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Perkins Coie comments -- ICANN WHOIS policy

  • To: <whois-comments-2007@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Subject: Perkins Coie comments -- ICANN WHOIS policy
  • From: "Schneller, Matthew (Perkins Coie)" <MSchneller@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 31 Oct 2007 11:50:31 -0700

Perkins Coie LLP is a law firm with offices across the United States, based in 
Seattle, Washington.  We write on behalf of our clients regarding the ICANN 
proposals to revise the WHOIS data system. 

> History and Purpose of the WHOIS System
> At present, ICANN requires accredited registrars to collect and provide free 
> public access to the name of the registered domain name and its name servers 
> and registrar, the date the domain was created and when its registration 
> expires, and the contact information for the registered domain name holder.  
> Each is vitally important to trademark owners.  Assume there is a domain name 
> (the "Domain Name") that is confusingly similar to a trademark (the "Mark") 
> owned by a US-based commercial venture (the "Mark Owner"), and that is used 
> to provide or advertise for services (the "Services") competitive with those 
> provided under the Mark. 
> The registration date allows the Mark Owner to determine whether it obtained 
> rights in the Mark prior to registration of the Domain Name.  If so, the Mark 
> Owner may be able to obtain transfer of the Domain Name via the Uniform 
> Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy ("UDRP"); if not, the Mark Owner may 
> focus on its options under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act 
> ("ACPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d), which allows a Mark Owner to press a claim 
> based on either bad faith registration or bad faith use by the Domain Name 
> holder.  The contact information for the Domain Name holder is even more 
> crucial.  It allows the Mark Owner to research whether the Domain Name holder 
> may have rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name.  It also allows 
> the Mark Owner to assess whether the Domain Name holder owns other domain 
> names that are confusingly similar to the Mark, and to find whether the 
> Domain Name holder is a serial cybersquatter by conducting a reverse WHOIS 
> searches or by researching prior UDRP and ACPA decisions.  The contact 
> information also allows the Mark Owner to contact the Domain Name holder, 
> inform the Domain Name holder of its rights, and potentially amicably resolve 
> any dispute over the Domain Name and its contents.
> The "Operational Point of Contact" Proposal is Insufficient to Protect the 
> Interests of Trademark Owners
> The proposal to require an "Operational Point of Contact" ("OPOC"), Motion # 
> 1 before ICANN, proposes a new system that would strictly limit access to 
> WHOIS information by substituting "proxy" data for actual contact information 
> by the registrant.  In essence, the proposal formalizes proxy or privacy 
> services as ICANN policy.  See Liz Gasster, Staff Implementation Notes, WHOIS 
> Working Group Report at 5 (Oct. 11, 2007).  Under present experience with 
> WHOIS "privacy" or "proxy" services, it is impossible to determine common 
> ownership of domain names, important for determining bad faith under UDRP 
> par. 4(b), and it may be difficult to determine where personal jurisdiction 
> exists for a legal action.  The problem would be equally significant under 
> the OPOC proposal.  Moreover, the reply rate to legitimate e-mail demands are 
> very low, and frequently result in e-mails that "bounce" from the address 
> listed in WHOIS records.  It is not possible to contact such registrants 
> directly via post or fax, or to receive any assurances that the actual 
> registrant has received any communication from the proxy/privacy service.  
> Most importantly, even if the OPOC contact information allows a trademark 
> owner to contact a domain name holder, it would not allow the trademark owner 
> to assess previous and ongoing domain name (mis)use by the domain name 
> holder.  Enacting this revision in a way that provides an enforceable means 
> to contact the domain name holder but does not also provide broad, unlimited 
> access to underlying data by trademark owners, will similarly adversely 
> affect trademark owner's ability to show bad faith registration and use by 
> serial cybersquatters.>
> Common sense and the Staff Implementation Notes identify a number of other 
> insuperable problems. 
> First, the OPOCs are entirely unaccountable to ICANN.  Staff Implementation 
> Notes at 5, 9.  The plan does not require that the OPOC providers have a 
> contract with ICANN, nor is it even clear that ICANN even has authority to 
> enter into contracts with non-registrars.  Because ICANN will not have 
> privity of contract with the OPOC providers, there is absolutely no way to 
> ensure that OPOC providers actually transmit correspondence to domain name 
> registrants.  As proposed, the only required contractual relationship will be 
> between domain name holders and OPOCs.  The "reveal" option, which (if 
> adopted) would require an OPOC to reveal registrant data within 72 hours if 
> the domain name holder is non-responsive to legitimate demands, will be a 
> dead letter without ICANN holding enforcement power.  The system would be 
> even more laughable if, as contemplated by the Staff Implementation Notes, 
> the registrant could be its own OPOC.  See Staff Implementation Notes at 7.
> Second, if the system is a pure pass-through, it will not serve its stated 
> purpose -- to relieve domain name owners from spam e-mail generated by 
> data-scapers who have pulled domain name registrants' contact information 
> from WHOIS databases.  If the system is not a pure pass-through, it could 
> impose significant costs by requiring the OPOC to scrutinize each incoming 
> e-mail for its "legitimacy," generating substantial amounts of work for the 
> OPOC and costs which would be transmitted to the domain name holder.  If 
> registrar are required to verify OPOC e-mail addresses, this system could 
> also impose substantial additional costs, which would undoubtedly be passed 
> through to consumers.  Despite its costs, the system would provide no means 
> for ensuring the continued viability of such e-mail addresses.  Staff 
> Implementation Notes at 8.  The inaptly-named Non-Commercial Users 
> Constituency notes that its real purpose in seeking this change is to prevent 
> "surveillance by intellectual property lawyers."  GNSO Whois Task Force, 
> Final Task Force Report on Whois Services, at 13.5(5) (Mar. 12, 2007).
> Third, the responsibilities of the OPOC are entirely unclear.  As the listed 
> owner of the Domain Name, a court could reasonably hold the OPOC liable for 
> any trademark infringement on the website in its name.  This would 
> undoubtedly be tested in court, with good-faith domain name owners forced to 
> shoulder larger OPOC fees to subsidize OPOCs' defense of cybersquatters. 
> Fourth, provisions regarding access to underlying data records are hopelessly 
> vague.  Motion 1 is unclear.  It is inconsistent about whether registrars 
> and/or would be guaranteed to have access to underlying data (a "thick" 
> registry), or if all underlying data is only accessible to the OPOC (a "thin" 
> registry).  Staff Implementation Notes at 10-11.  The proposal also provides 
> vague standards to sanction accessors of data for abuse of limitations on 
> access; in the hands of unscrupulous OPOCs, this option will undoubtedly be 
> used to punish trademark owners and their representatives without proper 
> process or appeal.  Similarly, proposal to provide access to underlying 
> records only for a fee, while providing a deterrent to improper data 
> scraping, would also provide an improper deterrent to entirely legitimate 
> inquiries by trademark owners.  Requiring encrypted databases, authenticating 
> access requests, or other proposals would similarly impose costs on 
> registrars, who would pass those costs along to registrants or trademark 
> owners making legitimate inquiries.
> Abolishing WHOIS Entirely is Even Worse
> Simply abolishing WHOIS requirement in total by 2008, as set forth in Motion 
> 3 before ICANN, would be highly detrimental to trademark owners generally and 
> our clients > in particular.  All the reasons discussed above apply with even 
> greater force.  It is not even clear how UDRP arbitration providers would 
> perform formalities checks, since there would be no way to verify the 
> identity of, or even to contact, the domain name holder.  Arbitration 
> providers could not institute proceedings, and if instituted would have no 
> way to permit the domain name holder to prepare or file a response, or to 
> verify that any response filed was filed by the appropriate party.  See WIPO 
> Supplemental Rules, Rule 5 (Dec. 1, 1999), available at 
> http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/rules/supplemental/#5; National 
> Arbitration Forum, UDRP Supplemental Rules, Rule 1(d) (Jan. 1, 2006), 
> available at http://domains.adrforum.com/resource.aspx?id=651.  Carrying this 
> Motion would de facto eliminate the UDRP as a viable means for resolving 
> trademark disputes, and have the practical effect of shunting all U.S.-based 
> domain disputes to the in rem provisions of the ACPA.  15 U.S.C. § 
> 1125(d)(2)(A).  If so, trademark owners would likely seek revision of this 
> provision to provide for discovery of the identity of the domain name holder, 
> and for imposition of actual or statutory damages.
> We Recommend Further Study of WHOIS Data and Its Uses
> The current WHOIS system contains numerous flaws.  The domain name holder 
> information is frequently, and often willfully, inaccurate, with little 
> effective remedy available for rights holders.  The Whois Data Reminder 
> Policy, issued in 2003, has been simply inadequate to the task -- we have 
> never encountered a registrar that has cancelled the account of a paying 
> customer for failure to provide accurate WHOIS data.  As noted by the Staff 
> Implementation Report, the most recent study of WHOIS records dates from 2002 
> and was "not statistically valid."  Staff Implementation Notes at 15-16.  
> Even the Implementation Notes envision only a study of willing registrants 
> before they register domain names.  A broader study focused on actual 
> pre-existing domain names, which estimates the relative response rates of 
> both "normal" domain name holders and privacy/proxy domain name holders, 
> would be required to determine the extent to which existing WHOIS data is 
> accurate, complete, and actually permits permit legitimate parties to contact 
> the domain name holder.  Prior to instituting OPOC motion and 
> institutionalizing proxy/privacy services, ICANN should create and obtain a 
> quantitative analysis of the existing proxy/privacy systems, and their 
> effectiveness in serving domain name holders and other domain name 
> constituencies.
> Thank you for your consideration.
Perkins Coie LLP
1201 Third Avenue, Suite 4800
Seattle, WA 98101
ph:(206) 359-3208
fax: (206) 359-4208

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