Securing an online identity is vital for any business, which of course begins with choosing a solid domain name. It’s fair to say that the influx of new generic top level domains (gTLDs) into the marketplace is having both a positive and negative impact for companies. On the one hand it has provided companies with an increased number of new and interesting gTLD variations to choose from that it could be argued communicate better with their customers, like .club or .london. On the other it has flooded the market with some gTLDs that run the risk of being purchased by those with malicious intent and used in order to do damage to existing brands. Arguably the most controversial of the new gTLDs and one that was seen as a prime candidate for being used in this way is .sucks.
This week marked what was supposed to be the start of the public .sucks domain sale, following the end of the ‘sunrise’ period. Sunrise is when domains are available to brands that own a trademark and wish to protect it from someone registering it. It’s no surprise that companies and individuals in the US eager to protect their brands from the damage that a .sucks domain name would inflict have been quick to pay the required fee in order to do it. Taylor Swift is one example of a high-profile celebrity who has registered taylorswift.sucks to protect herself from malicious sites appearing under that domain name.
In an interesting development the company administering .sucks, Vox Populi Registry, announced at the end of May that they were extending the deadline for expensive sunrise registrations until June 19. On its nic.sucks website, they said the decision was made because “too many intellectual property lawyers, company executives and brand owners were unaware of the registry, the availability of its names or the Trademark Clearinghouse.”
The way the .sucks domain sale has been conducted has left Vox Populi open to accusations that it is simply a way of extorting money from celebrities and corporations, something that the company strenuously denies and even claims is defamatory. This case got more complex the moment the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the Domain Name Server root registries, approved the .sucks gTLD effectively giving Vox Populi the green light to proceed with the sunrise period ahead of the public sale. It is a decision that ICANN is perhaps regretting, judging by the fact that they subsequently wrote to the Federal Trade Commission and Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs asking if what the Canadian company is doing is illegal.
The extension of the sunrise deadline means the choice between paying the $2,499 to secure the domain now, or waiting until the public sale when the price drops but the risk increases, remains open. Brands are of course entitled to take legal action against anyone they suspect of misusing their trademark in order to regain the name. However this is only an option if the domain is registered somewhere that recognises trademark and copyright law, as is the case in the US and EU. Relying on this method to address a breach in China, for example, is destined to be complicated and costly.
Rightly or wrongly, it seems that if you want to ensure your brand identify remains safe in the wake of controversial new gTLD sales, the cheapest and simplest way is to take advantage of these so-called sunrise periods.
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