Policy & Law

now browsing by category

 

Don’t give your web developer access to your domain registrar account

Another business says it lost its domain to a web developer.

Image of megaphone with words "Public Service Announcement" below it

I know I’ve written about this many times, but if these stories prevent just one legal issue then it’s worth it.

Please, don’t give your web developer full access to your domain name registrar account.

Yesterday, a web site owner in Nevada filed a lawsuit (pdf) against a contract developer alleging that the developer has taken over his domain name and business.

EB Publishing, Inc. publishes ApplianceRepair.net. It hired Adrian Bursill to do work on its website. Now it alleges that he abused his access to the registrar account and switched the ownership of the website to his name.

Historical Whois records for the domain show that it changed from EB Publishing to Bursill in 2016. The domain has not switched registrars.

EB Publishing has operated the website since 1998 but says it has now lost control of it.

Your web developer should not need access to your domain registrar account. If they want access to change nameservers (which I still recommend you do yourself), make sure the access limits what they can do in the account. They should not be able to change domain contacts or transfer the domain.

Greenberg & Lieberman is representing EB Publishing.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

David Redl resigns from NTIA

Man who gave green light to .com price increases is moving on.

David Redl

David Redl has abruptly resigned from his post as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

He served just 18 months in the position.

During that time he negotiated a revised agreement with Verisign over the .com contract. The agreement allows Verisign to increase the wholesale price of .com domain names by 7% per year in four out of six years pending approval from ICANN.

He was a regular fixture at ICANN conferences where he lobbied for access to domain name Whois records.

Redl’s confirmation to the post was delayed several times by Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz, who was opposed to the U.S. cutting contractual ties with ICANN, was unhappy with Redl’s acquiescence to the handover that happened prior to his appointment.

Diane Rinaldo is taking over as acting administrator.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

Last chance to weigh in on .Biz domain price increases

Comment period ends next week.

Image of dollar sign and upwards arrow

People paid a lot of attention to ICANN’s proposal to remove price caps on .Org domain names. Some paid attention to .info. Now is your last chance to weigh in on ICANN’s proposal to remove price restrictions on .Biz domain names.

If ICANN moves forward with its plans, .Biz registry Neustar will be able to charge whatever it wants for new .biz registrations and renewals. Neustar is currently allowed to increase .biz prices 10% per year, which is a generous amount.

While .biz isn’t as popular as some other legacy top level domains, DomainTools calculates that there are more than two million .biz domains in the zone. Businesses that use .biz domains may be forced to pay higher fees to continue using their domain names.

Switching domain names is extremely expensive. It can have a major impact on a company’s search engine rankings and email services.

The comment deadline is May 14.

There’s also an open comment period for .Asia. .Asia is a sponsored top level domain without price restrictions. However, ICANN proposes making some changes to its
agreement including adding Uniform Rapid Suspension.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

ICANN books another Spring Break in Cancun

Domain name non-profit decides to party in Cancun for two Spring Breaks in a row.

Photo of two women and two men in swimsuits at the beach

Pictured: an advanced photo from an ICANN meeting in Cancun.

ICANN has named the locations of two more of its meetings taking place in 2021.

Apparently getting a two-for-one deal, the domain name overseer has booked another Spring Break in Cancun, Mexico. It’s already going to Cancun for its March 2020 meeting. Now it will return March 20-25, 2021 for ICANN 70.

The organization also selected The Hague, Netherlands for ICANN 71. That will take place June 17-17, 2021.

It previously announced that the annual general meeting (ICANN72) will be in Seattle in October 2021.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

Sun Valley ski resort loses silly cybersquatting dispute

Resort’s owner doesn’t withdraw case after it’s clear that it will lose.

Screenshot of SunValley.com

Not an accounting technology company.

Let’s say you’re the lawyer for an oil company that also owns ski resorts. One of those ski resorts is called Sun Valley.

You notice that someone registers the domain name SumValley.com (with an ‘m’ rather than an ‘n’). This might pop up on your radar as potential typosquatting. You visit the website and see that there’s a Wix placeholder on the domain name.

Now, you recognize that typosquatters don’t usually pay Wix to host a website. But you’re still concerned so you file a cybersquatting claim under UDRP with National Arbitration Forum.

The domain owner responds. It’s a husband and wife in Texas who have never skied. It turns out they are setting up an accounting/fintech business. They thought Sum Valley was a neat play on accounting and Silicon Valley. They registered the business with the Texas Secretary of State, got a federal tax ID from the IRS, opened a bank account and started invoicing customers.

At this point you drop the dispute, right?

Not Sinclair Finance Company, the arm behind oil company Sinclair that also manages its investments like Sun Valley ski resort in Idaho.

In fact, you double down by questioning why there’s no active website on the domain and say that it is reasonable to infer that the Texas couple registered the domain name with an ulterior motive, such as to disrupt Complainant’s ski business.

Sinclair obviously lost the case. If you can excuse it for filing the case, you can still question why it didn’t withdraw the dispute when it received additional facts.

The lawyer who represented Sinclar, J. Dustin Howell of Workman Nydegger, has previously filed two reverse domain name hijacking cases.

 

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

ESPN takes down “ESPN Slaughter” website

Army vet set up site to criticize spending on football.

Screenshot of ESPNSlaughter.com

An Army vet set up ESPN Slaughter to provide commentary on spending on football.

Sports network ESPN has convinced a National Arbitration Forum panel to give it the domain name ESPNSlaughter.com.

The domain name was used by a U.S. Army veteran for commentary about the National Football League.

With a name like ESPNSlaughter, you might think it had to do with the damage football causes to players’ brains. But Andrew Shulte has a different gripe: he thinks the money that goes to build stadiums and pay players could be put to better use helping society.

Schulte is a self-professed football fan but suggests a one-year NFL timeout to put money toward other causes. Of course, the NFL couldn’t pay those salaries if it didn’t play for a year, but that’s another story.

ESPNSlaughter.com mimicked an ESPN site and even had a notice “Brought to you by ESPN Media a Disney Co.”

National Arbitration Forum panelist Richard Hill found in the sports network’s favor, ruling that the domain name should be transferred.

Criticism sites are somewhat immune to cybersquatting claims but the site owner wasn’t directly attacking ESPN. He also didn’t respond to the claims.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

Someone is trying to phish domain name registrars

Criminal is spoofing ICANN.

Image representing email phishing

Hacking individual domain name registrar accounts is so old-school. Why not gain access to an entire registrar or registry?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) issued an alert that someone is running a phishing scam impersonating ICANN. The emails (so far) come from sales (at) icann.org. The perpetrator is sending them to contracted parties.

ICANN recently sent an email to some contracted parties from accounting (at) erp.icann.org, which it says is a valid email.

Of course, if someone can spoof the sales address then they can probably spoof the other one or typos of it.

ICANN.org has a DMARC record but not a published DMARC quarantine/reject policy.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

Missouri dentist tries to reverse hijack domain name

WIPO doesn’t admire dentist’s creative arguments.

Picture of woman pushing back against dentist

A WIPO panel didn’t like what this dentist was offering.

A Missouri dental practice run by dentist Brian Henningsen has been found to have engaged in reverse domain name hijacking over the domain name AdmireYourSmile.com.

Admire Your Smile, P.C. started using the “Admire Your Smile” mark after a dentist in New Jersey registered the domain name. The Missouri dentist later tried to buy the domain name but didn’t get a response. He then threated to take legal action if he didn’t receive a response. He followed up by filing a UDRP cybersquatting complaint with World Intellectual Property Organization.

Of course, that complaint fell flat on its face. Admire Your Smile, represented by Dunlap, Bennett & Ludwig P.L.L.C., tried to come up with creative arguments why the panel should make exceptions to the language of UDRP that requires a domain name be registered in bad faith, not merely used in bad faith. It even argued that the domain was renewed in bad faith.

Panelist W. Scott Blackmer wasn’t having any of it. In finding that the case was filed in bad faith, he wrote:

The Complaint argued disingenuously that the Respondent (a dentist in a distant state) was a “competitor” who registered the Domain Name “less than two years” before the Complainant began using its mark in commerce and then renewed the registration in 2017 to “disrupt” the Complainant’s business. There is no plausible evidence that the parties actually compete, and the Complainant provided no historical evidence of use of its mark beyond the unexamined claim of “first use in commerce” in its much later trademark application. The Panel found that the Complainant did not, for example, place the mark on its website until the end of 2014, seven years after the Respondent registered the Domain Name, and the Complainant did not possess a registered mark even at the time of the Respondent’s renewal of the Domain Name registration in December 2017…

…This case does seem to reflect an illegitimate domain name acquisition strategy. The Complainant adopted a business name without ascertaining that the corresponding “.com” domain name was already taken. Years later, the Complainant tried to purchase the Domain Name. Years after that, the Complainant obtained a trademark registration and threatened the Respondent. It may be telling that the Complainant did not act on that threat for more than a year. There are obvious gaps in the evidence and argumentation presented in the Complaint, as discussed above, despite signs that the Complainant’s counsel was aware that the third element, bad faith, would appear on its face to be impossible to establish.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

The economics of domain name prices

ICANN has a duty to cap renewal prices of domain names.

Picture of man surprised about high bill

This might be your reaction to your renewal notice in a couple of years.

Today is the last day to comment on ICANN’s proposal to lift price caps on .org and .info domain names.

If approved, the registries that run .org and .info will be able to raise prices as high as they want on both new registrations and renewals as long as they give notice to the registrars. ICANN has proposed removing price caps on other domains as well.

This is a controversial topic for both domain investors and end users. It’s important to think about the dynamics of domain registration to understand the impact this will have.

Market power at the time of registration

It is technically true that there are a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a domain name. If I want to register example.com, I can choose to register a longer .com, opt for a .net or .info domain, a ccTLD or choose from hundreds of new top level domains such as example .xyz.

But let’s face it, people usually want .com. It has extraordinary market power.

Back in 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division explained (pdf) this in a letter to ICANN regarding new top level domain names. It stated:

“Our investigation of the proposed .com agreement generated several findings that bear on the likely effect of creating new gTLDs. First, we found that VeriSign possesses significant market power as the operator of the .com registry because many registrants do not perceive .com and other gTLDs (such as .biz and .info) and country code TLDs (“ccTLDS,” such as .uk and .de) to be substitutes…

…We also concluded that existing gTLDS would not become a competitive threat to .com registrations because the network effects that make .com registrations so valuable to consumers will be difficult for other TLDs to overcome. Due to a first-mover advantage and high brand awareness, .com registrations account for the overwhelming majority of gTLD registrations…

Even with the introduction of hundreds of new top level domains since this letter was written, they have barely chipped away at .com’s market power.

Do other TLDs have market power? I’d argue .org does. Charities and non-profits often think of .org first instead of .com. The antitrust department noted:

“Finally, our investigation of the .com agreement found evidence that other gTLD registry operators may possess a degree of market power. The market power inherent in other gTLDs is less than the market power in .com, but is still material.”

In order of power in the gTLD market, I’d argue that .com is highest and .org is second highest. ccTLDs also have market power in some countries.

The presence of market power for initial registrations suggests that prices for some top level domains should be restricted. A non-profit is unlikely to choose .charity over .org unless it is unable to acquire the .org domain. It will usually choose an alternate, longer .org domain before choosing something else. This might not be true in twenty years but it is true in 2019.

For top level domains that don’t have market power and are easy substitutes for each other, controlling initial registration prices is not as important. That’s part of the reason people are complaining more about .org price caps than .info.

High switching costs and market power at the time of renewal

Domain names have immense switching costs. Companies that switch from one domain name to another often spend months planning the move. Some spend years. Some spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There are two reasons the switching costs are high.

First is search engines. Google is the lifeblood of many website’s traffic. Even the best-planned domain name transition can have serious traffic (and thus monetary) impacts. When HomeAdvisor switched its domain from ServiceMagic.com it saw a marked drop in traffic and revenue. On its conference call after switching domains, the company stated:

HomeAdvisor domestic revenue was negatively impacted by a 20% decrease in accepted service requests due primarily to the domain name change.

20% from a domain name change!

It took the company a while to regain the search rankings it had before.

Even companies that create and manage websites for a living have to expend significant resources to change domain names.

It can be done but it’s very difficult.

The second reason for high switching costs is email. Companies often have thousands of email addresses tied to their domain name. These email addresses are then tied to many online accounts. Switching domain names means updating all the mailboxes technically and all the accounts associated with them. It means emailing all customers and telling them about the new addresses. It undoubtedly means missing some important emails when the switch happens.

I have an acquaintance who was offered over $200,000 for a domain name he registered in 1997. He declined because he and his family have email addresses tied to the domain. It would mean changing hundreds of account registrations at websites and countless hours of work.

It’s one thing to switch email addresses if the company retains its prior domain name and can forward email to the new one. But if a company has to relinquish an old domain name due to renewal costs, it will miss out on this email forwarding and probably miss important messages.

These high switching costs make domain owners hostages to the registries that operate their domains. They simply have to pay whatever they are charged. The cost to switch is too much.

For this reason, renewal costs must be capped.

How domain registration and renewal costs should be managed

Some top level domains have market power at the time of registration. All top level domains have tremendous power over registrants at the time of renewal.

For this reason, ICANN should consider capping initial registry fees for top level domains that have some level of market power, such as .com and .org.

It should limit prices on all domains at the time of renewal.

The organization has stated that registrants have some protection because they can renew domains for up to ten years at current prices before price hikes take effect.

There are two problems with this.

First, the registries must notify the registrars of the price increase. It’s up to the registrars to notify customers. Busy customers might overlook these notices or not have the cash to renew for ten years today.

Second, and most importantly, this just kicks the can down the road. What does a company do ten years from now when it has to pay the new rates.

© DomainNameWire.com 2019. This is copyrighted content. Domain Name Wire full-text RSS feeds are made available for personal use only, and may not be published on any site without permission. If you see this message on a website, contact copyright (at) domainnamewire.com. Latest domain news at DNW.com: Domain Name Wire.

^