many other legacy gTLDs that recently have been renewed.

Likewise, new gTLD .XYZ took a similar position, adding to it the claim that it could reduce .Com wholesale pricing by more than eighty percent yet still operate the most important gTLD in  a fully reliable, stable, and secure manner:

XYZ is firmly opposed to this early extension. ICANN should not passively go along with Verisign’s selfish goal of extending its unfair monopoly over the internet’s most popular top-level domain name. Instead, ICANN should act in the spirit of its Bylaws and work with the NTIA and United State Department of Commerce to put the rights to operate the .COM top-level domain to a competitive public auction among capable internet registry operators for the benefit of the public… Currently, Verisign is able to charge $7.85 per annual registration of .com domain names.  However, this price is grossly out of line with the actual cost per registration to a registry operator for each incremental registration. If the right to operate .COM were put to a competitive public tender, the market would show that the .COM registration fees to registrars could be below $2.00 per registration. In fact, if XYZ <https://xyz.xyz/> were allowed to take part in such a competitive public tender, XYZ would be prepared to offer registration fees to registrars in the range of $1.00 per registration.  This is in line with the market rate for registry services, which XYZ is very familiar with. XYZ would not only be able to operate .COM charging only $1.00 per registration, but it would be able to do so with a healthy, but reasonable, profit margin and with no impact on the operational stability, reliability, security, and global interoperability of the internet.

The .Com price freeze was imposed by the NTIA in 2012 following a full competition review by DOJ’s Antitrust Division, making it difficult to conceive that government regulators would have allowed a wholesale price at least four times greater than what was required for sound registry operation. (In 2012 ICA urged NTIA to lower .Com wholesale prices to the then lower level in place for .Net, and then index future price increases to the CPI, but NTIA declined to go that far.)

As for putting the RA out for competitive rebid, NTIA approved the then controversial presumptive renewal clause of the .Com RA ten years ago, in 2006, and since then essentially identical language has been incorporated into the standard new gTLD registry agreement. Absent a material and subsequently uncured breach of its registry agreement, both Verisign and every new gTLD operator would have grounds to immediately sue ICANN if it attempted to open their RAs to competitive rebid – and that situation will stand until either the Registry Stakeholder Group volunteers to rewrite that clause (a doubtful proposition), or antitrust regulators find the near-guarantee of perpetual renewal to undermine market competition.

Summing up, if the technical intertwining of the operation of the .Com registry and the management of the root zone functions justify aligning their contractual start and renewal dates then the ICANN Board should approve the RA extension on those merits alone and leave other issues to be settled in their proper forums.

That means that:

  • The imposition of new gTLD RPMs on legacy gTLDs should await the recommendations of the GNSO WG that is currently charged with addressing that issue – a major policy issue that should not be settled by GDD staff via contract negotiations.
  • .Com wholesale pricing should be reviewed by NTIA in consultation with the DOJ as the renewal date for the Cooperative Agreement approaches in November 2018.
  • Competition between .Com and “not com” new gTLDs should take place in the marketplace, where new gTLDs have already achieved millions of collective registrations.
  • Any adjustments of the presumptive renewal clauses in all gTLD agreements, including changes that address anticompetitive pricing behavior, should be addressed by ICANN through an open and transparent process that considers all relevant interests and objectives, and is not just a closed door negotiation between ICANN and registries.

 

 

 

 

 

2
Sep

DOJ to Cruz: .Com Price Freeze can be Extended to 2024

On August 31st the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a response to the August 12th letter from Senator Ted Cruz and some Congressional colleagues to the head of the Antitrust Division. In that letter Cruz et al asserted that if the pending extension of the .Com registry Agreement (RA) was granted in combination with the consummation of the IANA transition, that DOJ could be prevented from having “meaningful input into the prices that Verisign charges for registering a domain name within the .com domain for an extended period”. Based on that assertion, Cruz and his colleagues requested DOJ “to conduct a thorough competition review of the agreement before any oversight transition is undertaken and any agreement extension is approved”.

DOJ’s response makes clear that it will retain meaningful input into .Com pricing after the occurrence of either the .Com RA extension, IANA transition, or both; and that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in consultation with DOJ, can extend the .Com wholesale price freeze through 2024 if it chooses to do so.

The operative part of the letter states:

As you may know, Verisign may not extend the .com Registry Agreement without obtaining NTIA’s prior written approval. Amendment 30 of the Cooperative Agreement requires such prior approval and provides the standard for NTIA’s review. In pertinent part, Amendment 30 provides: “[t]he Department [of Commerce] shall provide such written approval if it concludes that approval will serve the public interest in (a) the continued security and stability of the Internet domain name system and the operation of the .com registry … , and (b) the provision of Registry Services … offered at reasonable prices, terms, and conditions.” We note that the current extension proposal contemplated by ICANN and Verisign does not change the price cap contained in the 2012 .com Registry Agreement, which will remain in effect through November 30, 2018. Nor does the current extension proposal alter the price cap in Amendment 32 of the Cooperative Agreement. Moreover, if NTIA were to approve an extension of the .com Registry Agreement, it would have the right in its sole discretion to extend the term of the Cooperative Agreement with the current price cap in place until 2024 at any time prior to November 30, 2018, the date on which the Cooperative Agreement is currently scheduled to expire. If this occurs, the $7.85 fee cap would be extended another six years to 2024. (Emphasis added)

The DOJ response does not commit it and NTIA to take any particular action on .Com pricing prior to the current November 2018 termination of the Cooperative Agreement (CA), but it does make clear that NTIA has the discretionary power to extend the CA and the price freeze that it contains. NTIA could undertake such an extension if the Boards of both ICANN and Verisign approve the RA extension, as the letter makes clear that the extension requires NTIA review and approval before it can take effect. However, NTIA may well decide to leave the decision on whether to extend the CA and retain or adjust the price freeze to the next Administration, and that decision will likely be based upon a full review by the Antitrust Division.

In a related development on the antitrust front, ICANN General Counsel John Jeffrey has just sent a letter to the Wall Street Journal stating:

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) does not enjoy an “antitrust exemption.” ICANN is not, and never has been exempted from antitrust lawsICANN has not been granted an antitrust exemption by any of its contracts with NTIA. No ruling in ICANN’s favor has ever cited an antitrust exemption as the rationale.(Emphasis added)

That belts-and-suspender concession comports with the views of most antitrust experts that ICANN’s claim to an antitrust exemption was tenuous at best even when the U.S. government exercised direct oversight of the organization, was substantially diluted when the relationship loosened under the current Affirmation of Commitments, and would conclusively disappear entirely upon consummation of the IANA transition. However, that position is at complete odds with the one that ICANN took as recently as 2012, in a lawsuit brought by YouPorn owner Manwin Licensing in regard to the then-controversial .XXX gTLD, when it asserted (and when Mr. Jeffrey was likewise General Counsel):

ICANN cannot, as a matter of law, be liable under the antitrust laws with respect to the conduct alleged in the Complaint because ICANN does not engage in “trade or commerce.”…[ICANN] does not sell Internet domain names, it does not register Internet domain names, and it certainly is not an Internet pornographer. ICANN does not make or sell anything, it does not participate in any market, and its Bylaws expressly forbid it from participating in any of the markets referenced in the Complaint.(Emphasis added)

That antitrust immunity was rejected a few months later by the Federal District Court hearing the litigation, when it decisively stated:

The Court finds the transactions between ICANN and ICM described in the First Amended Complaint are commercial transactions.

ICANN established the .XXX TLD. ICANN granted ICM the sole authority to operate the .XXX TLD. In return, ICM agreed to pay ICANN money.

This is “quintessential” commercial activity and it falls within the broad scope of the Sherman Act. Even aside from collecting fees from ICM under the contract, ICANN’s activities would subject it to the antitrust laws. (Emphasis added)

Given that in the intervening four years ICANN has established more than a thousand additional gTLDs for which it collected a third of a billion dollars in application fees and receives continuing fees from, and that the impending IANA transition will sever the final tangential relationship between the U.S. government and ICANN, this week’s antitrust concession may well reflect a decision by ICANN Legal that it no longer made sense to play a losing hand – especially when assertions of weakened DOJ antitrust authority threaten to delay or scuttle the transition.

So the clear weight of these important letters is that the .Com wholesale price freeze will stay in place and can be extended by NTIA through 2024, and that ICANN has abandoned any claim to antitrust immunity.

 

 

16
May

U. S. Government Blasts China’s Draft Domain Regulations

In an unexpected move, the two top U.S. officials charged with the Obama Administration’s Internet policy have issued a joint statement severely criticizing draft Chinese domain policies. On May 16th, the State Department’s  Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda and NTIA’s Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling issued an official statement titled “China’s Internet Domain Name Measures and the Digital Economy”. In it, they charge that “ the Chinese government’s recent actions run contrary to China’s stated commitments toward global Internet governance processes as well as its stated goals for economic reform”.

The focus of their ire are new proposed rules issued in March by China’s  Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The officials describe them as:

draft measures that would require all Internet domain names in China to be registered through government-licensed service providers that have established a domestic presence in the country and would impose additional stringent regulations on the provision of domain name services …The most controversial provision of China’s draft domain name measures – article 37 – has attracted considerable international concern, as some have interpreted the article to mean that all websites with domain names registered outside China will be blocked, thereby cutting off Chinese Internet users from the global Internet.  

The statement also throws down the gauntlet in regard to China’s recent efforts to push alternative, government-centric models of Internet governance. In this regard, it states:

China’s approach to DNS management within its borders could still contravene, undermine, and conflict with current policies for managing top level domains that emerge from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which follows a multistakeholder model in its community-based and consensus-driven policymaking approach.

While probably not affecting the content of the statement, the timing of its issuance may in part be to demonstrate a tough stance toward China’s DNS policy in advance of next Tuesday’s Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing on the IANA transition and ICANN accountability. Committee member Ted Cruz has been peppering ICANN with questions regarding former ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade’s participation in China’s World Internet Conference (WIC) last December, and his agreement to become Co-Chair of the Advisory Committee to the 2016 WIC meeting. Many speakers at the 2015 WIC meeting defended Internet censorship and heightened government control.

Adding gasoline to the fire, the statement also lashes Chinese Internet censorship, stating in that regard:

The regulations would also appear to formalize an explicit system of online censorship by forbidding the registration of websites containing any one of nine categories of prohibited content, broadly and vaguely defined, and creating a blacklist of “forbidden characters” in the registration of domain names, adding an extra layer of control to China’s Great Firewall… What we do not accept is the exercise of aggressive authority over people’s use of the Internet or the ability of a government to prevent the world from reaching its people.  Sadly, this is exactly what Chinese authorities, through these recent measures, are trying to do. 

While such views have likely been advanced in confidential meetings between Chinese and U.S. officials, it is highly unusual to see such bold charges levied against another nation in an official statement.

China has yet to respond to the U.S. allegations, and it remains to be seen if it will moderate its position regarding the draft rules – or whether it will react to this criticism by digging in and implementing them. It is also unclear what effect implementation might have on burgeoning purchases of domain names by Chinese registrants, who have flooded the secondary domain market over the past year through high-dollar purchase of short letter and number domains, and who reportedly also account for more than half the purchases of domains originating from ICANN’s new gTLD program. The draft rules could make many registries and domain names off-limits for Chinese purchasers.

The full text of the statement follows—   

 

China’s Internet Domain Name Measures and the Digital Economy

May 16, 2016 by Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda and Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling

Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda and Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Strickling

May 16, 2016

This post was cross posted to the State Department’s blog: https://blogs.state.gov/stories/2016/05/16/china-s-internet-domain-name-measures-and-digital-economy [1]

China is a force in the global digital economy and an important player in global Internet policy discussions. Today, more than 700 million people have access to the Internet in China, more than any country in the world. Several of the most valuable Internet-based companies call China home.  Global innovators and service providers from around the world, including from the United States, are eager to enter its market.

That’s why it is incredibly important that China use its power and influence in a manner that supports the continued development of the global Internet and the prosperity of its domestic digital economy.

Both of our countries participate actively in a range of international organizations and processes that discuss the global development and deployment of the Internet.  We have both argued that the current processes, which rely on the cooperation of all stakeholders including government, industry, and civil society, are working effectively for the Internet’s future development and management.

However, the Chinese government’s recent actions run contrary to China’s stated commitments toward global Internet governance processes as well as its stated goals for economic reform.

In late March 2016, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued draft measures that would require all Internet domain names in China to be registered through government-licensed service providers that have established a domestic presence in the country and would impose additional stringent regulations on the provision of domain name services.

The regulations appear to create a barrier to access and force localization of data and domestic registration of domain names.  Whether driven by a motivation to increase control over Internet content in China or a desire to increase the quantity of Chinese-registered domain names, these regulations would contravene policies that have been established already at the global level by all Internet stakeholders (including Chinese).  If put into effect, these regulations would have potentially large and negative repercussions for everyone.

The regulations have led to expressions of concern in comments formally submitted by governments, including the United States, companies, and other stakeholders around the world that support an open and interoperable Internet.

The most controversial provision of China’s draft domain name measures – article 37 – has attracted considerable international concern, as some have interpreted the article to mean that all websites with domain names registered outside China will be blocked, thereby cutting off Chinese Internet users from the global Internet.  While Chinese authorities have clarified that the intent of the article would be to prohibit access to Chinese-registered domain names that are acquired from registries/registrars that are not in compliance with Chinese regulations, concerns remain that the language in its current form is vague and open to differing interpretations.  Even if applied to Chinese-registered domain names, China’s approach to DNS management within its borders could still contravene, undermine, and conflict with current policies for managing top level domains that emerge from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which follows a multistakeholder model in its community-based and consensus-driven policymaking approach.

Other concerns with the measures include requirements for forced data localization and real name verification for the registration of Internet addresses.  For instance, the draft measures appear to mandate that all Internet domain name registrars, registries, root server operators, and others, maintain zone files in China, thereby compelling firms to create a system for their China operations, which is entirely separate from their global operations.  This forced localization, though not unprecedented in China, would potentially create new barriers to the free flow of information and commerce across borders and consequently infringe upon internationally recognized commitments on free expression and trade.  The regulations would also appear to formalize an explicit system of online censorship by forbidding the registration of websites containing any one of nine categories of prohibited content, broadly and vaguely defined, and creating a blacklist of “forbidden characters” in the registration of domain names, adding an extra layer of control to China’s Great Firewall.

The United States supports the open global Internet as a platform for free expression and economic and human development worldwide, and we support the growth of China’s digital ecosystem within that context. We welcome the Chinese adoption and creation of Internet-based technologies and services.

What we do not accept is the exercise of aggressive authority over people’s use of the Internet or the ability of a government to prevent the world from reaching its people.  Sadly, this is exactly what Chinese authorities, through these recent measures, are trying to do.  Such efforts will not only create undue burdens and challenges for enterprises, both Chinese and foreign, operating in China, but they will also diminish the view of China as a constructive partner in the development of the global Internet.  Furthermore, they will hinder Chinese technology and services from achieving acceptance outside of China.

We have listened to company concerns, consulted with diplomatic partners, and shared our views directly with the Chinese government, while calling for China to continue dialogue with a broad group of stakeholders as its draft regulations are revised.

The digital economy has become one of the most powerful engines for global economic growth.  If left unchanged, China’s regulations would undermine some of the most fundamental aspects of the Internet – openness, reliability, and interoperability – within China.  By creating its own rules for domain name management, China is threatening to fragment the Internet, which would limit the Internet’s ability to operate as a global platform for human communication, commerce, and creativity.

Lawrence E. Strickling [2] serves as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda [3] serves as U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. Department of State.

Topics:

National Telecommunications and Information Administration
1401 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC 20230

commerce.gov | Privacy Policy | Web Policies | FOIA | Accessibility | usa.gov

Source URL: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/blog/2016/china-s-internet-domain-name-measures-and-digital-economy

Links:
[1] https://blogs.state.gov/stories/2016/05/16/china-s-internet-domain-name-measures-and-digital-economy
[2] http://www.ntia.doc.gov/legacy/about/bio_strickling.html
[3] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/bureau/209063.htm
[4] http://www.ntia.doc.gov/category/domain-name-system

 

1
Feb

Final RPM Report Follows ICA Comment and Sets Stage for UDRP Review

Domain registrants have long voiced their desire for a comprehensive review and subsequent reforms of the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). That goal is now in sight, and is set to proceed in the manner recommended to ICANN by ICA.

On January 11, 2016 ICANN policy staff submitted to the GNSO Council the “Final Issue Report on a Policy Development Process to Review All Rights Protection Mechanisms in All Generic Top-Level Domains”. That Final Report is culmination of a public comment process that started last October, in which ICA actively participated, considering how a review of the rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) for the new gTLD program should be related to an unprecedented review of the UDRP, the only ICANN Consensus Policy that has never been subjected to scrutiny since its creation. Domain registrants desiring a balanced approach to their rights versus those of trademark owners have a big stake in both reviews. RPMs should recognize and protect the rights of both domains and trademarks.

In its December 1st comment letter, ICA stated its preference for a sequential review process:

ICA prefers a separate and sequential approach for the reviews and subsequent reports and recommendations, with the RPM review preceding and thereby informing the UDRP review.

ICA further explained its practical and policy reasons for that preferred two-part approach:

Both domain registrants and trademark owner complainants deserve, after nearly two decades of unexamined use, a UDRP review and reform process that is accorded adequate time for comprehensive review and development of subsequent recommendations. This review of necessity must be preceded by the RPM review, as it was the intent of the GNSO Council in 2011 that the UDRP review be informed by that of the RPMs and by any changes made to them….We fully expect that there will be substantial interest in completing the RPM review prior to the opening of any second round of new gTLDs, and that consideration provides another reason for structural separation. If the RPM and UDRP reviews were addressed together, substantial pressure could arise to truncate the UDRP portion lest it delay the timing and adoption of final RPM recommendations. As a result this first-ever UDRP review could get short shrift and inadequate attention.

That ICA suggestion was essentially adopted by ICANN staff. In this regard, the Final Report suggests the following procedure:

Following review of community feedback received regarding the three options for a RPM review that were presented in the Preliminary Issue Report for public comment, ICANN staff recommends that the GNSO Council launch a PDP in accordance with what was presented as the third option in the Preliminary Issue Report: namely, to conduct a policy review of all the RPMs in two phases. The initial phase would focus on a review only of the RPMs developed for the New gTLD Program, and the second phase would focus on a review of the UDRP. The second phase may also include any issues identified during the first phase of the PDP that are more appropriately considered during the second phase. Cumulatively, the results of both phases of the PDP would be a full review of all RPMs developed to date for all gTLDs….Staff recommends that the work in the initial phase of the RPM PDP be performed by a standalone PDP Working Group that liaises with the recently launched PDP Working Group on New gTLD Subsequent Procedures as there may be overlapping issues arising during the work of both groups that would warrant careful coordination. Staff does not recommend folding in a review of the RPMs that were developed for the New gTLD Program into the scope of work for the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP due to the likely complexity and size of that PDP….Staff also recommends that, upon completion of Phase One, the PDP Working Group submits a First Initial Report to the GNSO Council that is also published for public comment….The second, subsequent phase of work in the RPM PDP would be a review of the UDRP, ideally carried out by the same PDP Working Group….Staff believes that a benefit of this two-phased approach is a better alignment of the timing of the work on reviewing the New gTLD Program RPMs with the operational reviews of the New gTLD Program17 (including the CCT Review) and the PDP on New gTLD Subsequent Procedures. (Emphasis added)

The GNSO Council has already proceeded in harmony with that suggested approach. During its meeting of January 21st, Council adopted a Charter for The New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP Working Group that specifically prohibits it from addressing the RPMs, stating:

Second-Level Rights Protection Mechanisms: Proposing recommendations directly related to RPMs is beyond the remit of this PDP. There is an anticipated PDP on the “current state of all rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) implemented for both existing and new gTLDs, including but not limited to the UDRP and the URS…”. Duplication or conflicting work between the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP and the PDP on RPMs must be avoided. If topics related to RPMs are uncovered and discussed in the deliberations of this PDP, those topics should be relayed to the PDP on RPMs for resolution. To assure effective coordination between the two groups, a community liaison, who is a member of both Groups, is to be appointed jointly by both Groups and confirmed by the GNSO Council. (Emphasis added)

That means that review of all the new gTLD RPMs—the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) and related Sunrise and Trademark Claims service periods; Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS); and Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedures (PDDRPs) — should be the sole preserve of a new Working Group (WG) on all RPMs in all gTLDs. Following that review, it will proceed to review the UDRP and consider whether it should be reformed.

The GNSO Council will likely take up a Motion to establish that RPM WG, as well as adopt its Charter, at its next meeting scheduled to take place on February 18th.

Once Council takes that next step, ICA intends to fully engage in the review of the new gTLD RPMs and, of course, the UDRP review. ICA will advocate an approach that, while fully respecting the legitimate rights of trademark owners, brings greater balance to the exercise of all the RPMs and that helps to make the application of the UDRP a more consistent and predictable process in the future. We will of course keep our members comprehensively informed as the reviews proceed, and will solicit their feedback and guidance as critical questions emerge.

 

 

14
Dec

Initial Statement of the Internet Commerce Association Regarding the Camilla.Com UDRP Decision

Washington, DC; December 11, 2015 —

The Internet Commerce Association today released the following initial statement in regard to the November 30 decision of the WIPO Administrative Panel in the case of Camilla Australia Pty Ltd v. Domain Admin, Mrs Jello, LLC (Case No. D2015-1593; http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/search/text.jsp?case=D2015-1593):

The egregious three-member panel decision in this Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) dispute departs substantially from prevailing UDRP practice and relies on criteria inconsistent with those set forth in the UDRP as adopted by ICANN.  This decision demonstrates once again that review and reform of the UDRP by ICANN is an urgent priority.

“The panelists on the Camilla.com dispute disregarded 15 years of UDRP practice, rewrote and distorted the Policy, and set an impossible standard for domain registrants to meet to avoid the loss of their valuable generic domains” said ICA Board member Nat Cohen, President of Telepathy Inc.  “If this decision stands and guides panelists in other future cases, it would undermine the rights of millions of domain owners, undercut much of the domain industry, and would encourage further abuse of the UDRP system”, added Cohen.

The decision states that “the Panel accepts that the Respondent did not and could not reasonably have known of the Complainant’s trademark when it registered the disputed domain name in May 2009”. Based on prevailing and proper UDRP practice, that should have ended the analysis; the Respondent clearly could not have had bad faith intent when it registered the domain. Indeed, in ICA’s view, at that point the Panel would have had clear grounds to cite the Complainant for attempted reverse domain name hijacking. Complainant received its Australian trademark more than two years after the U.S.-based Respondent registered the domain, and only has a pending “intent to use” application for a U.S. trademark.

Instead, the panelists created new and unprecedented duties for registrants, proclaiming that a “registrant of domain names that adopts a PPC revenue model must ensure that after registration the disputed domain name is not used in a deceptive or confusing manner with new or developing trademarks” and a “registrant of domain names from the moment of acquisition must be prepared to take necessary steps to ensure that the PPC links generated by algorithm do not infringe existing trademarks, or any trademarks that may emerge in future”. (Emphasis added.) The panel’s decision would place a burden on domain registrants of generic words to monitor ongoing trademark registrations in every nation in the world. It would also require them to influence the proprietary ad placement algorithms of Yahoo!, Google, and other major online ad providers. Both of these new responsibilities are nowhere to be found in the UDRP rules and are impossible to meet.

The Camilla decision overthrows an important balance between trademark and domain registrant rights and provides a blueprint for any future trademark registrant to steal valuable generic domains without paying market value by simply initiating a UDRP action.

“While ICA respects trademark rights, the UDRP cannot be allowed to become a vehicle for legitimizing domain theft,” said Cohen.

The decision of whether to appeal this UDRP decision lies with the registrant. ICA believes that this decision should be overturned under the U.S. Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA). If an appeal is filed, ICA will give full consideration to providing support to help persuade the court that the panel’s finding of bad faith registration and use is contrary to U.S. law.

ICA and its Counsel and legal advisory group are continuing to review the decision and may issue a further statement once that review is completed.

1
Dec

ICA Tells ICANN That Comprehensive UDRP Review Should Follow RPM Analysis

On November 30th ICA filed its comment letter regarding the “Preliminary Issue Report on a GNSO Policy Development Process to Review All Rights Protection Mechanisms in All gTLDs” that was published for public comment on October 9, 2015. ICA’s complete comment can be viewed at http://forum.icann.org/lists/comments-rpm-prelim-issue-09oct15/msg00021.html, and all 24 filed comments are available at http://forum.icann.org/lists/comments-rpm-prelim-issue-09oct15/index.html.

The principal question raised by the Report was whether the review and possible adjustment of new gTLD RPMs and the review and potential reform of the UDRP should be combined or separated. On that key decision, our comment letter said that the RPMs should be addressed prior to the UDRP review for these reasons:

We believe that the RPM review and the UDRP review each constitutes a highly complex array of interrelated questions and judgments, and that trying to combine the two into a single mega-review will tax any Working Group (WG) inordinately.

In particular, the UDRP review will constitute the first comprehensive inquiry into ICANN’s oldest Consensus Policy. It may address structural issues; such as whether ICANN should enter into uniform contractual agreements with all UDRP providers, whether there should be clear boundaries to prevent individual dispute providers’ Supplementary Rules from influencing decisional outcomes, and whether an internal appeals procedure should provide an avenue for a ‘UDRP Supreme Court’ to address and reconcile disparate decisions by different providers on nearly identical fact patterns.

…Both domain registrants and trademark owner complainants deserve, after nearly two decades of unexamined use, a UDRP review and reform process that is accorded adequate time for comprehensive review and development of subsequent recommendations. This review of necessity must be preceded by the RPM review, as it was the intent of the GNSO Council in 2011 that the UDRP review be informed by that of the RPMs and by any changes made to them. Further, as staff notes at page 8 of the Report, one result of “this approach is the fact that community consideration of the more general overarching issue concerning the comprehensiveness of all the RPMs as a set of aggregate protections for trademark holders in all gTLDs, as well as the issue of whether any of the new RPMs should be considered Consensus Policies like the UDRP, will necessarily be postponed to the second phase of work”. Unlike staff, we do not view that consideration as a drawback but as a far more responsible approach than considering integration of any of the new gTLD RPMs in legacy gTLD without knowing whether or in what manner they may be altered.

We agree with staff that “One benefit of this two-pronged approach is better alignment of the timing of the work on reviewing the new RPMs with the operational reviews of the New gTLD Program (including the CCT Review) and, conceivably, a new PDP on New gTLD Subsequent Procedures”. We fully expect that there will be substantial interest in completing the RPM review prior to the opening of any second round of new gTLDs, and that consideration provides another reason for structural separation. If the RPM and UDRP reviews were addressed together, substantial pressure could arise to truncate the UDRP portion lest it delay the timing and adoption of final RPM recommendations. As a result this first-ever UDRP review could get short shrift and inadequate attention.

Many of the other groups and individuals who filed comments also took the view that the RPM and UDRP reviews should be separate, with the RPMs teed up first.

What did surprise us was the reluctance of the trademark community to even contemplate a review of the UDRP, much less consider any changes based on nearly twenty years of experience with it.

The International Trademark Association (INTA) asserted that it is “is strongly opposed to opening the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) to review as the UDRP has been functioning efficiently and well for over fifteen years. It is important to maintain this effective mechanism which combats the most blatant instances of cybersquatting within the domain name system. Any review or subsequent modifications could jeopardize the benefits that the UDRP is intended to provide to trademark owners.” Having attended INTA conferences along with thousands of others, and seen the money invested in global branding as well as the sector’s political influence, it strains credulity to believe that trademark owners could be “rolled’ in the course of a UDRP review.

ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) warned “that the complexity of any review would be immense and the drain on resources considerable, with a risk of creating new problems via an overly complicated review process… the IPC has a serious concern that if a review were to be carried out, there is a risk of a polarization of views into two camps – each with a fear that the other camp would either dilute or overly strengthen the UDRP. Improvements sought by one side would be seen as potentially abusive to registrants, improvements sought by the other as potentially diluting the effectiveness of a mechanism for resolving disputes efficiently… if a review of the UDRP as a policy is to be considered, an “Expert Group” should be assembled to carry out this review.” For ICA’s part, we think that, just like war is too important to just be left to the generals, UDRP review and reform is too important to just be left to “experts” and must include participation by those with broader views of the UDRP’s impact on domain registrants and free expression, among other key considerations.

And UN agency and accredited UDRP provider the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) opined that “the UDRP continues to function as intended. In its harmonized criteria and universal application, this anti-cybersquatting mechanism has come to be recognized as an international policy success… Destabilization of the predictable UDRP framework may have a range of unintended consequences. It would disrupt the body of precedent carefully developed by hundreds of panelists from across jurisdictions in tens of thousands of cases… Each day, the UDRP demonstrates the flexibility to meet the demands of an evolving DNS; it does not need system-wide updates that would imprudently limit this flexibility”. To the contrary, domain investors would respond that this “flexibility” is code for a lack of any binding precedent that makes the UDRP more of a casino game in a world of proliferating UDRP providers.

We are pleased that ICANN’s Business Constituency, of which ICA is a member, took a more balanced approach, stating, “While the BC believes that the UDRP is working well overall, it now seems timely to engage in a review of its performance with an eye toward considering possible improvements, so long as that UDRP review commences after completion of the RPM review.”

In response to the trademark community’s message of opposition and excessive caution, ICA added this final point to our comment’s Executive Summary, to wit:

Finally, we have strong disagreement with the view expressed by a minority of commenters that the UDRP review anticipated by the GNSO Council’s Resolution of December 15, 2011 should not proceed at all, and that any such undertaking would be unduly arduous and dangerous. The UDRP is the only ICANN Consensus Policy that has never been reviewed. Like any human undertaking, it is not perfect and was drafted by individuals who could not have known how it would be implemented in practice. Any UDRP review should of course be fully informed by the actual record of UDRP practice and experience of participants, and should proceed carefully. But we are confident that a good faith UDRP review that considers the legitimate rights and interests of both registrants and complainants, as well as related public policy issues, can produce a more balanced and consistent system that preserves the fundamental virtues of the UDRP while yielding modifications that benefit all affected parties.

ICA looks forward to participating in both the RPM and UDRP reviews. ICANN staff is scheduled to deliver a Report summarizing comments and suggesting next steps by December 10th. Following receipt of that report, the GNSO Council will decide on a way forward and, if ICA’s and other commenters’ proposed procedure is followed, will consider a draft Charter for an RPM review working group in the initial months of 2016.

Throughout the coming review processes, ICA will be an active participant seeking to protect the legitimate rights and interests of domain investors and developers and to bring greater balance between trademark and domain rights.

Here’s the rest of our comment letter’s Executive Summary:

Executive Summary

  • ICA prefers a separate and sequential approach for the reviews and subsequent reports and recommendations, with the RPM review preceding and thereby informing the UDRP review.
  • ICA reiterates all of the points made and views expressed in our prior RPM comment letter of April 30, 2015.
  • ICA believes that the URS has been largely effective in achieving its intended goals. We would strongly oppose any alterations that could make it a substitute for, rather than a narrow supplement to, the UDRP. In addition, the initiation of a PDP to determine whether the URS and other new gTLD RPMs should become Consensus Policies for all gTLDs, and the full consideration of the multiple transitional issues accompanying any such decision, illustrates again that the decision of GDD staff to seek imposition of the URS in contract renewal negotiations with legacy gTLDs was a direct and impermissible intrusion into the policy realm reserved to GNSO Council by ICANN’s Bylaws. ICANN’s Board should therefore instruct GDD staff to cease and desist from any such attempts during the time that these PDPs are open and active, and should refuse to approve any legacy gTLD renewal contract that contains any provision of new gTLD RPMs.
  • The language of Trademark Claims notices may deter legitimate noninfringing domain registrations at new gTLDs. This situation can be partly but not completely addressed by providing more comprehensive information in the notice to the prospective registrant, and also clarifying under what circumstances the post-notice registration of a domain will be considered to constitute “bad faith” for UDRP and URS purposes.
  • Labels that generate a Trademark Claims notice should not be expanded beyond the present system of exact matches of the trademark, plus domain labels recovered in UDRP or court actions under the ‘Trademark-plus-fifty’ implementation measure.
  • The right of first refusal for a premium domain name during or after the sunrise period should be conditioned on whether the trademark is unique or a dictionary word, and if a dictionary word whether the gTLD label is related to the goods and services for which it is registered.
  • Our responses to the report’s UDRP questions emphasize the need for a mechanism, perhaps via an optional internal appeal, to establish greater predictability and consistency in decisions dealing with similar facts; better protection for free speech, especially legitimate noncommercial criticism; more equitable time periods for respondents to choose counsel and draft answers; a fairer means of allocating cases among UDRP providers and their panelists; and establishment of a uniform laches policy barring complaints in defined circumstances.
  • Our additional comments on the UDRP address the need for clear guidelines and meaningful penalties to determine and deter attempted Reverse Domain Name Hijacking; greater transparency requirements for UDRP providers; and establishment of an ICANN-maintained centralized database of UDRP decisions and other relevant information.

 

20
Jul

Majority Comments say “No URS by Contract at .Cat & .Pro” – While Staff Report on .Travel Comments is Two Weeks Past Due

Once again, as it was with .Travel, the vast majority of comments on the proposed renewal Registry Agreements (RAs) for the legacy .Cat and .Pro gTLDs are united in their opposition to imposition of Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) and other new gTLD rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) by contract, arguing that this is a consensus policy decision that can only be fairly made through the policy development process (PDP).

Comments following this general line of reasoning were filed on .Cat by, among others, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, IP Justice, ICANN’s Business Constituency (BC) and Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group (NCSG) — and of course the ICA along with individual comments filed by ICA Board member Nat Cohen and ICA members Jay Chapman and Greg McNair.

As we saw with the comments on .Travel, the only commenters supporting URS by contract at legacy gTLDs were ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) and new gTLD portfolio registry operator Donuts.

An identical list of commenters and positions appears at the comment forum for .Pro.

A Staff Report on the .Cat and .Pro comments is scheduled to be filed on July 21st. But odds are that these will be late, given that the due date for the staff report on .Travel comments was July 5th but all that appears at its website is this – “Report Overdue”. It’s difficult to understand why it is taking staff so long to complete and post that document, because that Staff Report is supposed to be an objective compilation and summary of the comments received – and not a defense brief to justify the staff action of proposing the inclusion of URS in these renewal RAs that has drawn such broad criticism and opposition.

We will continue to monitor the .Travel website, along with those for .Cat and .Pro, to see when those Staff Reports are filed and what they say.

Meantime, here is what ICA said in the additional comments we filed on both .Cat and .Pro:

This comment by the Internet Commerce Association incorporates by reference and supplements the comment letter we filed in regard to the proposed renewal registry agreement (RA) for .Travel on June 21st.

The issues are essentially identical, in that:

  • The proposed RAs for. .Cat and .Pro are completely identical to .Travel in regard to incorporating the URS in Section 2 of Specification 7.
  • .Cat and .Pro are legacy gTLDs created before and for which the URS is a non-relevant implementation detail of the current new gTLD program, and is not a Consensus Policy enforceable against all gTLDs and contracted parties.
  • The notice published by ICANN regarding the proposed renewal RA clearly states that “ICANN has proposed” that the new gTLD RA be the starting point for contract renewal discussion and negotiation.

This issue of staff creation of de facto Consensus Policy arose several times at the just concluded ICANN 53 meeting held in Buenos Aires. At its opening session on Sunday morning, June 21st ICANN’s GNSO Council met with senior staff of ICANN’s Global Domains Division (GDD). Many Council members raised their own strong concerns about the staff action and its destructive impact on the GNSO’s role in making gTLD policy. GDD staff provided the weak response that “we did not push anyone to accept” the URS, maintaining that .Travel, .Pro, and .Cat registry operators had all “volunteered” to include it in their proposed renewal agreements. That justification strains credulity given that GDD staff proposed its inclusion as the starting point for registry agreement renewal.

As we stated in our comment letter regarding .Travel–

There can be no doubt that this is a staff attempt to create de facto Consensus Policy, as is clearly documented by the fact that the same objectionable provision appears in the proposed renewal RAs for .Cat and .Pro, both released for comment on May 28th. This evidences a deliberate and illegitimate attempt by contracting staff to create a series of precedents that would lead inevitably to the imposition of the URS on major legacy gTLDs such as .Org, .Net and .Com when they come up for renewal, despite the fact that the URS is not an ICANN Consensus Policy.

GDD staff also said they would change their position if the GNSO told them not to seek to impose new gTLD RPMs on legacy gTLDs – which is not only an impossibility for this proposed renewal RA, given the time required for the GNSO to establish policy via the standard PDP, but completely misunderstands and reverses the proper relationship between the stakeholders and staff. It is stakeholders who create ICANN policies through a bottom up process, which are subsequently administered by staff – not staff given free rein to initiate policy in a top down and unaccountable manner via contract negotiations until the stakeholders stop them.

The same concerns were raised when the Council met with the ICANN Board on the afternoon of June 21st, where they received a far more sympathetic reception. Several Board members agreed that staff should not initiate policy changes.

In addition to the concerns raised by Council members, and at community members at the Public Forum in Buenos Aires, the comments filed on .Travel ran overwhelmingly against incorporation of the URS in the renewal RA.

Only two comments supported the action by GDD staff to propose it as a starting point:

  • The Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) stated that it “encourages Registry Operators to voluntarily go above and beyond the minimum rights protections. Whether adding new restrictions against abusive registrations, implementing blocking or creating new dispute procedures, those best practices should be encouraged and do not require a PDP for TLD Operators to implement”. We strongly disagree that there is anything voluntary about a process in which a supplicant registry in need of having its contract renewed must negotiate with ICANN staff who propose that inclusion of specific RPMs be the starting point for negotiations.
  • We therefore believe that legacy gTLD registry operators are not free to create and adopt new RPMs that alter the rights of existing registrants at the time of contract renewal because there is no one in the negotiating room to speak for the due process rights of their registrants. Indeed, such negotiations take place behind closed doors and are not transparent to affected stakeholders.
  • Further, the IPC’s claim that “there is clearly no requirement that an RPM must become consensus policy before it can be adopted by a registry. We have already learned that from Donuts and Rightside Registry, both of whom adopted a form of “blocking” as an RPM, which was also not consensus policy” completely misunderstands the critical difference between revenue-generating blocking policies promulgated by portfolio gTLD operators and dispute resolution policies. Blocking policies prevent domains from being registered in the first place and therefore have no impact on existing registrants, while alterations in dispute resolution policies can result in an existing registrant having its domain suspended, extinguished or transferred.
  • The IPC also fails to recognize the difference between a new gTLD, in which potential registrants have clear notice of any supplementary RPMs, and a legacy gTLD in which registrants should expect that additional RPMs will be adopted through a standard PDP that creates Consensus Policy.
  • The new gTLD portfolio operator Donuts, which maintained that the STI-RT that created the URS “never considered” whether it “should not be included in legacy TLDs”. All we can say is that Donuts’ recollection is quite different from ours, as we recall this question being raised multiple times and receiving assurances from STI-RT participants and others involved in the development of the new gTLD RPMs that they would not and could not be imposed on legacy gTLDs absent a subsequent review, followed by a PDP which adopted them as Consensus Policy.

In closing, we repeat the conclusion of our comment letter regarding .Travel —

Consensus Policy regarding RPMs must be vetted within the community to assure a proper balancing of the interests and rights of both trademark owners and domain registrants.

In order to assure that balance two indispensable steps are necessary:

  • The attempt to impose new gTLD RPMs on legacy gTLDs by contract must be withdrawn in recognition that such action is in violation of ICANN Bylaws. If staff is unwilling to retreat on this initiative then ICANN’s Board must assume responsibility and review all the issues at play, including compliance with the Bylaws, before any legacy gTLD RA with such a provision is made final.
  • Any further modification of the new gTLD RPMs must be considered within the context of a full PDP. We are far past the implementation phase of the new gTLD program. Further, it is clear that the applicability of the RPMs to legacy gTLDs is now primed for discussion. Unless both RPM modifications and legacy gTLD applicability are considered within the PDP framework there is a substantial risk of a bait-and-switch policy process, in which RPMs are made applicable to legacy gTLDs and then substantially altered via a backdoor, non-PDP process.

In addition, we repeat the request that ICA made directly to ICANN’s Board at the Buenos Aires Public Forum –

First, we need a commitment that any further alterations of the new gTLD RPMs will be made through a standard PDP. We are far past the implementation details stage and it is now crystal clear that these decisions will implicate legacy gTLDs as well.

Second, if GDD staff ignores the overwhelming weight of comments and retains the URS in the final RAs for legacy gTLDs, you need to vote up and down on those RAs. You need to “own” that decision and in that way indicate whether you believe this GDD staff action is or is not acceptable.

We hope that GDD staff will recognize that they have overreached on these legacy gTLD contracts and that the proper action is to strike the RPMs adopted from the new gTLD program from them and leave that decision to the multistakeholder community.

If staff does not do the right thing then we will press for an up and down Board vote on this and the other affected contracts before they take effect.

 

Sincerely,

Philip S. Corwin

Counsel, Internet Commerce Association