Brands unleash scathing review of ‘.feedback’ top-level domain

A collective of brands has filed a Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Procedure (PICDRP) complaint with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), seeking a review into an allegedly “escalating pattern of discriminatory, fraudulent and deceptive registry misconduct” by Top Level Spectrum (TLS), operator of the ‘.feedback’ generic top-level domain (gTLD). The move marks an escalation of longstanding tensions between trademark owners and the registry.

The ‘.feedback’ TLD launched with a mission to “solidify a positive and recognisable reputation as the best TLD for finding product information, whether it is positive or negative”. It previously received criticism from trademark owners for its pricing structure (which offered a wholesale price for domain registrations of around $2,000 per domain). Further, there was concern about the additional monthly fee requirement to redirect a domain; unless this was paid, the registry would automatically forward every ‘.feedback’ domain to a registry-run feedback forum site.

The latest salvo is a PICDRP (which addresses complaints that a registry may not be complying with the public interest commitment(s) in Specification 11 of its agreement) co-signed by brands including Adobe Systems, the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Facebook, Kate Spade, Levi Strauss & Co and Verizon Communications. The documents contend that TLS is non-compliant with public interest commitments on the grounds that it has:

  • repeatedly changed its own policies and marketing programmes in a confusing, unclear and non-transparent manner, with discriminatory intent;
  • self-allocated or reserved for allocation to third parties acting in concert with it, numerous domain names corresponding to brands, many of which were held during the sunrise period, thereby preventing the brand owner from registering them;
  • applied “exorbitant and discriminatory prices” to sunrise registrations, implementing “a $5,000 ‘trademark claims’ fee to validate marks and discourage brand owners from attempting to recover domain names matching their marks from third parties”;
  • mandated that all ‘.feedback’ domains point to a live website where people can “give actual feedback”, but then “hired paid professionals to act as reviewers and write fabricated reviews to post on ‘.feedback’ sites to give the false appearance that such sites were places for trusted, legitimate commentary”; and
  • changed its policies to launch a marketing programme, ‘free.feedback’, which resulted in TLS misusing brand owners’ ‘.com’ WHOIS information and “deceptively soliciting them to validate and renew ‘.feedback’ domain names they never sought to register”.

The PICDRP filing requests that ICANN empower a standing panel to examine and adjudicate the matter. Responding to the move, Jay Westerdal, CEO of ‘.feedback’, told World Trademark Review: “The wild allegations are baseless. Top Level Spectrum is operated in an open manner consistent with general principles of openness and non-discrimination. Our policies are different from other top-level domains because we are trying to add enhanced value to the namespace. This is the first complaint we have seen regarding ‘.feedback’ not being open. These companies have not reached out to us directly to resolve their complaint.”

Counsel comment

Our hope is that ICANN will fully investigate TLS and the parties acting in concert with it, promptly convene a panel to review the matter and render a formal determination as to TLS’s PIC violations, and impose appropriate sanctions and remedial measures against it. ICANN must not only take action to address this registry’s misconduct, but also send a message that it will not tolerate these practices in any other TLDs.

Brian J Winterfeldt, Mayer Brown

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