For years, we've noted that the big drug companies like to conflate legitimate foreign pharmacies (often based in Canada) that sell back into the US (the so-called "reimportation" or "parallel import" market) at cheaper prices with out and out bogus or counterfeit online pharmacies. The drug companies like nothing better than when people lump the two very different beasts together and label them all as "counterfeit." Of course, for many Americans, relying on cheaper legit drugs from Canada is the only way they can survive, and there have been efforts made at times by US politicians -- including President Obama -- to support more parallel importation to ease the high cost of drugs in the US.
However, there's an interesting tidbit coming out in the ongoing battles over new top level domains. It appears that the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is seeking a .pharmacy domain, which (obviously) they would then only bestow upon pharmacies that they like. That could be a big issue, because it's likely they wouldn't allow that for certain Canadian pharmacies and other foreign legitimate pharmacies that may offer cheaper drugs. Both Demand Progress and Public Citizen recently filed comments with ICANN about why NABP should not be allowed to control .pharmacy.
Granting the .pharmacy domain to NABP would confer legitimacy on pharmacies sanctioned by NABP, to the detriment of those that are not.
NABP has proposed an unfair standard that would bar online pharmacies that serve US consumers but are located outside of the United States from using the domain (see NABP’s application at Section 18(a) IV*). This would exclude many licensed pharmacies which offer American consumers low-cost medicines of quality.
Whether a pharmacy is located in the United States does not determine whether a pharmacy is licensed and provides medicines of quality.
Consumer access to medicines depends in significant part on price and competition. It would be inappropriate to allow NABP to control such an important gTLD while it maintains exclusionary plans for the domain, which work against the consumer interest in a robust market of quality affordable pharmaceuticals.
The pharmaceutical industry has prioritized trying to shut down legitimate pharmacies selling safe Canadian drugs to U.S. consumers (as currently allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration). But their tactics to achieve these anti-consumer goals involve censorship regimes allowing government seizure of domains, blacklists of sites, or suspended hosting services for legitimate competitors.
NABP supporters have justified their actions by preying on consumer fear of counterfeiters, when their real goals include shutting down sites providing cheaper legitimate drugs. Pfizer joined the assault on the Net in 2011, testifying to Congress that: "The major threat to patients in the U.S., however, is the Internet..." ...
NABP's supporters define "fake pharmacies" as those not registered with VIPPS, rather than only those selling actual counterfeit goods.
The Demand Progress comment also points out how the big pharmaceutical companies supported SOPA and PIPA, since they knew that it, too, would be useful to use as a sledgehammer against foreign online pharmacies that sold legitimate drugs back into the US.
from the nice-trademark-you've-got-here,-wouldn't-want-anything-to-happen-to-it dept
We've pointed out for years that ICANN's new "top level domains" programs often feel much more like a way to shake down trademark holders who feel the need to buy each and every new domain with their trademarked names, just to prevent anyone else from getting them. Now, ICANN has taken this a step further, streamlining the process by launching a "trademark clearinghouse" in which companies can register a trademark and get early access to "buy" all of the new top level domains with their mark before they reach the open market. Of course, "supporters" are pushing companies to join... and the pitch really does sound like your typical mob shakedown:
The clearinghouse "doesn't necessarily prevent trademark infringement or cybersquatting, but it does help trademark owners and brand owners somewhat in mitigating the damage that might occur," he added. "We've been telling brand owners it's not that expensive to protect themselves and they ought to do it."
I mean, paying the local mob boss "doesn't necessarily prevent anyone from breaking your windows, but it does help in mitigating the likelihood that damage might occur." And "it's not that expensive to protect yourself, so you ought to do it."
For many years, we've noted that the entire setup of ICANN rolling out new top level domains (TLDs) was a complete joke, often driven by ICANN members who were in positions to be the registrars and registers for those new domains. Thus, all they seemed to do was create money out of thin air for those companies, since there was no actual demand for the TLDs, but companies felt obligated to buy them up anyway, to "keep them out of the hands" of critics, scammers or others. And, certainly a big fear when ICANN decided to offer up its big "generic TLD" setup, whereby anyone could make a play for any new TLD, was that the whole thing was a boondoggle for domain registers and registrars with which to set up a whole bunch of new tollbooths.
However, a funny thing happened along the way. While there certainly were a bunch of those kinds of TLDs applied for (many with competing claims fighting for the right to cash in), what became more interesting was the fact that the list of applications was absolutely dominated by Google and Amazon seeking to gain control over a very long list of TLDs. In fact, we noted that in many cases, Google and Amazon were lined up head to head competing over who would gain control over those TLDs. For example, they're competing with each other (and with some others) for the rights to .book, .shop, .store, .free, .game, .search, .play, .movie, .show, .mail, .map, .spot, .talk, .wow, .you and .cloud. And both of those companies are going for a bunch of others where they're not competing with each other. Google, for example, wants (among other things) .car, .dad, .mom, .dog, .family, .fyi, .plus, .tour, .prod, .here, .prof, .phd, meme., .lol, .day, .love and more.
As you look down the list, you begin to realize that while the initial fear of registers and registrars shaking down everyone to buy new domain names to "protect" their trademarks was a legitimate concern, there was a second serious concern as well: that a bunch of these new gTLDs were not being applied for to set up a registry where anyone could obtain those kinds of domains, but rather to lock them up for one company's use. And while Amazon and Google are the most prominent players here, lots of other companies jumped in as well. Hasbro wants .transformers. Johnson and Johnson wants .baby (so do a bunch of others). Ralph Lauren wants .polo. Travelers Insurance wants the completely ridiculous .redumbrella, while Nationwide Insurance wants .onyourside. Monster Cable (of course) wants .monster.
While some of those more specific ones wouldn't have any demand for anyone else to register anyway, there is a growing concern that companies might lock up certain TLDs, rather than make them available for registering. I'm sure lots of car companies would like theirname.car. But would that be possible?
But companies such as Amazon, Google, Goodyear, L'Oreal and others also applied for a wide array of words and indicated that they would like to operate the registry as "closed" -- meaning they may not allow other firms to buy what are known as second-level domains.
Clearly, companies want to own and control generic words as domains so that they can offer their services. But with that comes the possibility of blocking competitors who want to attach their brand to a term. For example, Ford might want to buy ford.truck but be blocked from doing so by the owner of .truck.
The article quotes someone from a hosting firm who notes that "It is inherently in the public interest to allow access to ... new [generic top-level domains] to the whole of the Internet Community, e.g., .BLOG, .MUSIC, .CLOUD."
Of course, there is the flipside to this argument as well -- such TLDs that are simply locked up for a single company or service are also not on the market, meaning that they're not another in the long list of domains companies feel they "need to buy" purely for defensive reasons. Either way, at least one (still unnamed) applicant who is competing with a bunch of these companies for a few of the new gTLDs is hiring people to lobby Congress and the EU Parliament not to allow firms to lock up any new gTLD.
In the end, I think our original conclusion still stands: the whole gTLD process appears to be a continuing boondoggle for certain companies, whether it's to lock up certain TLDs or to sell off domains to people and companies who don't really want them, but feel compelled to pay up anyway.
We've talked about the fact that the whole "generic top level domain" (gTLD) process was hopelessly corrupt, as it was more or less driven by those who sought to profit from the system -- folks who ran (or hoped to run) domain registration offerings. And, the entire thing seemed based around getting a ridiculous amount of money to launch these new TLDs and then run around convincing companies they need to pay up for new domains before someone else snaps them up.
However, now it's looking like it isn't just the idea that's a disaster, but the execution as well. Domain Incite's Kevin Murphy reports that ICANN's own CEO (who only joined recently), Fadi Chehade, has flat out admitted that they're nowhere close to ready, but things are going to launch anyway. David Mitnick has pulled out some of the key quotes that should be fairly scary, considering they're coming from ICANN's own CEO:
1. "Honestly, if it was up to me, I would delay the whole release of new gTLDs by at least a year."
2. "... a lot of the foundations that I would be comfortable with, as someone who has built businesses before, are just not yet there."
3. "We have people who took six years to write the [new gTLD Applicant] Guidebook and we're asking engineers and software people and third-party vendors and hundreds of people to get that whole program running in six months."
4. "When the number two at IBM called me, Erich Clementi, after we signed the deal with them to do the [Trademark Clearinghouse] he said 'Are you nuts?'. Literally, quote. He said: 'Fadi you've built these systems for us before. You know it takes three times the amount of time it takes to write the specs to build reliable systems.'"
5. "We're facing a difficult situation, we're working hard as we can, our people are at the edge."
6. "I don't mean to scare you, because I know many of your businesses rely on this, but the right people are now in place, we're building it as fast as we can but I want you to understand that this is tough, and I wish it were different. I wish you would all raise your hands and say: 'You know what? Let's take a break and meet in a year'."
7. "I don't want to delay this program, but under all circumstances my mind would tell me: stop."
In other words, this is likely to be a complete and total disaster.
While there's been plenty of talk about the upcoming ITU process, the ITU keeps attempting to downplay what it's trying to do -- and insisting that Russia, China and other regimes aren't looking to use the process to clamp down on the internet. Of course, proposal leaks from Russia suggest otherwise. As for China, Dave Farber points us to an editorial in the People's Daily newspaper in China from back in August that argues that the ITU process is necessary to wrest control of the internet away from the US.
This indicated the U.S. decision to retain ultimate control over the global Internet, which enabled it to unilaterally close the Internet of another country. A suddenly paralyzed Internet would definitely cause huge social and economic losses to the country.
More and more countries are beginning to question the U.S. control over the world’s Internet as the international resource should be managed and supervised by all countries together. However, the United States has conducted a pre-emptive strike, and refused to give up control over the Internet in the name of protecting the resource. The refusal reflects its hegemonic mentality and double standards.
The United States controls and owns all cyberspaces in the world, and other countries can only lease Internet addresses and domain names from the United States, leading to the U.S. hegemonic monopoly over the world’s Internet.
This is an exaggeration of reality. While ICANN has serious problems -- which we frequently discuss here -- that doesn't mean that dumping it entirely in favor of a ridiculously secretive and bureaucratic process like the ITU makes sense. The article goes on to cite the US apparently turning off the .iq domain for Iraq during the invasion in 2003. Of course, that's an interesting rewriting of history. The issue with the .iq domain wasn't quite as cut and dried as the editorial implies. First of all, .iq wasn't a widely used domain no matter what. But, more importantly, it was entirely managed and controlled by a guy in Texas who was accused of funding terrorists and eventually sentenced to 84 months in jail. It wasn't so much a case of the US government running to ICANN and saying shut down the domain, as it was a criminal investigation into separate issues that happened to scoop up the one guy who controlled the TLD. And, it should be noted that ICANN gave .iq back to the Iraqi government years ago.
This kind of stuff indicates the lengths to which the Chinese government seems willing to go to prop up the ITU process for taking over aspects of internet governance: they'll just lie and make up stories when the truth isn't particularly convenient.
The whole ICANN process for creating generic top level domains (gTLDs) has clearly been designed to allow certain groups to make a ton of money by basically pressuring individuals and companies to snap up more domains they don't need. The whole thing has appeared impossibly corrupt from the very beginning. However, with ICANN finally releasing the full list of gTLDs that have been applied for (using the obnoxious title "reveal day" -- as if the world was really waiting impatiently for this crap), there are at least some bizarre or interesting factoids as we skim through the list. Here are a few:
Lots of companies applied for their own name or an acronym of their name. This is one area where I could see some benefit in potentially stopping certain phishing scams... But it seems unfortunate that only super rich companies should be able to do that. A few companies sought gTLDs on related terms -- like Nationwide Insurance seeking .onyourside to match with its slogan. Ralph Lauren just wants .polo. Chrysler wants .ram. Travelers Insurance wants .redumbrella (really?!?).
Google's bids are slightly (just slightly) obfuscated by the use of "Charleston Road Registry Inc." as their applicant. But as the company had suggested last month, it was pretty active, going after some clearly Google related names, including .google, .goog, .gmail, .android, .gbiz and .goo. But it also has a few more broadly worded ones, including .ads (which no one else sought), .car (for their autonomous vehicles?), .dad (just in time for father's day?), .mom, .dog, .family, .fyi, .plus, .tour, .prod, .here, .prof, .phd, meme., .lol, .day, .love (which has a lot of competition), .rsvp, .mba, .vip, .web, .eat, .soy and (believe it or not) .and. There are some strange ones too, like .zip, .boo (did Google scare you?) and .foo. They also want .page (is Larry getting his own TLD?).
Thirteen applications were made for .app -- including from Google and Amazon, but also a whole bunch of companies that were clearly set up just to seek .app and all of which have similar names: Dot App LLC, .APP REGISTRY Inc., DotApp Inc., and dot App Limited. Not confusing at all.
Both Amazon and Google would like .book (where they have competition from seven others) and .search (where they have competition from two others).
Amazon and Google actually come up against each other an awful lot, including for .buy, .shop, .store, .free, .game, .play, .movie, .show, .mail, .map, .spot, .talk, .wow, .you and .cloud -- all of which have a bunch of other suitors as well. They also go head to head (with no other competitors) for .drive. They just missed each other in going after children. Google wants .kid, while Amazon wants .kids. Think these two companies are competing in a lot of areas?
Amazon would also like both .safe and .room, but not .saferoom (no one went for that one). Amazon has no competition for either of those.
Amazon would like you to .smile. Somewhat surprised no one else sought that one.
For .docs, Google's competition is... Microsoft. No surprise there. Those two companies also face off (with one other applicant) for .live.
Six different companies are seeking .baby, including Johnson and Johnson... and Google? Not sure I get that one.
Surprised that there are only two applications for .money -- since that's what this whole thing is all about anyway.
Nine companies want .blog. I really have no desire to pay anyone for techdirt.blog.
Slightly surprised that only American Express wants .open.
Hasbro wants .transformers. Seriously.
TJX (owners of stores like Marshall's and TJ Maxx) wants .winners. No one went for .winning. Apparently Charlie Sheen has fallen off the face of the earth.
Six different applications for .cpa (including one from Google). Apparently some people expect that CPAs have money to blow on new domains...
Two different companies want .dot (which actually is kind of creative): Google and Dish. Not sure I understand either one.
McDonalds wants .mcd (and .mcdonalds).
Three different companies want .rip. I'm assuming these are for "memorial" sites.
AOL wants .patch. Meanwhile plenty of people expect that Patch will soon need .rip.
Many regional ones are unopposed, but .osaka has two proposals.
Notorious hater of anyone who uses the word "Monster," Monster Cable is seeking .monster, but has to compete with the jobs site Monster.com. Those two companies already have an agreement about the use of the term, but you have to imagine they're not happy to see each other here.
Eleven companies want .home, once again including a bunch with similar names. DotHome Inc., Dot Home LLC, .HOME Registry Inc., DotHome/CGR E-Commerce Ltd. Oh yeah, and GoDaddy and Google are both there as well.
The MPAA cannot be happy that Google is also seeking .film, where it's competing against two others, including the "Motion Picture Domain Registry". According to the website for that group, they have a strong association with the MPAA. Both those companies (and a bunch of others, including Amazon as mentioned above) are also competing for .movie.
As expected, there's also a big fight to be had over .music -- including (once again) Google and Amazon, but also a bunch of operations set up just for this purpose: dot Music Limited, DotMusic, DotMusic Inc., and .music LLC. For what it's worth, the RIAA has endorsed the proposal from .music LLC, because it only would allow "accredited" musicians to use it, and the RIAA loves nothing more than the chance to be a gatekeeper.
Starbucks (Starbucks?!) would like .now, but it has steep competition from five other companies, including its neighbor, Amazon.
Seven applications were made for .news (including one from Amazon). I also do not want to buy techdirt.news.
Three different applications for .sucks. Perhaps I'd buy techdirt.sucks.
Yes, someone did apply for .wtf.
.ninja actually is a cool idea for a TLD. I might want one of those.
There are two competing applications for .sex, because we didn't already have enough of a battle over the sex.com domain name years ago.
This is slightly outside the list, but related to it. After the list came out, I received a press release from some silly grandstanding "morality" group insisting that .porn, .sex and .adult need to be opposed because "more porn domains means more porn on the internet." I don't think that requires any response other than laughter at the basic cluelessness.
There's plenty more to dig into, but those were the ones that caught my eye. It seems like the key story is just how often Amazon and Google come up against each other...
Back in February, we wrote up a warning to "the internet as we know it" as the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU) was looking to take over control of the internet, mainly at the behest of countries like Russia and China who were seeking a "more controlled" internet, rather than the very open internet we have today. The major concern was that almost no one in the US seemed to care about this or be paying much attention to it. The February call to action may not have done much, but the situation has certainly changed in the last couple of weeks.
Last week, the father of the internet, Vint Cerf, once again raised the alarm in both a NY Times op-ed and in a keynote speech at the Freedom to Connect (F2C) conference:
His concerns echo the ones we've been hearing for months. This move is about giving some countries much greater control over the internet:
Last June, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated the goal of Russia and its allies as “establishing international control over the Internet” through the I.T.U. And in September 2011, China, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan submitted a proposal for an “International Code of Conduct for Information Security” to the U.N. General Assembly, with the goal of establishing government-led “international norms and rules standardizing the behavior of countries concerning information and cyberspace.”
Word of a few other proposals from inside the I.T.U. have surfaced. Several authoritarian regimes reportedly would ban anonymity from the Web, which would make it easier to find and arrest dissidents. Others have suggested moving the privately run system that manages domain names and Internet addresses to the United Nations.
Such proposals raise the prospect of policies that enable government controls but greatly diminish the “permissionless innovation” that underlies extraordinary Internet-based economic growth to say nothing of trampling human rights.
It would guarantee moving the internet towards a model of top-down control, rather than bottom up innovation. It would give governments much more say in controlling the internet, unlike the hands-off system we have now, where no government truly has full regulatory control over the internet. It would almost certainly lead to more global restriction on the internet, including serious potential impact on aspects of free expression and anonymous speech. It might also make the internet much more expensive, as the whole ITU setup is about protecting old national telco monopolies, and many would see this as an opportunity to try to put tollbooths on internet data.
The ITU is holding a meeting in December in Dubai about all of this, and it appears that US officials are finally waking up to why this is a true threat to the open internet.
But it needs to go beyond that. The positioning of this discussion from ITU supporters is that the US government has "too much control" over the internet today. And one could argue that's true at the margins, though it's an exaggeration. For the most part the US government does not have much ability to control the internet directly. Now, I think plenty of people agree that the setup of ICANN and IETF are hardly ideal. In fact, they've got significant problems. But moving from that setup to one where the ITU is in charge would be a massive step backwards.
And, certainly, there is significant irony in the fact that Congress is suddenly acting so concerned about fundamental attacks on an open internet -- when many of the same officials were more than happy to toss out key principles of an open and free internet in the past few months with SOPA/PIPA/CISPA/etc. But, in this case, worrying about political consistency is a lot less important than stopping the ITU proposal from going forward.
When the US government started seizing domains, there was significant criticism of ICANN and calls for a more decentralized solution that no one could control. The move towards ITU oversight is a move in the opposite direction. It would make things significantly worse and not better.
For those in the US, we need to speak up and keep the pressure on our elected officials to fight this move in the ITU. While they're saying the right things now, we need to be vigilant and ensure it continues. Trust me, the "irony" of their own attacks on internet freedom and openness have not gone unnoticed by supporters of this ITU takeover plan. Expect them to offer "deals" to the US, by which the ITU gets control over the internet, in exchange for allowing the US to use that process to move forward with efforts to censor the internet for copyright reasons, as well as to get better backdoors to data for snooping.
For those outside of the US, it's also time to speak up. Don't fall for the easy story that this is just about wresting the control from US interests. If you believe in the value of a free and open internet, the ITU is not the answer. You, too, will inevitably be significantly worse off with what results.
The folks over at Access have put together a petition to tell the UN that the internet belongs to us, the people, not to the UN or the governments of the world. While the UN is not as subject to public opinion, if the world speaks out loudly enough against this effort to capture and control the internet, it won't be able to move forward. But people have to speak out to make this happen.
IP maximalists now seem to be targeting ICANN as yet another way to overclaim their rights and block legitimate domains from existing. As we've been discussing, there have been several fights concerning the new generic top level domains (gTLDs) where we've seen folks like the entertainment industry demand extra special measures to keep them from being used to infringe copyrights. But the trademark folks may be going even further. We already have the (somewhat flawed) UDRP (Uniformed Domain Dispute Resolution Process) system for trademark holders to try to claim rights over a domain. This process lets trademark holders go through an arbitration process if they feel someone is abusing a trademark in a domain. In the past, we've discussed how this process is pretty sloppy, but it still heavily favors trademark holders. As in many arbitration situations, the big companies who bring back business to the arbitrators (magically) seem to win quite frequently.
However, that's just not enough for these trademark holders. Last year, for these new gTLDs, they were also able to establish a separate process, the URS (Uniform Rapid Suspension System) which, everyone was told, would only be used for the most egregious cases of trademark infringement -- the cases where it's so totally obvious that the domain in question infringes that the whole process can be cheap and streamlined.
However, before this process has even really been tested, trademark holders are trying very, very hard to basically lower the standards on URS and broaden the reach of it, such that it more or less replaces the UDRP process -- and thus makes it a system that lets trademark holders seize the domains of those they accuse of infringement very cheaply, with minimal review, and to also block certain words from being registered in domains. Even more incredible? They're abusing an ICANN comment process to push this plan (which ICANN had earlier rejected).
All of this came out recently in a letter to ICANN's board raising concerns about this effort. ICANN had opened up a comment period for a specific issue having to do with gTLDs, and the trademark folks went hogwild, asking for all of these other things, including:
Lowering the standard for when the simplified URS process (seize domains quickly, ask questions later) process can be put in place. Originally, the bar had been set high so that this process could only be used in truly egregious cases where there was no question that the domain was infringing. But the proposal sought to lower the standard such that it's the same as the UDRP standard (effectively stepping in and replacing UDRP).
Changing the already agreed upon URS system, such that domains that go through the process aren't just suspended, but transferred to the trademark holder. In other words, rather than just shutting down the domain, this fastpass system would simply turn the domains over to the trademark bullies.
Saying that the URS process (which was developed just for these new TLDs) should also be expanded to cover the most important TLD of all: .com. Yes, that's right. That's the goal in all of this. To actually make it much, much easier for trademark bullies to completely shut down and gain control of domains that they don't like others to use, and to do it cheaply, with very little review.
And they did all this by abusing a comment process that has nothing to do with these issues, and despite the fact that earlier hard-fought battles over these issues came out with them on the losing side. But, this is how IP maximalists work. They just keep trying every way possible to get the same ridiculous rules made in their favor.
We've noted what a joke ICANN has been for quite some time, culminating with some of its more bizarre decisions to help governments seize domains and censor the internet. Separately, its sense of entitlement towards its role managing domain registrations is really pretty disgusting. Of course, for years we've also discussed its ridiculous policy of rolling out new top level domains whose sole purpose appeared to be to transfer money from companies to registrars.
At a recent ICANN meeting, however, outgoing ICANN boss Rod Beckstrom (who we had hoped would clean up ICANN back when he took the job) blasted his own organization for the massive conflicts of interest that have made the organization almost entirely ineffectual when it comes to doing anything for the public's benefit.
"I believe it is time to further tighten up the rules that have allowed perceived conflicts to exist within our board," Mr. Beckstrom said in a speech during an Icann meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, last week. "This is necessary, not just to be responsive to the growing chorus of criticism about Icann's ethics environment, but to ensure that absolute dedication to the public good supersedes all other priorities."
In fact, it looks like the conflicts are even worse than originally discussed, with a significant number of top people being closely tied to registrars directly, such that their positions are heavily influenced by what makes registrars the most money rather than what's best for the public or the internet as a whole. Isn't it time to just start over again from scratch, rather than letting this farce continue?
This just gets worse and worse. After pointing out that ICANN was missing a big (and important) opportunity by not speaking out against governments seizing domain names, we were disappointed to see ICANN release a white paper that was more of a how-to manual for governments on seizing domains. Now, Paul Keating points us to the depressing news that ICANN is now publicly saying that it will work more closely with governments around the world to help them seize and censor domains. The writeup is a little vague, but it says that seizing domains for copyright infringement was a "hot topic" at ICANN's recent meeting -- including promises from ICANN that it would work more closely with law enforcement around the globe and the various registrars to help law enforcement be more effective in censoring these websites. This is really unfortunate and once again highlights ICANN's uselessness in protecting the internet. Instead, it appears to be actively working against basic internet principles.