A few weeks ago, we discussed the controversial .sucks domains that will go live shortly. We wrote at the time, “As the letter from Rockefeller showed, there are already powerful interests that want to shut this down.”. With just a couple of months remaining before the .sucks domain are set to go online, news about the domain is spreading amongst the business community and pressure is building on the ICANN to shut .sucks down before it goes online.
To review the basics, .sucks is one the the new Top Level Domains that will is registered to a company that will control how much the domains cost and who gets them. Vox Populi has marketed these domains as a way for people to create protest sites. Critics, including us, suggest the entire system is setup to prey on businesses, getting them to pay huge fees for a domain just so there isn’t a Walmart.sucks, Disney.sucks and so on. As we stated in the original argument, individuals can buy the domain for $10 but it would cost the brand $2500 to buy it back.
In what may be the last best chance to stop .sucks before the sites go live, ICANN has sent letters to the US and Canadian governments, asking if they feel that .sucks is illegal.
In a blog post, ICANN wrote, “Due to the serious nature of the allegations, we have sent letters [PDF, 742 KB] to both the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and, because Vox Populi is a Canadian enterprise, Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) asking them to consider assessing and determining whether or not Vox Populi is violating any of the laws or regulations those agencies enforce. ICANN is currently evaluating remedies available to us under the registry agreement. As we noted in those letters, if Vox Populi is not complying with all applicable laws, it may also be in breach of its registry agreement. ICANN could then act consistently with its public interest goals and consumer and business protections to change these practices through our contractual relationship with the registry.”
The biggest point of contention is that .sucks is a “predatory scheme” as some of the complaints the ICANN received have stated. Depending on the results of the inquiry, there are three possible outcomes.
Nothing Happens – The ICANN may decide that everything about .sucks is fine and nothing needs to be changed.
Changes to .sucks – Since the ICANN already approved the domain registration, they can only remove it entirely based on certain criteria. Before that, they will try to make .sucks modify their fee structure or more to make the domain more palatable to the legal systems in question.
Revoke .sucks domain – If the governments say that .sucks is illegal, then ICANN can say they violated the application process and can kill .sucks entirely.
For their part, Vox Populi has stood by their product and pricing model. The president of Vox Populi gave a statement to Marketing Land in response to ICANN’s newest request for information from the government agencies on the policies of .sucks.
“VoxPop has colored well within the lines both of ICANN’s rules and national laws so I was surprised by the request,” wrote John Berard, CEO of Vox Populi, in an email to MarketingLand. I would first have expected a question from ICANN or an aggrieved party, but got none. Perhaps it is driven by genuine concerns or it may be a case of the squeaky wheel. Either way, we see real value in bringing these names to life online. There is much to be learned from criticism.”
The next phase of the battle for .sucks will probably end up in the courts. Vox Populi has invested a lot of money into getting .sucks created, and for all their protests, it’s clear from their pricing structure that they plan to make the bulk of their money by getting business to pay for “protection” from having their brand name sullied. Any decision by ICANN or the courts that would make that portion of their business model ineffective is something Vox Populi will have to fight tooth and nail.
As the scheduled launch date gets closer, one can expect to see both proponents and opponents of the .sucks domain ramping up their campaigns.
For more information about Top Level Domains, read this article on whether or not TLD’s will matter in 2015.