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Chehadé Sends ICANN Board Farewell Letter

Michele Neylon

ICANN's current CEO Fadi Chehadé is leaving the organisation in a few weeks time. His replacement has been announced and the upcoming public meeting in Marrakech, Morrocco, will be Chehadé's final public engagement as ICANN CEO.

A couple of days ago Chehadé sent the ICANN board a letter entitled "Summary of My Tenure". While the letter may have been addressed to the board, it was published on the ICANN website immediately. While ICANN does publish most correspondence that it receives (and sends), there are often delays between the receipt of a letter and its publication on the ICANN site — not so this time.

The letter, which runs to 7 pages, makes for an interesting overview of Chehadé's tenure. Whether or not ICANN observers will agree with how he characterises his achievements over the past 4 years is another matter.

Reading through the letter there are several points where it's clear that Chehadé is concerned about his legacy; i.e. that a post-Chehadé ICANN might roll back some of the changes he made:

I urge you not to swing the pendulum from global engagement all the way to isolationism. With thoughtful re-examination, I hope that we will carefully pivot to a balanced posture given the trust we built on the global stage. We must maintain the benefits of globalization and the dose connections to our stakeholders, while continuing to strengthen our operational capabilities and the quality of services to our community

What may cause concern for some ICANN stakeholders, however, is his messaging around intellectual property issues (emphasis added):

As issues such as intellectual property infringement or online privacy are addressed in other fora, ICANN should not lead but must remain engaged, and where necessary and appropriate, shape the discussion and debate and commit to be part of a solution in keeping with our values and mission. We cannot simply put our head in the sand and say that these issues are outside of the logical infrastructure layer in which we operate and thus not of our concern. Some solutions within the economic and societal layers of digital governance require distributed, innovative and collaborative issue-specific networks, of which the technical community depending on the issue sometimes must be a key part. We must remain part of the global conversations on digital governance, aware and ready to act when necessary.

He goes on to highlight Donuts recent agreement with the MPAA, suggesting that ICANN was somehow instrumental in the agreement being reached:

For example, about six or seven months ago Allen Grogan led staff as they began working with the intellectual property community on a path toward voluntary mechanisms for addressing copyright infringement concerns with registries and registrars. In early February, these talks bore fruit as new gTLD registry Donuts announced its agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) through which Donuts will investigate cases of large-scale piracy on the domain names it operates. It is important for ICANN to fulfill its role as a participant in finding solutions to issues in the domain name sphere without being responsible for leading them.

Whether or not ICANN staff were involved in some way with the Donuts / MPAA deal isn't important. What is, however, is the message that ICANN can somehow act as a mediator on behalf of IP interests. Many would feel strongly that ICANN has no role in such discussions and that they are best left to the parties involved to resolve — i.e. registries, registrars and the IP community.

In signing off Chehadé hopes that he leaves the organisation in better condition than when he arrived.

You can read the full letter here.

By Michele Neylon, MD of Blacknight Solutions
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