URS: A Failed Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy That ICANN Insiders Wish To Impose On More Registrants (Part 1)

In this multi-part series, I look at the Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) policy, a domain name dispute resolution policy that the RPM PDP working group of ICANN is currently reviewing. In a fair and unbiased review of the facts, the URS would be abandoned as a failed idea. However, in the ICANN world, that fair and unbiased review doesn’t exist, and instead ICANN insiders wish to impose that flawed policy upon even more domain name registrants.

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ICANN RPM PDP Working Group Chairs Blatantly Violate Rules

The ICANN Review of all Rights Protection Mechanisms in all gTLDs Working Group  (“RPM PDP”) has an important agenda, which includes review of domain name dispute resolution procedures such as the UDRP and URS. This is the first time ICANN has ever reviewed these policies since they were adopted.

However, this important work is being undermined by working group chairs (Philip S. Corwin of Verisign, Brian Beckham, and Kathy Kleiman) who blatantly violate the working group rules.

In a prior blog post, I documented how Mr. Corwin wished to relitigate an already decided issue regarding the publication in the upcoming working group report of various URS-related proposals. The inappropriateness of this attempt to relitigate already decided issues is reinforced by the recent slides of the Pre-ICANN66 GNSO Policy Webinar of October 17, 2019, which clearly state, in relation to the RPM PDP:

How can the Council and community assist?

Challenge: Relitigating Issues
Assistance: Enforce rules against reopening closed topics (page 8)

The co-chairs don’t enforce these rules, but instead disregard them to attempt to manipulate the outcome of the PDP by relitigating issues where they wish to change the past outcome with which they disagree.

However, despite having no new facts or information to justify reopening a decided issue (as per requirements of section 3.3 of the Working Group Guidelines)

WG members should be mindful that, once input/comment periods have been closed, discussions or decisions should not be resurrected unless there is group consensus that the issue should be revisited in light of new information that has been introduced. (page 7)

the co-chairs went further and decided to blatantly violate the ICANN transparency requirements, by initiating an anonymous survey of working group members to “take the temperature of the room.” Section 4.1 of the Working Group Guidelines is unambiguous:

There is a presumption of full transparency in all WGs. (page 11, emphasis added)

An anonymous survey is a clear violation of that “full transparency” standard. Mr. Corwin must certainly be aware of this, given that the exact same transparency issue arose in the IGO PDP, where I initiated a Section 3.7 appeal to challenge a similar anonymous survey/poll, where ultimately we returned to a transparent process after my challenge. In the RPM PDP, though, where I’m unfairly banished from participating, current members appear to be unaware of the ICANN transparency requirements, or are too scared to challenge the co-chairs given how I was mistreated.

The results of that anonymous survey (if they are to be even trusted, which is a big “if”, given the numerous problems we encountered in the IGO PDP with faulty numbers in surveys) will apparently be used to attempt to summarily remove sound proposals that are deemed “unpopular”, while retaining deeply flawed proposals that are deemed “popular.” I will examine in detail the good, the bad, and the ugly of those individual proposals in future blog posts.

However, consider that a mere 27 members of the PDP responded to the survey. This is out of a total membership of 166 participants in the working group (at the time of this post). This PDP has been beset with major deficiencies in its statistical work, as many members appear to be clueless when it comes to mathematics or statistics. In the best case scenario, had those 27 members surveyed been a random representative sample of the 166 members, the margin of error calculator at SurveyMonkey tells us that (with a population size of 166, confidence level of 95%, sample size of 27), the margin of error for the responses to each question is a whopping +/- 17%.

But, we know that this is not a random sample, so the true margin of error will be much higher than +/- 17%, and will not be centered around zero. It’s a self-selected unrepresentative sample that turns out to be dominated by the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) members (at least 41%, which probably understates things, given a Dispute Resolution Provider also answered the survey, whose interests tend to be aligned with the IPC. Some of the folks claiming to be from the BC or CSG might also be closely aligned with the IPC, given the cobweb of interrelationships between various participants of the PDP. Full transparency (as required by the Working Group Guidelines) would reveal the positions of each member who participated, and allow one to properly audit the results.

Regardless, this group is entirely unrepresentative of the broader community (in particular, registrants like myself who are directly and greatly impacted by the policies are vastly underrepresented), which is exactly why one should be soliciting public comments on all proposals, rather than allowing a dominant group of insiders to advance their poorly thought out but “popular” (within the unrepresentative group) proposals and shut out sound but “unpopular” (within the unrepresentative group) proposals.

[To understand the systemic misuse of statistics in this PDP, see, for example (1) my post within the working group which documented problems with the Analysis Group survey, (2) further post which documented issues with an unrepresentative sample of 14 URS practitioners, where all but 1 focused on representing complainants (and which was far too small a sample to have any statistical validity), and (3) critiques of INTA study (here and here  and resulting threads).]

Indeed, section 3.2 of the Working Group Guidelines requires that the co-chairs ensure representativeness:

Ideally, a Working Group should mirror the diversity and representativeness of the community by having representatives from most, if not all, CO Stakeholder Groups and/or Constituencies. It should be noted that certain issues might be more of interest to one part of the community than others. The Chair, in cooperation with the Secretariat and ICANN Staff, is continually expected to assess whether the WG has sufficiently broad representation, and if not, which groups should be approached to encourage participation. Similarly, if the Chair is of the opinion that there is over-representation to the point of capture, he/she should inform the Chartering Organization.

The Working Group and its subteams have long been captured by the dominant IPC, and the co-chairs ignore their responsibility to guard against capture.

Lastly, consider that Mr. Corwin has posited that too many proposals represent a high “burden” on the community. However, on October 31, 2019, after completing a review of all those URS proposals, he demonstrated the falsehood of the “burden” argument, stating:

I went through all the proposals and it doesn’t take very long to fill out.

If it didn’t take him very long to analyze things, it shouldn’t take the community long to do the same and provide feedback.

In conclusion, it’s time for the manipulation of the RPM PDP by the co-chairs to end. I renew my call for them to be removed, so they can be replaced by a completely independent and neutral facilitator.

UDRP Systematic Bias as Panelists Mindlessly Copy and Paste Text

The Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) permits trademark owners to bring domain name registrants before a panel to adjudicate allegations of cybersquatting. These panels have the ability to order that a domain name be transferred to the complainant if the cybersquatting claim is proven. Given this tremendous power to transfer valuable property, there is an inherent expectation that the panels will be neutral, unbiased, and will formulate their decisions with utmost care.

However, a recent UDRP decision involving a dispute over the ymobile.com domain name demonstrates that panelists are not starting from a clean slate when adjudicating cases, as one would expect from a neutral and unbiased panel. Instead, panels are using a starting point that the complainant will be the winner, demonstrating systematic bias against domain name registrants.

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ICANN Public Comment Periods are a Sham. All Public Comment Periods Should be Suspended Until a Full Investigation Has Occurred

Today was the last day to submit comments to ICANN on the GNSO Policy Development Process on IGO-INGO Access to Curative Rights Protection Mechanisms Policy Recommendations for ICANN Board Consideration.  I submitted a comment a few minutes ago, which can be read in its entirety here [PDF]. Comments by others can be viewed in the public comments archive.

As a preliminary matter, I called out ICANN for pretending that the comment periods are legitimate. Below is the first section of my 32 page submission (with formatting slightly edited for clarity on this blog):

As a preliminary matter, I note with approval and fully support the recent Reconsideration Request 19-2 filed by Namecheap, Inc. regarding the .org contract renewal, where Namecheap wrote:

The ICANN org will decide whether to accept or reject public comment, and will unliterally (sic) make its own decisions- even if that ignores the public benefit or almost unanimous feedback to the contrary, and is based upon conclusory statements not supported by evidence. This shows that the public comment process is basically a sham, and that ICANN org will do as it pleases in this and other matters. It is a concern not only for the renewal of the .org and other legacy TLD registry agreements being renewed in 2019, but an even greater concern for the upcoming renewal of the .com registry agreement- as well as other vital policy issues under consideration by ICANN now and in the future. [p. 12, emphasis added]

These are strong but thoughtful words from a highly respected company in the domain industry, whose views are shared by many. One of the synonyms for the word sham is fraud, and it’s apparent now that a fraud has been perpetrated on the public, namely ICANN deceiving the public into believing that these comment periods were legitimate opportunities for meaningful input. The reconsideration request isn’t strictly limited to the .org renewal, but directly calls into question the legitimacy of all of ICANN’s public comment periods for all of the policy issues now and in the future. ICANN should not take their reconsideration request lightly, but should instead call for a full public investigation with full opportunity for the ICANN community to weigh in on this procedural matter which is at the core of ICANN itself. Until such an investigation has concluded, I call on ICANN to suspend all public comments periods, in order to ensure the process integrity of all policymaking.

Of course, given ICANN’s comment process is a sham, this comment itself will likely be ignored, but I place it on the public record for posterity so that a higher authority will eventually hold ICANN accountable. My remaining comments are thus made “in protest” given that the process itself is currently a sham, but I place them again on the record so that fair-minded members of the public can later scrutinize ICANN’s processes, and hold them accountable.