The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has responded to questions over the legality of .sucks domain pricing with a three-page "I told you so" letter to domain name overseer ICANN.
ICANN is upset that Vox Populi – the company in charge of .sucks – is charging people $2,500 (£1,700) to defensively register dot-sucks domains before the trolls do. This is the same ICANN that opened the floodgates to waves of new dot-word domains on the internet.
"You ask that the Federal Trade Commission assess whether these actions by Vox Populi would violate any laws or regulations enforced by the FTC," notes [PDF] FTC chairwoman Edith Ramirez in her response, before pointing out that not only did the FTC see this sort of thing coming but repeatedly raised its concerns with ICANN and was roundly ignored.
"Prior to the launch of its new gTLD program, the Commission provided ICANN with policy recommendations in which we highlighted a range of issues implicated by the impending rollout of new gTLDs, including the increased risk of consumer confusion," Ramirez highlights, adding, "the questions you ... have posed regarding Vox Populi's .sucks rollout raise important and broader consumer protection issues that the Commission previously highlighted prior to the launch of ICANN's new gTLD program."
Providing links to two documents from the FTC to ICANN, Ramirez points out that dot-sucks is not an isolated issue but one born of policies that ICANN signed off on, and that other registries have also used pricing in a way that has raised eyebrows.
She refused to be drawn on the legality of the .sucks pricing, however. And while she did put in a note about not being able to comment on pending investigations, Ramirez said the letter that sparked ICANN's request for a probe didn't actually claim any rules had been broken – only that they may be "violating the spirit" of the policies.
In order words: you brought it on yourself, ignored us twice, and now you want us to get involved?
The fact is that while trademark holders are upset that they will have to pay around $2,500 for their names under dot-sucks while the public will only have to pay $10, Vox Populi has done nothing wrong. And, it could be argued, the company is simply recognizing the value of its property.
The reason companies are willing to pay much more than the normal market rate for domains is because under US free speech protections it is extremely unlikely that they would be able to get back their .sucks domains if someone else grabs them first. As Vox Populi's CEO John Berard has pointed out in response to criticism, nothing is making a company buy its names under the registry – and companies now have several hundreds other top-level domains to chose from, like .science or .xyz.