DNS overlord ICANN – which opened the floodgates to waves of new dot-word domains on the internet – says it needs help in killing one of those dot-words: .sucks.
In a letter [PDF] to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Canadian Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA), ICANN claims .sucks domains are being sold to trademark owners in a "predatory" manner.
Apparently, it can't do anything about that unless laws are being broken, so ICANN wants someone official-looking to knock on doors and find out. And if the law is being violated, ICANN can use that to shutdown the dot-word.
The DNS overlord is upset that Vox Populi, which bought the rights to sell .sucks domains, is charging people $2,500 (£1,700) to defensively register domains before the trolls do. All remaining .sucks domains go on sale to everyone from May 29 this year.
Vox Populi, whose parent company Momentous is based in Canada, denies any wrongdoing.
It's worth repeating that ICANN engineered the dot-word explosion by allowing anyone with enough cash to apply for and create generic top-level domains, from .book to .xyz. Vox Populi paid ICANN $185,000 to apply for .sucks, and won it in a private auction against rival registries.
"ICANN, through its registry agreement, may seek remedies against Vox Populi if the registry's actions are determined to be illegal," the DNS overlord's top lawyer John Jeffrey wrote in a letter to the FTC and OCA.
"ICANN is concerned about the contentions of illicit actions being expressed, but notes that ICANN has limited expertise or authroity to determine he legality of Vox Populi's positions, which we believe would fall within your respective regulatory regimes."
The problem, says ICANN, is that it has no legal powers to slap down Vox Populi as it stands. But if the dot-sucks company is found to be in violation of the law, it would be in breach of the terms of its contract with ICANN to run the .sucks registry. Break that contract, and bye-bye dot-sucks.
"We can enforce the terms and conditions of our contracts with registries, but it is the responsibility of governmental regulatory agencies, law enforcement and the courts to police illegal activity," ICANN chief contract compliance officer Allen Grogan wrote in a blog post on Thursday.
"ICANN is not a regulator and we have limited expertise or authority to assess the legality of Vox Populi's activities."
In late March, the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC), which advises the ICANN board, described Vox Populi [PDF] as "predatory, exploitive and coercive." And last year, US Senator Jay Rockefeller D-WV) labelled dot-sucks "a predatory shakedown scheme" in a missive to the ICANN board.
"Approving '.sucks', a gTLD with little or no public interest value, will have the effect of undermining the credibility ICANN has slowly been building with skeptical stakeholders," Rockefeller suggested in his note.
Vox Populi had yet to respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. Its CEO John Berard previously told this organ that .sucks is a "cheeky domain space," and reckons it represents a key aspect of the web: allowing folks to speak and be heard about the products they buy and the companies they support. ®