what's in a name

In gTLD Debate, More Big Brands Take Issue With ICANN's Dotbrand URLs

Posted by Sheila Shayon on November 18, 2011 11:14 AM

We recently looked at the coalitions of brands joining forces to voice their opposition to how ICANN is ushering in its so-called dotbrand URLs (aka its new gTLD, or generic Top-Level Domain program that lets trademark holders pay for the right to add their brand name to their web addresses, such as .nike or .coke) in January. Now you can add a few more.

The U.S.-based Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (or CRIDO) led by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has added six major marketers to their ranks, including the world’s largest retailer and second-largest food company. Walmart, Kraft Foods, adidas, Reebok, Toyota and the J.M. Smucker Company have joined CRIDO, bringing the total number of companies and industry groups to 93.

“We are very pleased that six more leading marketers representing an extremely broad range of business sectors have joined forces with CRIDO to oppose ICANN’s TLD expansion program,” commented ANA president and CEO Bob Liodice. “This growing coalition sends a very clear signal that there is serious dissatisfaction with ICANN’s program from across the entire Internet stakeholder community.”

To that end, CRIDO recently sent a petition to the U.S. Department of Commerce on November 10th with objections to the new TLD expansion program that was approved by ICANN last June.   

CRIDO members, representing close to 90% of worldwide marketing communications annual spending ($700 billion), object to ICANN’s proposal for “deeply flawed justification, excessive cost and harm to brand owners, likelihood of predatory cyber harm to consumers and lack of stakeholder consensus, a core requirement of its commitment to the U.S. Department of Commerce.”

The National Retail Federation, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) have also sent letters to the Department of Commerce expressing their concern. CADNA, another consortium of brands and trademark holders calling themselves the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (a group organized by the FairWinds Partners domain consultancy), has demurred from sending letters to the government, although it today sent a letter to ICANN.

According to CADNA's press release, "In the letter addressed to ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom, CADNA asks that the ICANN Board request an Issues Report to formally initiate a policy development process to determine when the next round of new gTLD applications will occur. Doing so will increase the level of transparency surrounding this controversial policy decision."

"One of the biggest responses we have heard from brands is that they feel as if their backs are up against a wall," stated CADNA President Josh Bourne. "The fact that ICANN has only offered one opportunity to apply for new gTLDs has created a sense of chaos among brands, who feel as though ICANN is forcing them into making a 'now or never' decision that could impact both them and their consumers. Knowing that they will have the opportunity to apply again after having the chance to see if new gTLDs become valuable will go a long way toward relieving that anxiety."

CADNA's release says it "has been an outspoken critic of the way ICANN has structured the New gTLD Program, encouraging the organization to improve various aspects of the policy to make it less harmful to brand owners and businesses. While it does not oppose fostering innovation and improving competition on the Internet via an expanded domain name space, CADNA recognizes that one of the major sources of dissatisfaction and apprehension among brand owners is the fact that they feel that, in a sense, they are being held hostage."

Liodice, on behalf of the ANA membership, argues that “it is critical that the DOC responds to the concerns of both industry and the talent community by taking strong efforts to urge ICANN to delay the TLD expansion.” Forrester analyst Jeff Ernst, meanwhile, is urging Liodice and the ANA to "show the math" in their claims that ICANN's gTLD initiative will cost brands dearly.

The groundswell is rising – lifting more boats in opposition to what ANA previously stated “would permit applicants to claim virtually any word, generic or branded, as Internet top-level domains." Expect more rockiness in those boats in the weeks to come.

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