Over the past year and a half, over 450 new domain extensions such as .consulting, .social, .tech and even .ninja have launched but none have created as much controversy and concern as the Vox Populi owned .SUCKS domain.
In 2014, former US senator Jay Rockefeller told the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that is shouldn't approve .sucks. The former senator called .sucks "little more than a predatory shakedown scheme" to force corporations, small businesses and individuals to pay an annual fee to prevent others from registering the .sucks variation of their domain name.
"I view it as little more than a predatory shakedown scheme. The business model behind this gTLD seems to be the following: force large corporations, small businesses, non-profits and even individuals, to pay ongoing fees to prevent seeing the phase "sucks" appended to their names on the Internet."
Well-known businesses and corporations such as Google and Apple have already taken the necessary steps to defend their brands, as have celebrities and athletes like Kevin Spacey, Oprah and Taylor Swift. After all, no brand regardless of size wants to see the word "sucks" associated with their name.
Faced with mounting criticism and controversy, ICANN, which originally approved the .sucks domain has recently asked the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) to review the legality of the .sucks domain extension. The FTC responded by throwing the ball back in ICANN's court, while the OCA responded on June 9th, 2015. John Knubley, Deputy Minister of Industry Canada responded with the following statement:
“Canada’s laws provide comprehensive protections for all Canadians. Canada has intellectual property, competition, criminal law and other relevant legal frameworks in place to protect trademark owners, competitors, consumers and individuals. These frameworks are equally applicable to online activities and can provide recourse, for example, to trademark owners concerned about the use of the dotSucks domain, provided that trademark owners can demonstrate that the use of dotSucks domains infringes on a trademark. Intellectual property rights are privately held and are settled privately in the courts.”
Who is Vox Populi?
The Cayman Islands-based Vox Populi Registry Ltd., is a subsidiary of Ottawa-based Momentous Inc., which won the right last year from ICANN to manage the .sucks domain. Vox Populi, literally means "voice of the people" and the registry is positioning the extension as a space where consumers can find their "voice".
Why is the .SUCKS domain so controversial?
The real controversy began when Vox Populi announced its pricing model for the new .sucks domain. Before diving into how much a .sucks domain costs, it is important to understand the different phases through which a new domain is launched.
A typical launch involves two to three sequential phases - Sunrise, Landrush and General Availability. Below is an image to illustrate the progression.
Sunrise is a priority phase exclusive to trademark owners that have validated their registered trademark through the Trademark Clearinghouse and precedes a domain's availability to the general public. Some registrar's may also offer a phase called Landrush (or an Early Access Program) anyone to register an available domain name at a premium. The final and ongoing phase is General Availability and is open to the general public.
Typically, domain registrations during Sunrise will cost somewhere around USD$250 to USD$300 and renews at a significantly lower cost (below USD$100). However, the pricing structure introduced by Vox Populi comes with a wholesale price tag of USD $2,499 that retails as much as USD$4,000 per year at some registrars. For businesses that are willing to wait until General Availability to register a .sucks domain, it will cost about USD $300 per year.
Consumer Subsidy Program
If businesses don't protect their brand by Fall of 2015, Vox Populi will launch a "Consumer Subsidy Program" which will reduce the price of a .SUCKS domain name to about USD $10. Domains registered under the program are automatically redirected to a free forum, hosted and operated by Vox Populi, and allows anyone to comment on a brand.
While there are thousands of forums on the web, it isn't clear how the posts on the .sucks forums will be policed and monitored. According to Canadian lawyer Dan Burnett in a recent article on the Vancouver Sun, simply saying someone or something sucks "constitutes a category in law known as mere name calling" and "doesn't have a meaning you can latch onto to say that's defamatory."
What should businesses do?
The most important step businesses need to take is to work with their marketing and legal teams to identify how vulnerable your brand is. In addition, assess the potential ramifications in the event that a third-party registers the .sucks variation of your domain name.
Businesses and individuals looking to protect their name have three options:
Sunrise Phase (Deadline June 18, 2015) - Register your trademark(s) under the priority Sunrise Phase before the deadline on June 18, 2015. This is open to registered trademarks only and you will need to validate through the Trademark Clearinghouse first. Note that it may take up to a few weeks for this process. As the only accredited Trademark Clearinghouse agent in Canada, Webnames.ca can assist in expediting the application.
Domain Block (Starts June 20, 2015) - Businesses may choose to register their trademarked or non-trademarked names under a Domain Block. Domain blocks prevent other parties from registering a specific .sucks domain and the domain cannot be used for email or a website. These registrations are geared for defensive purposes and the cost is significantly cheaper than a Sunrise registration. However, it will need to be renewed annually.
Standard Registration (Starts June 20, 2015) - Registering the domain rather than blocking it allows a business to use the domain for email and a website. Note that this starts at the same time as a Domain Block which means that a third-party can register the domain and post a website connected to a business' name or product.