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IRT Report & URS Comments

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If you own a domain name, I implore you to read the IRT Proposal to form your own opinion of its contents. If you have any issues with it, please take a few moments to write a comment to ICANN – today is the final day to make your comments heard. You can also read other comments that were submitted.

It is my opinion that the Uniform Rapid Suspension System is dangerous to domain owners, and I submitted an email comment explaining why I believe this. The only way for my opinion to be heard is via the public comment forum, and I wanted ICANN and those who follow ICANN to see (and address) my issues.

While the odds are great that a URS dispute won’t be filed against a domain name you own, it is very likely that one will be filed against someone who owns a generic domain name. Now is the final opportunity to provide your comments about the proposal – not 6 months or a year from now when a legitimate domain name or website is taken offline by an overzealous trademark attorney.

As I stated in my submission, I do believe the intent of the proposal is good, and it probably won’t impact the majority of ordinary domain owners and small businesses such as mine. However, just like there are domain owners who don’t take the legal/ethical high ground, I believe there will be trademark interests who use the URS as a way to secure domain names in a less expensive manner than direct acquisition. For those domain names and owners that become targets, fighting URS complaints will be a very costly endeavor.

It’s likely that it won’t be your domain name that is targeted, but if you are unlucky and a large company wants your domain name, the costs associated with defending your rights could be very high.

Take some time this morning to read the report. You can also read Mike Berkens’ comments and read more information from Ron Jackson. Rick Schwartz has also weighed in as has George Kirkos. Comments from the Internet Commerce Association are also available online. Now is the time to form an opinion and make your comments known. The trademark and IP attorneys have spoken, and now is the time for domain owners to voice their opinions.

WIPO Wants Registrars Held Responsible

I was reading Mike’s Blog today about WIPO wanting domain registrars to be held responsible for their registrants’ trademark infringing domain names, and I give it a thumbs up.   In fact, I said the same thing back in March of 2008, “Registrars Should Help Prevent Cybersquatting.”

I believe that many people register domain names that have trademarks in them without really knowing the risks involved. When I first started buying domain names circa 2003-04, there were a few trademark names that I purchased.   I didn’t know the legalities of this, and when I found out, I canceled the few that I owned and bought back a few that I had sold, and cancelled them, too.   Although the likelihood of getting sued for names I created out of thin air was small, I didn’t want to deal with them.

I do understand why some companies invest in trademark domain names that receive traffic and generate revenue. It’s a business decision that some companies have to make, but in most cases, new registrations are way more of a liability than a profitable business.   I cringe when I see names for sale on Ebay like MicrosoftProductDownloads.com (or something similar), because they are screaming at Microsoft to file a lawsuit (this one happens to be unregistered). I attribute some of these new registrations and sale attempts to people who aren’t aware of the legal ramifications and liabilty a name like this can have.

I think the domain registrars should be a bit more responsible when it comes to names that are obvious trademarks.   Sure, there is a considerable gray area, but if they were required to warn registrants about potentially infringing domain names (like the Surgeon General warns smokers), there would be a lot less cybersquatting – and consequently less revenue for the registrars.

Upon further review, back in July of 2007, when I first started blogging, I said the following, and I still agree with it today (aside from the term “crime” as it’s not technically criminal).

In my opinion, a majority of trademark inclusive domain names aren’t owned by malicious people, but rather those who don’t know it is against the law. As a measure against unlawfully registering a domain name with a trademark, what if registrars required consumers to check off a box acknowledging that they are aware of the Lanham Act and its penalties before every registration? Perhaps even a brief summary of the law along with the possible penalties of owning/selling/profiting from a trademarked name would act as a deterrent to people who may be unknowingly committing a crime.

I believe the sooner we police our industry, the better things will be for us all.

ICANN Issues to Be Concerned About

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Mike Berkens has written three interesting posts that are important for all domain owners to read and understand. When you have an opportunity today, please read Mike’s posts and the accompanying commentary. The issues that are discussed could potentially impact all domain owners

ICANN Releases New gTLD Guide Book: Still Includes No Price Caps: Your Domains Are At Risk

ICA: Trademark Holders Attempting To Greatly Expand Their Rights Through The New gTLD Process

Thinking About Applying For Your Own gTLD? It Could Cost You A Lot More Than $185K

The Internet Commerce Association is working on some of the issues, but I know they need our support (if you own a domain name, you are part of the collective “our”).   As soon as my tax bills are taken care of in a month and a half, I will be making my annual contribution.

New York City Set to Cash in on .NYC

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With the economic crisis causing a major impact to New York City’s revenue, the city is hoping to cash in on the .nyc extension, which they hope will be approved quickly and available to sell by next summer.

According to an article appearing today in Crain’s, “City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced during her state-of-the-city address Thursday that the “.nyc” domain will start generating a fresh stream of revenue for the city next summer.” Quinn also said that the .nyc extension will generate millions of dollars per year in licensing fees for allowing the group to create the extension.

With the uncertainty of gTLD approvals, I certainly hope the city isn’t counting on the revenue too soon.   My biggest question related to the .nyc extension… who is going to get RaysPizza.nyc?

My Take on ICANN Issues

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I have largely been quiet on ICANN related issues on my blog and in personal conversations I’ve had with other domain investors. Truth be told, I know about how ICANN works and what their role is as it relates to domain names, but I have very limited knowledge about the internal politics at ICANN and the history of the organization.

Whenever I see photos of ICANN events, I see a group of people who look much different than typical domain investors, and that is because they are much different. This is neither here nor there, but I feel very disconnected with ICANN, much like I am disconnected with my local politicians. Sure, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, Governor Patterson and countless other local politicians work to draft and approve legislation that will impact me, but I am not going to spend thousands of dollars lobbying and hundreds of hours becoming active in the community when the threat of any legislation will probably be minimal.

I am 100% in agreement with Mike Bekens that domain investors either don’t know or don’t care enough about ICANN. Sure, some of their policies may impact my bottom line, but honestly, whether I pay $7.60 or $10.00 for a domain registration, it won’t be impactful enough for me to spend a whole lot of time or money thinking about it. For my business, I work 15 hours a day developing my websites, negotiating to buy and sell domains, and contacting small businesses to sell advertising. With my 200+/- domain names, even a 50% increase in registration fee will cost under $1,000 per year. Even if they approve a pricing structure like .tv, it will be impactful, but the 10-15 names of mine that would be impacted aren’t worth the time and effort for me (at least in my opionion).

I also understand the potential impact of the vanity TLDs that may be approved by ICANN. However, I think companies like Verizon and Microsoft have much more to lose if/when this happens. I just don’t see a reason to spend time on this when they are fighting on the same team as me on this battle (and they are fighting). I also don’t think other extensions will have much of an impact on my holdings. If .xyz becomes the prominent extension, I will adapt my business model to make sure I am not falling behind.

Sure, this line of thinking could bite me in the ass, but I have to manage the day to day operations of my business more than outside factors. I think the Internet Commerce Association and its activities are very helpful to the domain investment community, and I will continue to support them.   I happen to think my risk exposure to some current ICANN initiatives are less important than managing my business at this point.

I will continue to listen to people like Mike (who I have the utmost respect for), and when he discusses an issue I will listen and take the time to think about the impact.   Mike is dead-on about most domain-related issues, and I support him 100% of the time.   With ICANN, I feel like the current issues will have minimal impact on my business.   Now I think the potential issue of ICANN changing jurisdiction will be impactful, but again, I think other huge corporations and the US Government will end up locking horns on that issue.

I do urge people to read up on ICANN and determine the impact it will have on their domain investments and on their business.

Use Caution When Updating Whois Information

Mike Berkens wrote an important post today about keeping your Whois information current and updated. ICANN regulations require that Whois information is accurate, and if the information isn’t accurate, there is a chance that your domain name could possibly be taken. There are also many legal reasons to do so, which Mike outlines in his post. It just makes sense to keep your information updated, and if you are worried about spam emails or privacy, just buy the privacy guard.
In this vein, I think it’s also important to note that some UDRP panels have ruled that a change in registration information can be seen as a brand new registration. One recent case (although it didn’t really impact the decision) was on the BME.com case, which the respondent lost. The respondent had changed his Whois information (between his own entities), and they still cited this changing Whois information.
In addition to this issue, Godaddy also seems to still lock domain names for 60 days when the Whois information is updated.   While this can usually be remedied somewhat quickly if you contact them, it is a nuisance.
Yes, maintaining your valid Whois information is most definitely important – especially if a signficant event has impacted it (ended partnership, bankruptcy, company formation, divorce…etc).   However, keep in mind that changing your Whois information could put your domain name at risk depending on who is monitoring your Whois listing.

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