ICANN board rejects sale of .org’s public interest registry

As registrar for many of the best .org domain names on the internet, MarkMonitor tracks industry developments to help customers make the best decisions. On April 30, 2020 ICANN’s Board of Directors held a special meeting to decide whether to approve a change of control request relating to Public Interest Registry (PIR), the domain name registry behind .org, .ngo and .ong top-level domains. The Board denied PIR’s request, which is notable given that ICANN routinely approves change of control requests. 

PIR is the non-profit registry operator of the .org registry, and was created by the non-profit Internet Society (ISOC) as a way to fund ISOC’s activities. In November 2019, ISOC announced it had agreed to sell PIR to Ethos Capital, a newly-created, for-profit entity backed by venture capital. This announcement came just months after ICANN removed all price caps in the .org Registry Agreement, while simultaneously adding IP-friendly requirements for Rights Protection Mechanisms, Public Interest Commitments, and a Registry Operator Code of Conduct. Even before the contemplated sale of PIR, the contract amendment alone drew a great deal of public scrutiny, including from non-profits concerned about price increases and “new powers of censorship” coming from the IP-friendly contract additions.

Once the intended sale of PIR was announced, pressure on ICANN to block the transaction increased significantly, including for new reasons like the math behind how Ethos would recoup its financial costs. Examples are numerous, and include:

On the other hand, ISOC and Ethos found support from internet pioneer and former ICANN Board Chair Vint Cerf. Ethos has also been engaging with the ICANN community to develop accountability mechanisms to address concerns raised, but in the end could not persuade ICANN’s Board. Ethos, PIR, and ISOC have formally responded with disappointment in the decision. ISOC later confirmed that “neither PIR nor any of its operations are for sale now, and the Internet Society will resist vigorously any suggestion that they ought to be.”

The saga might not quite be over

Should ISOC change its mind, the ICANN Board leaves the door open for another attempt if PIR can convert its Pennsylvania-based legal entity to a for-profit entity:

The above decision is without prejudice to PIR to submit a new notice of indirect change of control and entity conversion for consideration if PIR successfully achieves an entity conversion approval in Pennsylvania through the Pennsylvania Court, which the ICANN Board and org will consider when evaluating any new notice.

As registrar for many of the best .org domain names on the internet, MarkMonitor continues to monitor any developments in this space. Learn more about MarkMonitor domain management solutions, or reach out to your customer services manager with any questions, and we will be happy to discuss further.

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