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Yahoo! scared! of! dot! brand! squatters!

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Yahoo is worried about unscrupulous domain name registrars trying to cybersquat on its brands.

In an exasperated letter to ICANN this week, the web firm said it is still not convinced that the organisation's new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) programme provides enough safeguards against squatters holding so-called "dot-brand" domains hostage.

The new gTLD programme allows any company to apply to ICANN to run a right-of-the-dot extension alongside .com, .uk and the other 300-odd top-level domain names in existence today.

A big portion of applications are expected to come from brand owners that want to take control of their whole domain name – for example Singaporean telco StarHub recently announced plans for domains such as broadband.starhub and mobile.starhub.

But many companies expect to file dot-brand bids not because they see any value in the idea, but because they're terrified that their competitors might apply and gain some sort of marketing advantage.

After 29 March, the window for new gTLD applications will close, and most observers do not expect it to reopen for three to five years. If the dot-brand concept is a success, that's a long time to be left out.

There's the extra worry that if another company with a very similar brand has a gTLD approved by ICANN, it could mean future bids are blocked due to the potential for user confusion – it's not yet clear, for example, whether a .bbc gTLD would preclude .abc.

Very few companies that have been following developments at ICANN closely are thinking about applying for a dot-brand because they're scared of cybersquatters, but Yahoo! appears to be one of them.

Policy veep Laura Covington told ICANN yesterday:

[I]t does not take a huge leap of logic or faith for us to expect there to be individuals and companies (sadly, including some companies within the [domain name] registrar world), who have the cash reserves to jump into the .brand application fray, and the financial incentive, in the absence of better brand protection mechanisms, to try to hold legitimate brand holders hostage for sizeable settlement fees in return for the relevant .brand

In other words, Yahoo! reckons cybersquatters, possibly including some domain name registrars, may apply for gTLDs such as .yahoo in order to hold them to ransom.

Covington's remarks were filed in response to an ICANN request for comments about what it calls the "perceived need" for "defensive" gTLD applications.

While every big brand is anxious about the cost of defensive registrations and fighting cybersquatting at the second level in new gTLDs (for example, yahoosucks.web), Yahoo! was the only company to express concern to ICANN about top-level cybersquatting (for example, .yahoo).

In fact, other companies filing comments with ICANN yesterday seem to think Yahoo needs to RTFM.

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, which originally opposed the gTLD expansion because of the potential for user confusion and fraud, wrote: "If companies believe that there will be cybersquatting at the top level, CADNA believes that this is due to a misunderstanding of the New gTLD programme, or to anxiety about ICANN's ability to execute on its process."

It costs $185,000 to apply for a new gTLD, which most observers believe will be sufficient to deter all but the richest and most stupid cybersquatters.

ICANN allows trademark-holders to scupper cybersquatters with Legal Rights Objection if somebody else applies for a gTLD closely matching their brands. The objection costs $10,000, but complainants get $8,000 back if they successfully persuade a World Intellectual Property Organisation panel that the gTLD would infringe their trademark and damage their businesses.

Most trademark owners lobbying for changes to the programme at ICANN agree that the high cost of applying and the objection process makes gTLD-squatting extremely unlikely. ®

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