I picked up .SEX mints, .PORN drink coasters, and .SUCKS condoms from an industry trade conference that I attended recently. Eyebrow-raising swag for sure, but no, I was not attending the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. Rather, I was a participant in the International Trademark Association’s (INTA) Annual Meeting attended by more than 9,000 trademark lawyers from around the world. The .SUCKS registry’s condom giveaway to lawyers to help “protect [their] client’s brand” was the talk of the conference. Unfortunately, as we talked about in last Friday’s blog post, .SUCKS’s marketing tactics and Taylor Swift’s purchase of the new .PORN web addresses have created the wrong impression about the need and utility of new generic Top Level Domain names (gTLDs).
During the INTA meeting, I attended more than one session in which a participant called the new gTLDs “worthless,” “useless,” or “unnecessary” for consumers. However, with more than five million domain names already registered in new gTLDs in just the first year of availability, and only a small number of these being “defensive” trademark registrations, trends suggest that consumers do, in fact, find these new domain names valuable and are using them in useful, creative, and innovative ways. For example, Pope Francis has adopted www.scholas.social to highlight the Vatican’s charitable work with schools. The Rolling Stones have adopted www.justakissaway.rocks to push a campaign related to their upcoming tour. Each day, consumers are registering more specific and relevant domain names that match their personalities and their brand. As highlighted in last week’s blog post, there are countless, wildly creative use cases, but unfortunately many of them are being eclipsed by the media, trademark holders, and others wanting to tell a more salacious story—one featuring .SUCKS and .PORN as proof positive that the new gTLD program is just a money-making scheme by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and registries to squeeze dollars out of trademark owners and consumers.
The United States Congress, sadly, perpetuated this belief two weeks ago when the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a hearing on .SUCKS and ICANN. Predictably, what House members heard from witnesses (those, in my opinion, curated to produce bias) was complaint after complaint about ICANN’s failures and the alleged unscrupulous pricing model of .SUCKS. There was absolutely no pretense by the hearing’s organizers that this hearing would be different from those that were held before or be balanced in any way. Instead, it was designed to fill the echo chamber with the same rhetoric that the Subcommittee members have heard before from the same witnesses, prompting Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa to unfairly characterize registry practices as “legalized extortion.”
The list of witnesses could and should have included at least one representative from an actual new gTLD registry operator, one that could have presented real statistics and information about the number of registrations that have occurred since new domain names have been made available and how few cases of abuse have been reported in these new namespaces. A registry operator could have provided data on how effective the new rights protection mechanisms have been and what new uses registrants are discovering for their new domain names.
Members of the House Subcommittee, let me tell you that not every registry .SUCKS, but in fact there is more than one registry that .ROCKS! It’s a shame that stories about innovation, creativity, consumer interest, and demand are being drowned out by the noise regarding the pricing models of one or two new gTLDs.