Is it a practice of free Internet speech or does it hold the potential for online extortion?
A Canadian company selling the new “.sucks” domain name has the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) worried that the domain name based on the word now popularly used to refer to incompetence, failure, anger, disillusionment or dissatisfaction, would be used to “shakedown” individuals and companies.
ICANN, the non-profit organization that regulates the Internet’s naming and numbering system, has asked the Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) and the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to determine if the Canadian Internet registry firm Vox Populi is doing anything illegal.
ICANN’s request stems from a complaint from the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC), an advisory group to the global Internet domain regular that the “exorbitant sums” Vox Populi is charging for the .sucks-based Web site names is a “shakedown scheme” which aims to coerce individuals and companies to purchase and register the .sucks domains to avoid other parties from using it to launch Web sites that may unfavourable or offensive to their brands.
Vox Populi is reportedly charging $3,146 for a .sucks Web site name before it goes public in June. Typical Web site registration only costs about $12 to $31.
VoX Populi’s Web site promoting .sucks indicates that the domain name is scheduled for general availability on June 1.
Om March 30 the firm began accepting registrations for .sucks from companies and celebrities. John Berard, CEO of Vox Populi said the names have been sold by the reseller for around $2,500 a year.
Some media reports indicated that Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are among the large companies as well as singer Taylor Swift, have bought up the domains to exercise their trademark priority rights.
The IPC has asked ICANN to stop the .sucks domain before it goes live. However, ICANN said it has no authority to investigate questions of pricing or domain name abuse and that it does not interfere with online free speech.
But ICANN may “seek remedies against Vox Populi if the registry’s actions are determined to be illegal,” said John Jeffrey, general counsel for ICANN.
In his letter to John Kimberly, deputy minister of Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs, Jeffrey said IPC has described the proposed business practices and actions of Vox Populi as “illicit” and “predatory, exploitive and coercive.”
Of course ICANN, itself had a hand in creating the controversy. Vox Populi paid the regulator some $232,000 to apply for .sucks. The Canadian firm won the domain name in a private auction against other registries bidding for .sucks.
Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a domain name that can be used to promote freedom of speech. The words “customer-led,” “advocacy,” “freedom of speech” and “share opinions” are prominently displayed on the .sucks Web site.
“dotSucks is designed to help customers find their voice and allow companies to find the value of criticism,” according to Vox Populi. “Each dotSucks domain has the potential to become an essential part of everyday organization’s customer relationship management program.”