New gTLD “.sucks” is Continuing to Cause Trouble for Brands

March 20, 2015

By Clark W. Lackert, Reed Smith LLP

Now that the U.S. Senate hearing on the proposal by the Department of Commerce to transition the U.S. government’s roles overseeing ICANN’S authority over Internet governance has been completed, ICANN is preparing for the upcoming Buenos Aires meeting in June and needs to deal with another uproar over domain name gouging: “.sucks”. This new generic top level domain (“gTLD”) was roundly condemned by former Sen. Jay Rockefeller a year ago as “little more than a predatory shakedown scheme.” The new “Products and Suggested Retail Pricing” fee schedule just published by the “.sucks” registry Vox Populi has created a firestorm of criticism from brand owners and advertisers alike because it will generate huge costs for many parties. Nevertheless, ICANN has always said that domain name pricing is not within its control.  

The price tag of $2,499/YEAR for Sunrise Premium domain names, which are trademarks registered in the Trademark Clearinghouse (“TMCH”) and are designated by the registry as “premium” due to wide registration across other new gTLDs, is setting new pricing horizons. The registry’s expansive definition of premium domain names (i.e., premium names from other lists among other criteria) could sweep in a huge number of existing trademarks to create a significant windfall.

Although the fee is only a suggested retail price for registrars, it sends a strong message that the sky is the limit for this new gTLD. Also, there is a sliding scale of pricing for Premium domain names depending on how “premium” a domain name is using the registry’s classification system, as well as a charge ($199/YEAR) for a “block” (i.e., placing a domain name on the reserved list). “Consumer advocates” may need to pay as little as $9.95 later on in the registration timeline using a subsidy system, though it is still uncertain what the eventual costs will be. Thus, a brand owner of XYZ brand who wants to register “xyz.sucks” may well spend $2,499 per year or more for the life of the domain name to control the “.sucks” domain name for its brand. Other so-called complaint gTLDs, such as “.gripe”, are also cashing in on the new territory.

Brand owners and advertisers should be very concerned about this development. Not only do they now need to police almost 500 new gTLDs concerning use of identical or confusingly similar domain names, they must also review all the complaint gTLDs (such as “.sucks”) to police them and possibly register in them as well. Brand owners should communicate their objections to ICANN about this new way to abuse the domain name system merely to create quick profits.  Although ICANN states it does not interfere with pricing issues, it says it does welcome “community feedback”. To communicate to ICANN, you can contact the ICANN Ombudsman at ombudsman@icann.org or chris.lahatte@icann.org.  Concerns may also be submitted via the Ombudsman Complaint Page.

Reed Smith LLP is the ANA’s General Counsel.


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