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Domain firms plan “Trusted Notifier” takedown rules

Kevin Murphy, June 23, 2021, Domain Policy

Domain name registries and registrars are working on a joint framework that could speed up the process of taking down domain names being used for behavior such as movie piracy.

Discussed last week at the ICANN 71 public meeting, the Framework on Trusted Notifiers is a joint effort of the Registrar Stakeholder Group and Registries Stakeholder Group — together the Contracted Parties House — and is in the early stages of discussion.

Trusted Notifiers are third parties who often need domain names taken down due to activity such as copyright infringement or the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, and are considered trustworthy enough not to overreach and spam the CPH with spurious, cumbersome, overly vague complaints.

It’s not a new concept. Registries in the gTLD space, such as Donuts and Radix, have had relationships with the Motion Picture Association for over five years.

ccTLD operator Nominet has a similar relationship with UK regulators, acting on behalf of Big Copyright and Big Pharma, taking down thousands of .uk domains every year.

The joint RrSG-RySG effort doesn’t appear to have any published draft framework yet, and the discussions appear to be being held privately, but members said last week that it is expected to describe a set of “common expectations or common understandings”, establishing what a Trusted Notifier is and what kind of cooperation they can expect from domain firms.

It’s one of several things the industry is working on to address complaints about so-called “DNS Abuse”, which could lead to government regulations or further delays to the new gTLD program.

It obviously veers into content policing, which ICANN has disavowed. But it’s not an ICANN policy effort. Whatever framework emerges, it’s expected to be non-contractual and voluntary.

Trusted Notifier relationships would be bilateral, between registry and notifier, with no ICANN oversight.

Such deals are not without controversy, however. Notably, free speech advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been complaining about Trusted Notifier for years, calling it “content policing by the back door” and most recently using it as an argument against Ethos Capital’s acquisition of Donuts.

Donuts took down 11 domains for Hollywood last year

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2017, Domain Policy

Donuts caused 11 domain names in its new gTLD portfolio to be taken down in the first 12 months of its deal with the US movie industry.
The company disclosed yesterday that the Motion Picture Association of America requested the suspension of 12 domains under their bilateral “Trusted Notifier” agreement, which came into effect last February.
The news follows the decisions by Public Interest Registry and the Domain Name Association not to pursue a “Copyright ADRP” process that would have made such Trusted Notifier systems unnecessary.
Of the 12 alleged piracy domains, seven were suspended by the sponsoring registrar, one was addressed by the hosting provider, and Donuts terminated three at the registry level.
For the remaining domain, “questions arose about the nexus between the site’s operators and the content that warranted further investigation”, Donuts said.
“In the end, after consultation with the registrar and the registrant, we elected against further action,” it said.
Trusted Notifier is supposed to address only clear-cut cases of copyright infringement, where domains are being using solely to commit mass piracy. Donuts said:

Of the eleven on which action was taken, each represented a clear violation of law—the key tenet of a referral. In some cases, sites simply were mirrors of other sites that were subject to US legal action. All were clearly and solely dedicated to pervasive illegal streaming of television and movie content. In a reflection of the further damage these types of sites can impart on Internet users, malware was detected on one of the sites.

Donuts also dismissed claims that Trusted Notifier mechanisms represent a slippery slope that will ultimately grant censorship powers to Big Content.
The company said “a mere handful of names have been impacted, and only those that clearly were devoted to illegal activity. And to Donuts’ knowledge, in no case did the registrant contest the suspension or seek reinstatement of the domain.”
It is of course impossible to verify these statements, because Donuts does not publish the names of the domains affected by the program.
Trusted Notifier, which is also in place at competing portfolio registry Radix, was this week criticized in an academic paper from professor Annemarie Bridy of the University of Idaho College of Law and Stanford University.
The paper, “Notice and Takedown in the Domain Name System: ICANN’s Ambivalent Drift into Online Content Regulation”, she argues that while Trusted Notifier may not by an ICANN policy, the organization has nevertheless “abetted the development and implementation of a potentially large-scale program of privately ordered online content regulation”.