Last month MarkMonitor representatives joined colleagues in Dublin for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers‘ (ICANN) 54th public meeting. The central (and incredibly hospitable) location in Europe made for a large meeting, with about 2,400 attendees and a great, productive time for everyone. On the agenda, the final push toward transitioning the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) function from United States oversight to a multistakeholder organization, abuse complaints, and gearing up for the next round of the New gTLD Program.
IANA Transition and ICANN Accountability
After the Dublin meeting, on October 29th, 2015, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) announced the completion of their work to develop a proposal and next steps for the multistakeholder global community to assume responsibility for the functions under IANA, including management of the Domain Name System (DNS). The proposal is ready to be implemented with one glaring exception; the Cross-Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG) needs to finish their work before the United States Department of Commerce will cede control.
Ensuring accountability of the multistakeholder community-led organization set to assume stewardship of the IANA function is an absolute requirement before any transition can take place, and not just because the Department of Commerce said so. The future of an open, accessible, free and safe internet depends on the accountability of the individuals and organizations that are entrusted to make governance decisions. In a recent blog post, the president of the International Trademark Association (INTA), J. Scott Evans, stated that the community must have the power to review and reject ICANN Board decisions, recall Board Members and essentially maintain control of the process for the future of collaboration among the community. All eyes are now on the CCWG as they seek to complete their work, and the transition.
Abuse Complaints and Contracted Parties
Another topic that took center stage in Dublin was how Registrars, Registries and ICANN Compliance should be handling abuse complaints from third parties, an issue of prime importance to many of our brand and IP owner clients and colleagues. For the first time, outgoing CEO Fadi Chehadé actually made reference to the abuse complaints and ICANN Compliance’s role and responsibility to this issue in his opening speech, a sign that this has become a big topic of discussion in the community.
Central to the issue is the interpretation of Section 3.18 of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement which broadly and vaguely calls for Registrars to respond appropriately to allegations of abuse. Compared to the Whois Accuracy Specification in the same agreement, which very clearly lays out Registrar obligations and processes for validating and verifying Whois information and for responding to reports of inaccurate Whois information, Section 3.18 provides zero guidance as to what constitutes an appropriate response. Different stakeholder groups have long been coming at the language from different angles, with the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) pushing for a fairly strict interpretation in favor of consumers and IP owners, pharmaceutical organizations highlighting the increased harm and risk associated with counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and Registrars maintaining their lack of mandate, lack of capability and unwillingness to arbitrate disputes between Registrants and third party complainants.
What is clear is that the community as a whole seeks to come to a common understanding of what Registrars are, at a minimum, willing to address and how third-party complainants can best approach Registrars and other entities with reports of abuse. While ICANN Compliance has always maintained that their mission and scope precludes them from weighing in on the debate, the mention by CEO Fadi Chehadé, as well as statements made to the IPC during the course of their time with the ICANN Board indicates that they may, at least be willing to facilitate discussions amongst community members.
Subsequent Rounds – New gTLD Program
During the Dublin meeting, Twitter’s Chief Trademark Counsel, Stephen Coates, called for an acceleration of subsequent rounds of the new gTLD program. This follows conversations and suggestions along the same lines within the Subsequent Rounds Discussion Group that completed their work prior to the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires. At the time, the conversation focused on remedial rounds, or rounds meant to address some of the perceived failures of the first round of the New gTLD Program: the lack of community applications, the lack of applications from developing regions, etc.
It may make good sense for .BRANDS like Twitter to proceed before generics, as subsequent delegation of generics are predicated on reviews of issues such as Rights Protection Mechanisms and Consumer Choice, Trust and Competition, issues which have little if any bearing on the delegation and operation of single registrant gTLDs like .BRANDS.
The Preliminary Issue Report, which closed for comment directly following the Dublin meeting solicited many comments that called for ICANN to review the issue of remedial or bifurcated rounds as a threshold issue.
We anticipate that the next round of applications would proceed no earlier than 2018 if the rounds are split and 2020 if subsequent rounds proceed with generics in the mix. It will be interested to see how the relatively low number of new gTLD registrations (almost 10 million) affect applications in subsequent rounds.
The next ICANN Public Meeting will be held in Marrakech, Morocco in March of 2016. If you are interested in further information about the happenings at ICANN, or want to get involved as these important issues (and more!) are discussed throughout the year, contact myself, Matt Serlin or your MarkMonitor representative.