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Senator Jay Rockefeller, via Flickr
Senator Jay Rockefeller, via Flickr

Want to register How about Or Not so fast.

Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce Committee, wrote a letter to ICANN today arguing that the organization which controls all of the domain name registration on the Internet should not allow companies to start registering websites with the top level domain (gTLD) of .sucks. In bold language, Rockefeller described the possible ownership of .sucks as “little more than a predatory shakedown scheme.”

“I believe any potential this gTLD might have to increase choice or competition in the domain name space is overwhelmed by the ways it will be used to unfairly defame individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses,” he wrote.

The creation of .sucks is a part of the rush on new top level domains following ICANN’s decision to expand them past country names and old standards like .com and .net. ICANN has approved a number of new generic top-level domains, including .luxury, .photography and .plumbing.

icannlogoWhile the agency hasn’t decided whether .sucks will eventually be approved, three companies are vying to become the authorized to register .sucks domains: Bellevue-based Donuts, Mercer Island-based Top Level Spectrum and Vox Populi Registry, a subsidiary of Canadian registrar Momentous, Inc.

Each company gives the same basic pitch: .sucks domains offer a place for people to come together and talk critically about a subject, whether that’s winter, or, perhaps, Senator Rockefeller. On the other hand, Rockefeller argues that .sucks domains won’t add much, if any, value to the Internet, and will require companies and organizations to make “defensive” registrations: buying up domains just so that other people can’t have them.

It’s entirely possible that .sucks won’t get off the ground. ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee issued early warning notices for all three companies, saying that none of them have provided “sufficient mechanisms to address the potential for a high level of defensive registrations.”

donuts-logo-headerA Donuts spokesperson told GeekWire in an email that the company is working to make it easy for companies to avoid paying too much for defensive registrations. In addition to trademark protections that ICANN provides with the new gTLD system, Donuts also offers trademark holders the ability to reserve certain key terms across all of the company’s gTLDs.

“Our Domains Protected Marks List allows registrants to block the registration of important terms at a small fraction of the cost of defensively registering them in hundreds of gTLDs under Donuts management.  It will cost no more to block a term in .SUCKS than in any other of our gTLDs,” the spokesperson wrote.

Both Donuts and Top Level Spectrum have held off on offering reservations for .sucks, but Vox Populi has forged ahead, offering trademark owners the ability to reserve a trademark for $2,500, and citizens can reserve a domain name for $250.

If Vox Populi is given the right to start registering the domains, it will cost trademark-holders $25,000 a year to keep their mark reserved with the company, something that Rockefeller criticized in his letter. While that may seem like a hefty fee, Vox Populi Registry CEO John Berard said that he thinks it’s fair for the market to decide.

“It might be said that $25,000 is a lot for a domain name, but it is far less a percentage of the cost of a marketing campaign. The success of the registry will be told in whether it is viewed as one or the other,” he wrote in an email to GeekWire.

Berard declined to say how many domains have been reserved, if any.

Top Level Spectrum did not respond to a request for comment on this piece.

Here’s Rockefeller’s full letter:

2014 0312 ICANN Letter

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