ICANN Must Release the Single-Character.com Hostages

Most of the single-character .com labels were initially registered in 1993 by Dr. Jon Postel while performing work pursuant to a contract with, and funded by, the U.S. government and are currently assigned to a "shell registrar" created and controlled by ICANN. This shell — which is the 376th entry on ICANN's list of accredited registrars — is misleadingly identified as the IANA registrar while being engaged in the illicit warehousing of domain names for speculative purposes.

ICANN, in concert with Verisign, has attempted to engage in a speculative auction for at least one of these domain names, o.com, which has the stated purpose of serving as a "pilot" for the release of the other remaining single-character .com labels. The attempted speculative auction for this warehoused domain name is to be conducted by an auctioneer selected by Verisign and the proceeds — which will be overseen by a trustee selected by Verisign, which can also fire the trustee in its sole discretion — are intended to benefit the Internet Society (ISOC) and other non-profit organizations included on a now-redacted list that was created solely by ICANN and Verisign.

In summary, domain names initially registered on behalf of the U.S. government have been warehoused for decades by being assigned to a shell registrar named IANA that is controlled by an ICANN department named IANA which performs a set of naming, numbering, and protocol functions named IANA.

Not one single aspect of any of this passes any sort of litmus test for legitimate, licit, and good faith operation of public interest Internet registries.

  1. ICANN has been forbidden from acting as "a registry, registrar, or Internet protocol address registry" since it was formed in 1998. Consequently, it violated its agreements with the U.S. government when it created the shell "IANA registrar" and used it for warehousing domain names for speculative purposes. ICANN is acting as an illegitimate domain name speculator attempting to compete where it also regulates. It seems likely that, in addition to violating the letter and spirit of agreements with the U.S. government, this also violates the law.

  2. ICANN gave its shell registrar the same name as IANA, and this has served to mislead and confuse. This is because, prior to ICANN's formation, IANA was a set of functions performed on behalf of the U.S. government — not an agency or other incorporated entity. Upon ICANN's formation and subsequent to Dr. Postel's death, the IANA functions began to be performed by an IANA department at ICANN. But these two are not homophonically synonymous with each other, and no rights pertaining to domain name registrations that were initially registered by a contractor performing the IANA functions on behalf of the U.S. government were transferred or granted to, or inherited by, a department of ICANN that bore the same name as the functions.

ICANN has been playing a shell game that seeks to obviate what is spelled out in two authoritative reports from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO): that only responsibilities for performing the IANA functions were transferred to ICANN and its contracted parties, not the rights to domain name registrations that were initially registered by a U.S. government contractor.

The U.S. government did not authorize ICANN to:

  1. Act as an illegitimate domainer and/or profiteer by competing in the domain name secondary market with domain name registrations that it has no rights to.

  2. Warehouse, cybersquat, or otherwise engage in profiteering with single-character .com labels initially registered by a U.S. government contractor; or,

  3. Operate a shell registrar — or any registrar for that matter — that is controlled by a department bearing the same name as the functions that were being delegated.

ICANN violated its agreements with the U.S. government in order to engage in these activities — and it may very well be violating the law.

If ICANN was behaving itself and acting in the public interest, then it would have long ago deleted from the .com registry those single-character registrations being held hostage by its "IANA registrar" and required VeriSign to make them available for registration subject to legitimate processes, procedures, and protections that have been established by the global stakeholder community and, since 2013, are used for all newly available domain names. These include a Sunrise period for Trademark Clearinghouse registrants possessing a valid Signed Mark Data (SMD) file and a Landrush period for registrants of single-character labels in Verisign's transliterated .com Internationalized Domain Name registries, pursuant to Verisign's 2013 public commitment and in lieu of premium pricing which is prohibited in the .com registry.

ICANN has violated the enormous trust placed in it — and maybe U.S. state and federal law — with its misdeeds. It can remedy these past errors by immediately ceasing to play shell games and effecting the legitimate release of all of the single-character .com warehoused hostages. Otherwise, the Attorneys General of the United States and the State of California need to intervene and protect the public interest.