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2020 Domain Name Year in Review

2020 — a year like no other.

The impact of COVID on the domain name industry was felt far and wide as ICANN meetings were held virtually, travel was cancelled, TLD launches were delayed, the topic of domain name abuse was front and center, and we all tried to navigate a "new" normal. Unlike many sectors, the domain name industry was fortunate and, in many ways, survived 2020 unscathed. Much of our industry was able to continue working from home after an initial period of adjustment. And although this last year was like no other, there were still a number of notable events. So with that, here are the top 10 domain news stories from 2020:

10. GoDaddy Launches GoDaddy Corporate Domains

GoDaddy announced the launch of GoDaddy Corporate Domains, a domain management solution for large companies. The launch was built off of GoDaddy's acquisition of Brandsight earlier in the year. Providing services to some of the world's most well-known brands, GoDaddy Corporate Domains is focused on enabling companies to contain costs, optimize portfolios and mitigate risks by providing unprecedented access to domain name and website data.

9. 50,000th UDRP Filed at WIPO

In November, WIPO announced that it "had registered its 50,000th "cybersquatting" case, a major milestone capping two decades of pro-consumer activity ensuring Internet users can easily find genuine sites for the brands they love and trust."

8. DotBrand TLD Activity Continues

Although a number dotBrand registries terminated their contracts in 2020, interest in a second round remains high. Moreover, according to makeway.world, industry statistics show a consistent 15% growth in dotBrand domain registrations for 2020.

7. GoDaddy Announces VIP Program

GoDaddy announced the launch of the GoDaddy Verified Intellectual Property (VIP) program. The VIP program provides pre-vetted, well-known, and famous brands an escalation path to address IP abuse. It covers fraudulent domain registrations and infringing websites hosted with GoDaddy, among other forms of abuse. The program is currently by invitation-only.

6. ICANN Meetings Go Virtual

According to an ICANN announcement, "ICANN67, which was originally slated to be held in CancĂșn, Mexico, from 7-12 March 2020, was held as ICANN's first entirely remote virtual meeting following the declaration of COVID-19 as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization." Subsequently, ICANN68 and ICANN69 were also held virtually. Some saw the move to virtual meetings as a way to increase participation in the multi-stakeholder model as the meetings have become more accessible. The use of web conferencing, along with the chat functionality it provides, has allowed the voices of those who often don't speak to have their perspectives heard.

5. Neustar Registry is Acquired by GoDaddy

In April, GoDaddy announced the acquisition of Neustar's Registry business. The Neustar Registry business includes an extensive portfolio of top-level domains, including .biz, .co, .in, .nyc and .us, and supports more than 215 TLDs and approximately 12 million domains. This includes its Managed Registry Services business that provides end-to-end registry management for over 130 brand TLDs and 70 generic TLDs. As part of the transaction, GoDaddy will strictly adhere to a governance model that maintains independence between the GoDaddy registry and registrar businesses.

4. M&A Activity Continues

2020 saw a number of notable transactions. In January, OpSec Security completed its acquisition of the MarkMonitor brand protection assets from Clarivate Analytics. In February, GoDaddy announced its intent to acquire Uniregistry's registrar, marketplace and portfolio, and in April, the transaction was completed. In July, Clarivate announced its acquisition of CPA Global, and the transaction was completed in October. In November, Donuts announced its acquisition of Afilias, and the transaction was completed at the end of December. Also, in November, it was announced that private equity firm Clearlake Capital Group acquired Endurance International Group Holdings, which includes Bluehost, HostGator and Domain.com.

3. EPDP Working Group Publishes Final Report

In August, the Expedited Policy Development Process for gTLD Registration Data Working Group published their final report. In summary, the report's final recommendations included:

  • The creation of a central gateway which would receive requests for non-public data and route them to the appropriate registrar
  • A requirement for the central gateway to provide a response to every request
  • An accreditation authority that would accredit third-parties for use of the new system
  • Service Level Agreements by which contracted parties must abide
  • Quarterly reporting to the community

The final report was approved by the GNSO council in September and is now awaiting final approval from the ICANN Board, pending a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal.

2. NY Attorney General, Registrars and ICE Respond to COVID Domain Registrations

In March, New York Attorney General Letitia James sent letters to leading registrars asking them "to stop bad actors from taking advantage of the current crisis, as well as commit to removing the scam domains." Shortly thereafter, a number of domain registrars announced measures to combat fraud by blocking and suspending registrations. And in December, an "ICE investigation led to seizure of 2 fraudulent websites purporting to be biotechnology companies developing treatments for COVID-19 vaccine."

1. ICANN Board Withholds Consent for a Change of Control of the Public Interest Registry (PIR)

In November 2019, the Internet Society and PIR announced an agreement with Ethos Capital, a private equity firm, to acquire PIR and all of its assets, including the .ORG registry. Many thought that the deal was a slam dunk pending ICANN's approval. But in April, the ICANN Board made the decision to reject the proposed change of control and entity conversion request that Public Interest Registry (PIR) submitted to ICANN. According to a blog posted by Maarten Botterman, ICANN Board Chair, "After completing extensive due diligence, the ICANN Board finds that withholding consent of the transfer of PIR from the Internet Society (ISOC) to Ethos Capital is reasonable, and the right thing to do."

So what can we expect in 2021?

Hopefully, by the end of 2021, there will be a return to normalcy, including a return to face-to-face meetings. Along with that, I am hopeful that we will gain greater clarity on timing for the next round of gTLDs and the last remaining new gTLDs launch. Like most though, I am really just looking forward to putting 2020 in the rearview mirror.

  1. The information contained in this blog is provided for general informational purposes about domains. It is not specific advice tailored to your situation and should not be treated as such.

By Elisa Cooper, Head of Marketing, GoDaddy Corporate Domains

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