We’re happy to bring our readers a very interesting guest post by Santosh Vikram Singh on what could turn out to be a huge cyber-squatting issue – it turns out that there is a recently launched gTLD (such as “.com”, or “.org”, etc) which may be uniquely situated to bring together criticism/trolling over any topic, company or person!
A fascinating issue which may be especially relevant to big brands and celebrities of all varieties, do read on for more. Santosh is a partner at Fox Mandal & Associates, Bangalore, and with over 14 years of experience, he heads the IP & Sports law practice of Fox Mandal & Associates, South India.
[For some background information on what gTLDs are as well as my (now 3 year old) predictions on what the effects of liberalizing the gTLD system could be, you can read my 2012 post here: ICANN set to change the topography of the internet]
.sucks me not
Why organisations & celebrities are afraid of this domain!
Author: Santosh Vikram Singh
During a recent trip to San Diego for one of the world’s biggest IP conferences, I, alongside of over 10k IP lawyers from over 100 countries, came across a newly launched gTLD (generic top level domain) named .sucks. The unique launch campaign which involved mainly students who stood around the city holding banners with just .sucks written on it and giving away condoms in nicely wrapped packets with .sucks printed on the wrapper. Mobile signage vans making the rounds across the city captured people’s attention and the curiosity grew because all the signage said was .sucks.
What is .sucks?
.sucks is a new domain name launched by a Cayman Islands based entity called Vox Populi Registry Ltd., which is a subsidiary of Ottawa based Momentous Inc. In 2014, Vox reportedly paid over US$ 3 million to ICANN for the rights to manage the .sucks domain.
As per John Berard, Founder-Vox Populi; the .sucks domain is a platform for legitimate critical commentary, which is definitely not being considered true by others. In fact, in a recent statement, California Republican Darrell Issa termed it as “legalized extortion”.
Why the fear?
In today’s socially connected Internet era, bashing of brands (entities or individuals) is becoming more common and trust me, just like any of us, no one likes criticism of any kind. Therefore, entities and celebrities too find it hard to take the criticism that is hurled at them (even if it is a constructive one). A common practice by most of the entities is to trawl social media platforms and other web sites to keep a tab on the criticism and handle it in a best possible manner. Since it is almost impossible to keep a track of all the social media sites to handle criticism, time and again it has gone out of control and ended up damaging brands and personal images mainly due to lack of a timely response or mishandling of the same.
With the launch of the .sucks domain, the public and media (including customers and potential customers) will get a specific platform to post their experiences, concerns, opinions and sometime vent out their anger (of course). However, the scary part of this solution would be that someone, other than you (the brand owner), owning that specific platform (www.yourbrand.sucks), would leave you with virtually no control over it!
The pricing controversy
Generally, a new domain is launched through a sunrise period before it is opened to the general public. In this case, Vox fixed the sunrise period price at $2499 which was considered exorbitantly high. The sunrise period was extended by a couple of months which added more fuel to the fire which finally ended on 19th June 2015. From 21st June 2015 onwards this domain is open for regular registrations with reduced price, however, it is still considered to be high by many, as Vox has created various categories such as “Premium” and “General” under which the “big names” are still selling at the price of $2499.
Role of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) and Slip ups
As you all would know, ICANN is the only authority in the world controlling the domain names. It has launched over 400 new domain extensions such as .CEO, .consulting, .social, .menu, .tech etc. in past year or so. However, the .sucks was the only domain which got more attention and criticism across the world for various reasons. Faced with mounting criticism and controversy, ICANN made failed attempts appealing to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) seeking review of the legality of the .sucks domain extension1.
ICANN seems to have made a statement to the effect that it approved the .sucks domain because no one objected to it. The statement goes on to say that ICANN lacks the authority to block the domain or control its pricing.
What are big organisations and celebrities doing?
As of now, several large and well-known organisations like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, WhatsApp, have registered different variants of the .sucks domain. Similarly, many celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna, Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton etc. have registered their own .sucks domains. However, there are still many organisations (such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Indian biggies like Infosys and Wipro) that have apparently not yet taken any action against the potential threats of .sucks domain2.
What should you do?
If you are an organisation of repute or a celebrity and worried about uncontrolled criticism, you must consider registering .sucks domain. Even if you do not wish to have a website with the .sucks domain, Vox provides an option of blocking the domain so no one else can do it. This option actually costs about 25% less!
How to go about it3?
If you are lucky or if your brand/name was not considered valuable enough by others, you may check the availability of your .sucks domain at https://www.registry.sucks/ and register or block it.
The domains have been classified as standard, premium, market premium etc., some of which are:
Standard: It includes names that don’t fall under premium or market premium categories and are available on first come first served basis. Registration and annual renewal cost is currently $ 249.
Premium: Vox has created a list of names which it thinks has a high market value. These premium names such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Infosys, Wipro are priced at a much higher cost i.e., $ 2499.
Amidst the raging .sucks controversy, it is expected to gain momentum going forward and drag many entities and celebrities into it. Where a handful of organisations have been proactive in registering this domain as a defensive step, others are either not aware of it or do not consider it to be a potential threat.
In my personal view, it is just a matter of time before disputes over the .sucks domain start, as cyber squatters are out there to make a quick buck and create trouble for valuable brands. In light of the above and without questioning ICANN’s authority or pre-empting what would be the future of this domain, it is recommended that you buy or block the .sucks domain, subject to your brand having market value and also if you believe that someone else might misuse it, if left unregistered. You may also consider blocking/buying it (of course, subject to availability), to avoid paying cyber squatters a hefty price and to give you the option to use this domain in the future if you so wish.