Unbalanced ICANN Working Group Participation Harms Domain Name Owners

In a blog post last week, I sounded the alarm about a dangerous proposal from an ICANN working group which would have severe negative consequences for domain name owners, allowing IGOs (intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations) to engage in consequence-free reverse domain name hijacking.

To understand what led to such a report, I decided to look at the actual participation of working group members, as per the mailing list activities and on the weekly calls (transcripts are available on the GNSO Calendar page). The shocking results [visible on the web via a published Google Spreadsheet, with graphs) clearly demonstrate why such one-sided proposals were arrived at by the working group. In particular, the IGOs (through the GAC) had far greater participation, via Brian Beckham of WIPO and others, with only Jay Chapman of Digimedia (participating on behalf of the Business Constituency) as a voice for domain name owners. It is clear that the output of the working group reflects capture.


I commissioned Kevin Ohashi of ReviewSignal.com to assist with part of the work, in particular the parsing of the PDF transcripts. You’ll recall that Kevin authored a widely cited study looking at regulatory capture in the renewal of the .org contract.

Cleaning up the data was a huge task, and I credit Kevin’s persistence in getting to a clean data set that could be analyzed. For example, we found an obvious transcription error where some text was attributed to “Brian King” (a famous name in ICANN circles), who wasn’t even a participant in the working group. Consulting with the Zoom original recordings confirmed that that text should have been attributed to Brian Beckham. Similarly, some people had variations on their name (e.g. Jeff vs Jeffrey) on different transcripts. Had the transcripts been provided in a tagged format such as XML, analysis would have been much easier. I also did review all the chat transcripts of the Zoom calls, but did not separately tabulate them, given very little activity took place via chat.


The above pie chart speaks for itself. While Jay Chapman spoke for 5% of the total words (excluding ICANN staff), he was drowned out by members of the GAC (mainly IGOs, in particular Brian Beckham of WIPO, who by himself had nearly triple the participation of Jay). Paul McGrady of the IPC also had a large amount of participation, and given his pro-complainant policy positions, he can’t be counted upon to protect the interests of domain name registrants.

You can see the “raw” results in tabular form on the published Google Spreadsheet (and the charts are bigger on that). [NB: To make it easier to see groups affiliations, I colour coded them accordingly. e.g. green for GAC]

What’s also clear is that some members of the working group had little, if any participation. [Full attendance records of each participant can be found on pages 29-30 of the ICANN report.] ALAC members barely even made their presence known by speaking. Two of the three NCSG members didn’t speak at all, despite attending over 70% of the meetings!  [we thought there was a database error or something, but we double-checked manually] The third NCSG member left the group after 2 meetings. The ISPCP member just spoke one time on the first call, despite attending nearly 80% of the calls. No members of the Registry or Registrar constituencies even participated in the working group.

Similar domination by GAC and IPC members took place on the mailing list, as per the pie chart below (raw data is available in the published Google Spreadsheet).

The role of the chair in ensuring balanced participation and representation is crucial, yet unfortunately Chris Disspain should have done better to ensure that the voices of affected stakeholders were heard, especially on the calls (not very much work was done via the mailing list on this working group, as compared to other working groups that I’ve seen). Excluding staff, he accounted for a whopping 49.8% of the spoken words on calls just by himself. Given that the chair of a call takes on an extra administrative burden, one would expect the chair to have above-average participation. But, to me that is very high indeed, truly excessive by any reasonable metric. There should have been far greater outreach to affected stakeholders (i.e. domain name registrants), to ensure a balanced policy outcome. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.


In conclusion, we are where we are because ICANN policymaking has been captured by an unrepresentative group. This is a failure of the bottom-up multistakeholder model. ICANN and the GNSO should immediately:

  1. Extend the public comment period (current deadline is 4 days away on  October 24, this Sunday!), to provide a greater opportunity for affected stakeholders to study the proposals and prepare their responses.
  2. Do greater outreach during the comment period, so that affected stakeholders become aware that there exists proposals that will negatively affect their fundamental legal rights.
  3. Expand membership of the working group, to ensure that the voice of domain name registrants is heard (I of course am unfairly banned from participating, and you can see what transpires when I’m not around to counter these anti-registrant groups). Otherwise, the GNSO should respect the results of the prior working group’s effort (the one that I was able to participate on, which had much better balance).
  4. Rethink the entire restricted membership working group model, which has led to these kinds of results. In particular, the second phase of the RPM PDP which will do the very first review of the UDRP, is subject to capture if it is not an open membership working group model where affected stakeholders, particularly domain name owners like myself, can actively participate.