FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

The Backlash Against .Sucks Has Begun

Extorting brands is a good way to get regulators' attention.
April 10, 2015, 12:58pm

​The organization that administers the internet's domains is having second thoughts about allowing companies to secure one of its newest and most controversial addresses, .sucks.

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is asking regulatory bodies in the US and Canada to assess whether the practices of domain name registrar Vox Populi Registry Inc. are legal. The private company manages .sucks, and charges brands hefty sums to scoop up their namesakes before detractors can.

Advertisement

ICANN launched its new generic top level domain (gTLD) program in 2011, adding hundreds of possible website endings, including .music, .blog, and .city, but .sucks has drawn perhaps the most criticism.

On March 27, one of ICANN's advisory panels, the Intellectual Property Constituency, sent a letter to the organization asking it to step in and stop Vox Populi's "predatory, exploitive and coercive" practices.

"ICANN is the sole entity in the world charged with the orderly introduction of new gTLDs in a secure, reliable and predictable manner," president of the panel Gregory Shatan wrote. "If ICANN is unwilling or unable to put a halt to this, then who is?"

ICANN has since sent letters requesting an evaluation from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US and the Office of Consumer Affairs in Canada, where Vox Populi is based––a rare course of action.

"I think anybody who looks at this will see everything we have done has been inside the lines."

"This is pretty out of the ordinary," James Cole, a spokesperson for ICANN said. "This really hasn't been done before, mostly because this is the first time we've had such a large influx of applications for new TLDs."

As part of an initial "Sunrise Period," Vox Populi began selling .sucks domains to trademark owners on March 30 for $2,499 per year, a markup in price the Intellectual Property Constituency called a "shakedown scheme."

However, Vox Populi CEO John Berard maintains the company has done nothing wrong, and has said in the past the .sucks domain is a form of protest and free speech.

"It is certainly within ICANN's role within the gTLD program to review, or refer to external authorities with issues of concern, but I think anybody who looks at this will see everything we have done has been inside the lines," he told Motherboard.

ICANN spokesman James Cole said the organization will now await a response from the FTC and Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs to see what steps are next.

"If the FTC finds Vox Populi has broken some kind of rule, we have to determine what ICANN can do contractually," he said. "Everything we do is based on contractual relationships. If the FTC determines this is illegal, we have to look into our contract to see what we can do next in response to the FTC's findings."