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ICANN Asks US and Canadian Regulators to Consider if .SUCKS Violates Laws

There has been widespread outrage from brand owners as to the business model of the .sucks gTLD with fears the gTLD will turn into a forum for registrants to “bash-a-brand.” And now following a complaint from ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency [pdf], ICANN has asked both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and, because Vox Populi is a Canadian enterprise, Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA), to consider assessing and determining whether or not Vox Populi is violating any of the laws or regulations those agencies enforce.ICANN is currently evaluating remedies available to them under the registry agreement. Should Vox Populi not be complying with all applicable laws, it may also be in breach of its registry agreement allowing ICANN to take action itself, acting consistently with its public interest goals and consumer and business protections to change these practices through our contractual relationship with the registry.Greg Shatan, president of the IPC, whose letter on 27 March sparked ICANN’s outreach to the FTC and OCA, spoke to Domain Incite and said the word “justice” is more appropriate than “appeasement”.”We’re looking forward to the FTC and OCA taking a look at Vox Populi’s behaviour,” Shatan told Domain Incite. “And there’s lots to look at. The punitive TMCH Sunrise, where a ‘rights protection mechanism’ intended to protect trademark owners has been turned into a scheme to extort $2,500 and up… The eternal Sunrise Premium of the far-from-spotless .SUCKS registry. The mysterious ‘everybody.sucks’ — purportedly a third party, purportedly providing a ‘subsidy’ to registrant — would anyone be surprised if that was a sham?With reference to the FTC referral, Shatan also told Domain Incite that “I don’t think ICANN wants to waste the FTC’s time. It’s far more rational to think that ICANN informed the FTC because Vox Populi’s activities are within the jurisdiction of the FTC. Mr. Berard’s remarks seem to indicate that he believes that Vox Populi operates beyond the reach of US laws.””With a tech contact in Bermuda and an admin contact in the Caymans, that may have been Vox Pop’s intention. Vox Pop may be operating outside US laws, but I doubt they are operating beyond their reach.”The issue, the IPC believes, needs to be considered urgently as the .sucks Sunrise period was slated to open on 30 March and that Vox Populi will “charge trademark owners $2,499 and up to register domain names in the TMCH Sunrise period” was one of their concerns. “Vox Populi’s incredibly high fees will prevent many trademark owners from being able to take advantage of the TMCH Sunrise period.”The “illicit scheme doesn’t stop there” though according to the IPC. “If a trademark owner decides that it will sit out the Sunrise Period and attempt to register its trademark as a domain name during general availability for $249, it still may be forced to pay at least $2,499. This is because Vox Populi has now introduced its ‘Sunrise Premium’ list. (Despite the name, ‘Sunrise Premium’ pricing applies only during general availability.) If a trademark is on the Sunrise Premium list, it will always be at least $2,499 per year. The Sunrise Premium list is a list of strings compiled by Vox Populi from strings registered or blocked in other TLDs’ sunrise periods.”According to the IPC, “Vox Populi’s strategy is obvious-to ensure that those trademark owners who have invested in protecting those trademarks by registering in the TMCH and registering domain names in other sunrise periods, and who are most likely to want to protect their trademarks by registering in .SUCKS, cannot avoid paying at least $2,499 per year, no matter when they register.”