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Big Brands Trying to Corner Generic Domain Namespaces?

Michele Neylon

Trying to make sense of the nearly 2000 new TLD applications is not something that anyone can do quickly. Sure, you can look at the list and see who has applied for what, but it's only when you actually read the "public" part of their submission that you can get an insight into their plans.

Let's call a spade a spade. If a big brand wants to get its own TLD then it's pretty much their own business how they use it, as long as they don't do any "harm" to the rest of the internet ecosystem.

So if you look at some of the big brands like Gucci, who have applied for .gucci, then you'd expect to see them planning some kind of "single registrant" play with it:

We will use .gucci, first and foremost, to reinforce the authenticity of our website and trust in engaging with the brand.

We will also explore the potential for tailored experiences that visitors and customers view content and products that are most relevant to them.

In addition, we will use .gucci to promote, support, protect and enhance the well-known character and the customer recognition and appreciation of the Gucci brand;

to reach new consumers and strengthen the relationship with existing clients; to develop e-Business initiatives and global penetration; to offer the potential for innovative means of digital communication and marketing in the future.

Fine. Makes sense. No harm, no foul.

But what about some of the other big brands who have applied for "generic" strings?

L'Oréal are one of the applicants for .beauty. Their core business centres around beauty products, so they'd obviously have an affinity with the vertical. But for them to try and claim some special entitlement to the entire namespace would be more than a little presumptuous and also quite problematic.

Fortunately they haven't — entirely… well maybe they have… it's actually hard to say (maybe they don't know yet?):

L'Oréal has filed this application for a .BEAUTY gTLD with the intention of bringing to market a trusted, hierarchical, and intuitive namespace for a self-defined community of individuals and organizations whose primary focus is on providing and exchanging information regarding beauty products, cosmetics, and general information related to personal beauty. This .BEAUTY gTLD may also serve as a secure repository of goods and services related to cosmetics and beauty products. L'Oreal does not intend to apply for a community designation under ICANN's Applicant Guidebook criteria. However, L'Oreal is committed to operating the .BEAUTY gTLD with a narrow focus and charter which L'Oreal will take the lead in establishing. It is intended that this restrictive charter ⁄ membership criteria will be developed in accordance with the standards set forth in L'Oréal's Code of Business ethics and will serve multiple purposes, including, but not limited to: establishing a trusted online source of information, minimizing the need for defensive registrations and domain name speculation, enhancing rights protection mechanisms; and prohibiting of proxy registration.

c18.1.2 Potential Business Models

L'Oréal is still analyzing potential use case options for the type of domain names that will be permitted for registration, as well as the potential universe of .BEAUTY registrants. However, these decisions will be embodied in the proposed gTLD charter ⁄ membership criteria. In undertaking this research, L'Oréal is leveraging its corporate experience in networking with existing businesses, affiliates, partners, and customers, and marketing its products and brands through these third party partnerships. L'Oréal currently envisions a three-stage rollout for the .BEAUTY gTLD:

Stage One

The initial stage of implementation of the gTLD will involve L'Oréal registering a limited number of .BEAUTY second-level domain names.

The current best thinking involves a business model in which generic (ʺpersonal," "sustainable," "products," "model," "cosmetics," "perfumes," etc.) and geographic (city⁄state) domain names would initially be reserved⁄allocated to L'Oréal. These domain names would provide a framework for a hierarchical and intuitive naming system for consumers to more easily navigate the .BEAUTY namespace. This initial use will provide L'Oréal's IT and security personnel the time to run a number of tests to ensure seamless and secure access using the .BEAUTY domain names and interoperability with various software and Web-based applications. The registration and use of these domain names are intended to be within the scope of Section 1B of Specification 9 of the template Registry Agreement, regarding the maintenance, operation and purpose of the gTLD.

Stage Two

Once successful testing has been completed, L'Oréal's existing business units and select licensees and partners would be allowed to register domain names in the .BEAUTY gTLD. At this time L'Oréal has not determined the identity of these select partners; however, any third party would be required to have a prior commercial or membership agreement with L'Oréal. This initial rollout guarantees that the identity and contact information for each .BEAUTY domain name registrant will be verifiable based upon a preexisting relationship. This allocation mechanism also minimizes startup and operational costs of the .BEAUTY gTLD.

This initial allocation of domain names within the gTLD will allow L'Oréal to properly and sustainably develop the .BEAUTY gTLD in such a manner as to ensure that the gTLD is viewed by Internet users as a trusted namespace for access to information regarding beauty products, cosmetics, and general information related to beauty, as well as potentially being a secure repository of goods and services related to cosmetics and beauty products.

Given the fact that L'Oréal will have full control over the number of registrations in the .BEAUTY gTLD namespace, L'Oréal expects that the number of domain name registrations will be less than 10,000 in the first three years of operation.

It is in Stage Two that L'Oréal will evaluate expanding the operations of the .BEAUTY gTLD to permit registration by other registrants outside of licensees and strategic partners. Should an assessment of its expansion strategy lead to a decision to extend registration rights to these other parties, this expansion is currently planned to take place during Stage Three.

Stage Three

Based on its experience with any expansion implemented in Stage Two, L'Oréal will assess whether its business plan and expansion strategy should be augmented by extending registration rights to a broader class of licensees, to potential customers of L'Oréal, and to other third parties. However, it is the current intention that L'Oréal would require any class of future potential registrants to be in compliance with and legally bound by the restrictive membership ⁄ charter criteria mentioned above. It is anticipated by L'Oréal that changes to the domain name industry, and particularly the impact of new generic-term gTLDs, may take approximately five years to be realized and assessed. Any decision to expand the gTLDs beyond corporate, licensee, and partner use would likely be predicated by a L'Oréal market analysis of both the market at the time for new gTLD registrations and consumer adoption of these new Internet addresses.

If L'Oréal's market analysis justifies this expansion before the sixth year of operation, L'Oréal would, if necessary, work with ICANN to secure an amended Continued Operations Instrument corresponding to a potential increase in registration volume above the current executed level. However, this scenario is unlikely because L'Oréal, in calculating its COI, has already exceeded the baseline guidance set forth by ICANN.

Notwithstanding this potential future expanded use of the .BEAUTY name space, L'Oréal currently anticipates implementing a throttle mechanism to ensure that any proposed expansion is controlled and responsible. This proposed "time-out" mechanism is described in greater detail in the responses to the financial questions (Questions 45-50 of this application).

The potential use of the .BEAUTY gTLD will also be driven by L'Oréal's future business strategies as identified in its annual report and investor filings, see http:⁄⁄www.loreal-finance.com⁄eng.

The other applicants for .beauty might operate some registry level rules to ensure that usage fits with the string, but they're more likely to be "open".

But the two companies that are obviously trying to corner entire namespaces for themselves are Google and Amazon.

Between them they have applied for a lot of extensions. Google applied for 101 and Amazon applied for 76.

Again there's a number of brand/trademark applications with Google applying for .goog, .google, .youtube and others, while Amazon have .kindle, .imdb , .amazon etc.,

But what about the much more generic names that they've applied for?

This is where it gets very very worrying.

Take a look at .cloud from Google (emphasis added by me):

Charleston Road Registry intends to apply for an exemption to ICANN's Registry Operator Code of Conduct and operate the proposed gTLD with Google as the sole registrar and registrant. The proposed gTLD will specifically align with Google's cloud offerings, and will provide users with improved capabilities that meet their diverse needs.

And they've done similar with .blog and several other strings.

Amazon aren't much different. Take a look at their application for .search:

All domains in the .SEARCH registry will remain the property of Amazon.

Or how about .music?

Same clause:

All domains in the .MUSIC registry will remain the property of Amazon.

Now maybe I'm missing something, but I don't honestly see how Amazon or Google can give themselves entire generic namespaces like that.

I'm a strong believer in the Internet as a force for good. Competition, innovation and all those other nice words spring to mind when you think about the new TLD project. I'm personally shocked, worried and quite disgusted that big companies would try to give themselves entire generic namespaces like this.

Is Google the only company on the planet that operates "cloud"?

Does Amazon have some special entitlement to "music"?

This is not a positive move and I hope and even pray that the ICANN community and the broader public can stop Amazon and Google from claiming generic domain extensions in such an anti-competitive manner.

Hat tip to Bret Fausett for tweeting about this serious issue earlier this evening. His tweet from earlier sums it up:

I believe in an open Internet. Domain names unlock the full Internet for the user. Walled garden domain registries are a step backwards.

— Bret Fausett (@bretfausett) June 14, 2012

By Michele Neylon, MD of Blacknight Solutions. More blog posts from Michele Neylon can also be read here.

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance, Top-Level Domains, Web

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Comments

Excellent Article Volker Greimann  –  Jun 15, 2012 1:27 AM PDT

Indeed it is worrying that big brands are trying to corner the market for generic terms for their exclusive use. Most people in favor of the new program envisioned a new DNS of choice and a multitude of namespaces open for the public. Creating these exclusive beaches goes beyond what was understandable and acceptable to the public, i.e. the use of their own brand names as TLDs.
This behavior throws a bad light onto the entire new gTLD program and those applicants who have worked hard to conceptualize new TLDs that will actually create value for more people, not just the registry owners.

VolkerThanks for the positive feedback.How can someone Michele Neylon  –  Jun 15, 2012 2:25 AM PDT

Volker

Thanks for the positive feedback.

How can someone lodge a formal objection to these applications?

From my reading of the objection process the independent objector might be the only viable option.

Michele

Objections Volker Greimann  –  Jun 15, 2012 2:35 AM PDT

That is my reading as well. You can also leave a comment that may be igno..., err, taken into account by the evaluators:
https://gtldcomment.icann.org/comments-feedback/applicationcomment/login

Generic terms should NEVER have been allowed Phil Howard  –  Jun 17, 2012 8:34 AM PDT

Generic terms should NEVER have been allowed to be part of this.  Maybe ICANN itself needs to face some competition with a whole new alternate namespace that people can CHOOSE (or not) to be a part of.  Running alternate root servers is trivial (though scaling them up for internet size duty is expensive).  ICANN has made a number of bad decisions in the past (poor handling of a multi-registrar market), but this one is a doozy.  And I bet they have NO fallback plan.

What about GAC Advice? Thomas A Gilles  –  Jun 18, 2012 10:07 AM PDT

Didn't the GAC in Dakar indicate they were going to look at intended use and business plans in addition to moral sensitivities when considering to offer GAC advice?

According to the guidebook:

"ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was formed to consider and provide advice on the activities of ICANN as they relate to concerns of governments, particularly matters where there may be an interaction between ICANN's policies and various laws and international agreements or where they may affect public policy issues. The process for GAC Advice on New gTLDs is intended to address applications that are identified by governments to be problematic, e.g.,

The process for GAC Advice on New gTLDs is intended to address applications that are identified by governments to be problematic, e.g., that potentially violate national law or raise sensitivities."

I am not familiar with international competition law, but could it not be claimed that Amazon or Google monopolizing an entire namespace is anti competitive/ unfair business practice? It would certainly seem to be.

I don't see anything in the rules that would prevent the GAC from 'offering advice' about these closed business models, claiming that it violates local and international competition laws.

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