Are .sucks domain names a "shakedown?"
The ongoing saga of .sucks, a controversial new internet domain, just got a little bit stranger. The company behind .sucks, Vox Populi Registry, is threatening to take legal action against the the nonprofit responsible for managing new domains for libel.
.Sucks domain names have been positioned by Vox Populi as a way for consumers to strike back against corporations with cheeky websites like WalMart.sucks. But regulators saw it differently: a March letter from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) Intellectual Property Constituency, which represents trademark holders, called Vox Populi's pricy .sucks rollout "exploitative, "predatory," and a "shakedown" for brands aiming to protect their trademarks from criticism.
Vox Populi is selling the .sucks domains to third party domain registrars for $1999 with a suggested retail price of $2499. According to the company, brands can already purchase domains before consumers during a mandatory "sunrise period," for anywhere from $2024 to $3977.99.
In April, ICANN wrote a letter to the US Federal Trade Commission and Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs—as Vox Populi is based partially in Canada—asking them to investigate the allegations of predatory practices.
Yesterday, Vox Populi fired back. The law firm Fish & Richardson sent a letter to ICANN on behalf of Vox Populi calling the accusations in ICANN's letter "defamation" and "trade libel," and a way for ICANN to protect corporations from consumer critique. Although Vox Populi has "no interest in pursuing claims at this time," according to the letter, if ICANN and its associated bodies continue to speak poorly of Vox Populi, "the company will have no choice but to pursue any and all remedies available to it."
An ICANN representative responded to Motherboard's request for comment by saying, "we won't have anything to say," and Industry Canada, the agency that oversees the Office of Consumer affairs, declined to comment. Vox Populi CEO John Berard said of ICANN, "It is difficult to abide a business partner passing along such unfounded allegations without first talking to us."
According to the letter sent to ICANN on behalf of Vox Populi, the way the company has handled the .sucks domain name is not in violation of any of its agreements with ICANN. The letter also defended Vox Populi's choice to sell .sucks domains to brands at high prices, which it admits "are higher than those set by many other registries."
"In its registry application, Vox Populi recognized that a trademark owner's .sucks domain would be of significant value to a trademark owner to allow consumers to voice their concerns and engage in constructive dialogue with dissatisfied consumers," the letter states.
Vox Populi has the right to set their prices at a rate that the "market will bear," according to the letter, as long as the company fulfilling its legal obligations, which it maintains it is doing.
The Byzantine series of events surrounding .sucks domains seems far from over, with shots fired on all sides. Vox Populi stands to make money hand over fist from companies buying up .sucks domains with their trademarks in them, and and rights holders represented by ICANN's Intellectual Property Constituency are none too pleased about having to pony up. But in the midst of all this legal maneuvering, one has to wonder, where are the critical consumers that Vox Populi claims .sucks is supposed to serve?