ICANN60 Recap: A Focus On GDPR, Rights Protection and Compliance

More than 1,900 domain industry experts from around the world attended the ICANN60 Annual General Meeting held in Abu Dhabi, UAE between October 28 and November 4.  Participants addressed topics ranging from human rights to DNS infrastructure, and everything in between.

During the seven-day event the MarkMonitor team worked to deepen our partnerships with registries, law enforcement and other industry partners and advocate on behalf of clients for policies that cultivate consumer trust and safety online. We also participated in Internet policy and domain name system regulation discussions.

Here are some of the highlights:

European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)

Among the most pressing issues for the ICANN community was how to address the application of GDPR which becomes effective on May 25, 2018. This regulation is intended to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe and to reshape the way organizations approach data privacy. Crucially, the GDPR applies to the collection of personal data of EU citizens anywhere in the world.

As it applies to the domain name industry, GDPR will force domain name registrars to reexamine the data collection requirements mandated by the terms of their Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) with ICANN.  Currently, registrars are required to collect personal data from each domain name registrant and then pass that information to the Registry Operator and to a data escrow provider. The Registry Operator must make the registrant data publicly accessible in the form of a Whois lookup service. Law enforcement, businesses, individuals and MarkMonitor use Whois data to identify the registrant who has registered infringing domain names or build websites that offer counterfeit goods, pirated content or distribute spam, malware or other illegal material. If ICANN does not amend the RAA to change or remove some of the requirements regarding the collection of registrant data for Whois, registrars will be in violation of the GDPR if they follow their contractual obligations or, conversely, if they stop collecting registrant data or processing it in order to comply with GDPR, registrars will be in breach of the RAA.

The impact of GDPR is going to be obviously a big challenge, both for MarkMonitor and for its customers, because without an accessible Whois, it will be difficult to monitor and enforce intellectual property rights online.

At the end of the ICANN meeting, ICANN President & CEO, Gorun Marby, issued a statement explaining that ICANN Compliance will defer action against a registry or registrar for non-compliance with contractual obligations related to the handling of registrant data so long as registrars and registries share their solution for a model” for handling registration that complies with the requirements of GDPR. An ICANN working group has been formed to develop a new and improved Whois service one that will presumably comply with GDPR – work that has now become extremely crucial. I expect greater momentum within this group in order to come up with a solution that can be implemented across all registries and registrars to avoid a patchwork of solutions.

Geographic Names at the Top-Level

Geographic Names at the top-level is a focus of concern for many brand owners with products and services that have trademarks that coincide with or call to mind a location landmark geographical feature or culturally “sensitive term.” One notable example is Amazon’s application for .AMAZON.

During the last round of new gTLD applications the Applicant Guidebook permitted applicants to apply for geographic names at the top-level so long as no country or region objected to such application. Still the clash between brands that have geographic terms and governments that have a geographic feature of the same name has escalated. Members of the Government Advisory Council (GAC) have expressed strong objections to any application or use of geographic terms andâ without a policy going forward â the opportunity to register geographic trademarks at the top level may not be allowed.

As part of the new gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP a new workstream to address the issue kicked off its initial meeting in Abu Dhabi. MarkMonitor representatives have joined that working group to help with a consensus policy to allow brand owners to apply for and obtain trademarks that match geographic or culturally sensitive terms.

Rights Protection Mechanisms

Another policy development working group is examining the use and efficacy of IP rights protection mechanisms for gTLDs. Through this work ICANN should be able to identify what may need to be revised for future applications. Ultimately the goal of the working group is to ensure that IP rights are protected and that any future new gTLD rounds will have intellectual property rights as part of that program.

Contract Compliance and Consumer Trust

The Competition Consumer Trust and Consumer Choice Review is mandated by the ICANN Bylaws to evaluate how the New gTLD Program has promoted competition consumer trust and consumer choice; the effectiveness of the application and evaluation processes; and the effectiveness of safeguards put in place to mitigate issues arising from the New gTLD Round.

This review is one of the key inputs to the re-opening of applications for the next round of New gTLDs. While MarkMonitor doesn’t have an active member on the Contract Compliance Consumer Trust and Consumer Safeguards MarkMonitor is an active member of an Advisory Council to ICANN staff that produces a semi-annual ‘Health Index’ report on statistics and trends related to generic top-level domains. These reports track progress against ICANN’s goal of supporting the evolution of a domain name marketplace that is robust stable and most importantly trusted.  

Registry Meetings Updates

MarkMonitor team members met with registry partners to learn about changes to registry operations; ways in which we can offer the most competitive pricing to our clients; to improve communications around enforcement and takedown processes; and to encourage registries to implement a Registry Lock service. The MarkMonitor team also participated in the Business Constituency Commercial Stakeholder Group and Registrar Stakeholder Group meetings.

There are a plenty of ways to get involved in ICANN and the policy development processes that impact intellectual property rights. To learn more and get the full event summary by tuning into our ICANN60 Abu Dhabi Recap led by Statton Hammock Vice President of Global Policy & Industry Affairs along with Sherry Hildebrand Global Relationship Manager.

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