Verizon has several recommendations for ICANN — including listening to the recommendations it has already received.
I’ve read dozens of comments submitted to ICANN about its new top level domain name applicant guidebook. Perhaps the most thoughtful comments in the latest round were from Verizon (NYSE: VZ), which is known in the domain community for aggressively pursuing cybersquatters. You can read Verizon’s comments here (pdf).
I talked to Verizon Vice President and Associate General Counsel Sarah Deutsch yesterday to see what the company thinks ICANN should do before moving forward with its rollout of new gTLDs. Even in its primary role as a trademark owner, it shares many of the same concerns that other internet constituents have.
Verizon is disappointed that ICANN is pushing forward with the new gTLD process in the face of so many comments and threshold concerns. “We hoped they would have delayed [the process] after getting the first round of comments,” said Deutsch. “Rather than take stock of hundreds of comments they received, rather than slowing the process down, they just released another version of the guidebook.”
The company is in a unique position to evaluate new mechanisms for handling domain disputes and required checks and balances because it played a part in shaping the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Verizon isn’t just a trademark and copyright holder, it’s also an ISP. Therefore, it has had to deal with the consequences of DMCA from both sides: as an ISP and a rights holder.
One of the company’s suggestions is to create an expedited suspension mechanism for domain names that infringe trademarks. As a result of Verizon’s experience with DMCA, it has ideas about how this could be structured to minimize abuse. Among other checks and balances, a domain subject to the equivalent of a “take down notice” would not be turned off. The domain would just be locked from transfer pending the outcome of a dispute resolution similar to UDRP.
Verizon also supports a “loser pays” model to keep companies from filing frivolous suspension requests. It also suggests that trademark owners that wrongfully use the suspension process might be barred from using it in the future. (There is currently no penalty under UDRP for a complainant that is found guilty of misusing the UDRP proceedings.)
The company believes a so-called “white list” of reserved domain names should also be considered. If “Verizon” were on this list, for example, then no entity other than Verizon could register the second level or first level domain for the keyword.
Many domain name owners are concerned about the white list concept because trademark holders might try to assert rights to generic terms. For example, Hearst is also in favor of a white list and wants the generic term “Cosmopolitan” reserved against all possible uses.
Deutsch thinks that a properly designed expedited suspension system could negate the need for a white list. She also said “There would have to be strong hurdles to get on the reserved names list.” One of those hurdles would be proving that the brand has been subject to cybersquatting in the past.
Although some of Verizon’s suggestions may worry domain name owners because of the potential for abuse by trademark holders, some recommendations are shared with other ICANN constituents such as domainers. For example, Verizon wants price caps on TLD operators, and cites the equitable treatment clause in Verisign’s registry agreement as reason for concern. Surprisingly few companies have raised this issue with ICANN, perhaps because they aren’t aware of it. “We were very shocked to learn about the equitable treatment clause,” said Deutsch.
As one of the United States’ biggest brands, Verizon has spent considerable time and money defending against cybersquatters.
Apparently it’s working. The company has seen a decrease in cybersquatting activity of its brands because of its publicized legal actions. Deutsch claimed Verizon will get an additional nine million visitors to its web site this year from domain names it has reclaimed through its enforcement actions.
But the company is worried a slew of new top level domains will bring it back to square one.