The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been asked to investigate whether the registry running the .sucks domain is acting illegally.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) called on the FTC in response to a report issued by its own in-house Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) which accused the owners of .sucks, a registry called Vox Populi, of acting in a ‘predatory' manner.
The issues relate to concerns brands wishing to buy the .sucks domain, which went on sale on 30 March for a three-month ‘clearing house' period, will have to pay $2,500 to register it for their brand. This is far in excess of the price that will be offered to the general public and the price of other top-level domains.
"Vox Populi's incredibly high fees will prevent many trademark owners from being able to take advantage of the TMCH [trademark clearing house] sunrise period," the IPC report said.
"This makes it more likely that trademark owners' marks will be registered by cyber squatters for much lower (potentially subsidised) fees at the launch of general availability."
The IPC report also notes that firms on the 'sunrise' list attempting to beat the system by waiting to register their domain until after the sunrise period ends, and therefore nab it for a 10th of the price at $249, will still be charged $2,499.
In response, ICANN's chief contract compliance officer, Allen Grogan, said it has taken these concerns seriously and decided to call on outside help to determine if Vox Populi's behaviour is in any way illegal.
"Due to the serious nature of the allegations, we have sent letters to both the (FTC) and, because Vox Populi is a Canadian enterprise, Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) asking them to consider assessing and determining whether or not Vox Populi is violating any of the laws or regulations those agencies enforce," he said in a blog post.
A spokesman for Vox Populi said the firm did not believe it was doing anything wrong with the way it was selling the domain so was "surprised" by ICANN's request to the FTC.
"Perhaps it is driven by genuine concerns or maybe it is a case of the squeaky wheel," he added, before defending the need for the .sucks domain.
"We see real value in bringing these names to life online. There is much to be learned from criticism."
The twist is just the latest chapter in the controversy around the .sucks domain. The same IPC report also revealed a mysterious $1m deal between ICANN and Vox Populi based around the success of the domain.
The contract required Vox Populi to pay a one-time fixed 'registry access fee' of $100,000 and a 'registry administration fee' of $1 for each of the first 900,000 transactions for the domain.
The IPC called the provision "peculiar" and questioned its purpose. "The IPC is at a loss to understand why ICANN stands to receive this unique payout from .sucks," it said.
However, ICANN told V3 the agreement is in place owing to previous financial problems with the organisations involved in the Vox Populi Registry.
"Some affiliates of Momentous, the majority owner of the Vox Populi Registry, had previously defaulted on substantial payments to ICANN," it said in a statement.
"Given this previous experience, ICANN negotiated special contract provisions in the Vox Populi Registry Agreement to provide additional financial assurances."
Those provisions were added solely for that reason and were not related to the nature of this specific TLD [top level domain]."
The incidents come as several new controversial domains start to go on sale. Microsoft and Taylor Swift are both reported to have registered for the .adult and .porn domains before they go on general sale.
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