By James Stewart 

In response to a veritable deluge of concerns from brand owners over the .SUCKS domain name registry’s pricing structure, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs (“OCA”) on Thursday, April 9, 2015.  ICANN has requested that the FTC and OCA assess the legality of the .SUCKS registry operator, Vox Populi Registry, Ltd.’s (“Vox”) purportedly ”predatory” premium pricing structure for brands.  

Over the past several weeks, the launch of the .SUCKS domain name registry has been a source of anxiety for brand owners.  This anxiety stems from the troublesome premium pricing structure which appears to target trademark owners.  While domain name registrations on the .SUCKS registry will be available to the general public for $9.99 per year, brand owners registered with the Trademark Clearinghouse (“TMCH”), or deemed “famous” by Vox, will be charged a $2500 premium price per year.  In essence, Vox is subsidizing consumer complaint websites that could be potentially harmful to brands.  Thus, brand owners have been faced with two equally realities: (1) paying the $2,500 annual fee to prevent third-parties acquiring the domain name; or, (2) hope that their brand is not targeted.

Vox, the .SUCKS registry operator, has unwaveringly promoted and defended its .SUCKS registry as a legitimate platform to launch websites that criticize brands and provide consumers with a vehicle to hold corporations accountable.  The free speech argument underlying the Vox philosophy is the source of growing concern among brand owners.  Once a complaint site incorporating a brand’s trademark is launched on the .SUCKS registry, it could be difficult, and potentially impossible for a brand to regain control of the domain name through a UDRP or similar proceeding.  Specifically, the registrant would likely be viewed as having legitimate noncommercial interests in the domain name.  Faced with this harsh reality, many brand owners have voiced their concerns over Vox’s “predatory scheme,” designed to exploit trademark owners, given the high costs associated with obtaining a defensive domain name registration on the .SUCKS registry.   

ICANN took note of the growing concern among brand owners around the world over Vox’s .SUCKS premium pricing structure.  Recognizing its limited expertise and authority to determine the legality of Vox’s business, ICANN has asked the FTC and OCA to make an official evaluation under U.S. and Canadian law.  If the Vox pricing structure is found to be in violation of U.S. or Canadian law, Vox may be in violation of its registry agreement with ICANN.  Accordingly, ICANN could then take further action against Vox and/or the current premium pricing model for brands.

At this time, the fate of the .SUCKS registry and its premium pricing model is uncertain.  However, ICANN’s request for assessment from regulatory authorities has not halted domain name sales on the .SUCKS registry.  The 60 day sunrise period, during which trademark owners registered with the TMCH have the first opportunity to acquire domain name registrations, will conclude on June 1, 2015.  Absent guidance from the FTC or the OCA, it appears that .SUCKS domain names will be available to the general public beginning on June 1, 2015. 

We will continue to follow this story and provide updates on developments as they occur.