11 November, 2016
The controversial generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) .FEEDBACK was launched in late 2015 by the Registry Operator Top Level Spectrum, Inc. (TLS). Promoted as the online destination for Internet users to find websites that are “geared towards free speech and giving reviews”, the .FEEDBACK gTLD made multiple changes to its registration policies during its launch phase and charged brand owners extremely high registration fees during the Sunrise period. A group of high profile brand owners has now filed a Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Procedure (PICDRP) Complaint with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) against the Registry Operator and its business practices.
The .FEEDBACK Registry Operator stands accused of breaching its Public Interest Commitments (PICs) that are set out in Specification 11 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement, with particular emphasis placed on Section 3 of Specification 11.
Specification 11 and the concept of PICs were implemented further to the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) 2013 Beijing Communiqué which advised the ICANN Board that all new gTLD Registries should be contractually bound to include safeguards to protect consumers and the public interest.
As a result of this, all new gTLD Registry Agreements included Specification 11 which comprises of three sections describing the PIC all Registry Operators agree to uphold. Specification 11, Section 3 contains the specific details of the Registry Operator’s undertakings and can be found at the foot of the page at this link.
A breach of Specification 11 can lead to the termination of the Registry Agreement and as such, adherence to the PICs should not be taken lightly by a Registry Operator.
The PICDRP complaint filed against the .FEEDBACK gTLD alleges breaches of Specification 11 Sections 3(a) and 3(c) based upon the conduct of TLS during the Sunrise period and the subsequent operations of the gTLD since its launch.
The complaint cites multiple instances where TLS had made changes to its registration policies and implemented discriminatory pricing to the detriment of trade mark holders. Furthermore, TLS also withheld certain trade marked terms from registration during the Sunrise period and in some cases registered these domain names to itself or its affiliates.
In addition to this, the complaint alleges that TLS then used these domain names to promote the .FEEDBACK gTLD by arranging for false reviews and comments to be published on the websites the domain names resolved to. It is alleged that this was done in order to give the false impression that the .FEEDBACK domain name space was providing a genuine forum for consumers to express their views on the goods and services provided by brand owners.
TLS is also implicated in attempting to deceive third parties into registering domain names under .FEEDBACK via an email campaign that gave targeted recipients the false impression that registered domain names owned by them were at risk of being deleted if they did not confirm their email address. However, as set out in the complaint, it is shown that these domain names had not been requested by the targeted recipients and the .FEEDBACK domain names had been activated on a temporary basis by TLS.
The WHOIS contacts for these domain names were then populated with data taken from the equivalent .COM domain name registrations. This gave the false impression that these were genuine domain name registrations and in some case coerced brand owners into securing the .FEEDBACK domain names. As a result of this, TLS is also accused of using false WHOIS details in the .FEEDBACK TLD.
Among the remedies sought, the complaint requests that ICANN and the PICDRP Panel conduct a thorough compliance review investigation into TLS and its affiliates with regard to its Specification 11 obligations. Furthermore, the complaint requests that a Standing Panel is appointed to evaluate these compliance obligations because the number of violations of Specification 11 by TLS is so high that this task is too large to be handled by ICANN’s contractual compliance team.
The complaint also seeks redress in the form of having all fraudulent obtained monies refunded and the cancellation of domain names which had been registered under false pretences.
As set out in the complaint, the scale of the alleged breaches of Specification 11 is staggering. No doubt there will be a rebuttal from TLS and their CEO has already made a statement that the PICDRP claims are “baseless, incorrect and liable”.