Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Indies Fighting Google, Amazon for Control of .Music Domain Name

Harley Brown/Billboard

The American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) has announced its intention to give the music industry control of the domain name .music. In doing so, the coalition will go up against Google and Amazon, which are also pursuing .music for their own purposes. With the support of .music LLC's parent company,Far Further, and Dotmusic, A2IM has written a call-to-action to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to advocate for their cause.

In 2011, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced that it would drastically expand the existing global top-level domain names -- such as .com, .org, and .net -- to include different languages, scripts, and subject denominators like .hotel, .vodka, and .college, a move to address the increasing need for gTLDs. Over the course of 90 days starting in January 2012, ICANN received a number of applications (each 360 pages long) for domain names from various entities. Each had to pay $185,000 to apply.

On ICANN's so-called "Reveal Day" in 2012, the organization revealed the list of 2,000 gTLDs that had been applied for; among the overlaps were The Guardian newspaper and Guardian Life Insurance for .guardian, and 11 for .inc and .home. Amazon applied for a whopping 76, and Google for 102 through its alias, Charleston Road Registry Inc. It's an ambitious list: the former, for example, is applying for broader domain names like .smile and .news in addition to more fitting domains like .kindle and .fire. And both want .music.

Far Further addressed the corporations' intentions in its own open letter, arguing that they would protect the music industry's interests better than Amazon or Google (especially after YouTube got quite a bit of flack for its controversial contract negotiations with indies). "The .Music LLC/Far Further application defines us as its community, identifying our practices, characteristics and core values, setting us apart from all those that are merely interested in, or differently engaged with music," said the letter, signed by a variety of organizations including ASCAP, the RIAA, and SESAC.

A2IM president Rich Bengloff puts it a little more bluntly, citing Google and Amazon's investor-driven interests as a concern if either one were to acquire .music. "We’re afraid their total goal will be maximizing revenues, so they may not have the safeguards in place to ensure the necessary support for the industry, individual labels, and artists who should have it," he tells Billboard. "We want to make sure only legitimate owners get first shot of these domains."

For example, he continues, a music industry-controlled .music would give Concord Music Group first shot at the domain name, and in his letter he cites and Bengloff hopes that during the application review process, ICANN selects a music community-supported organization to manage the domain name. As of last year, however, ICANN published "Last Resort" auction rules, essentially a winner-take-all model that gives domains to the highest bidder.

It works like this: Besides .music, the .app, .home, and .inc domains (among others) have seven or more parties, including Amazon and Google, bidding for them. Community-based applications technically have priority over the registries if they make it through the strict criteria of ICANN's Community Priority process. If not, then the domains go to a wider auction in which community-based organizations go up against corporate behemoths. If it comes to that, Bengloff admits, it will be difficult to compete with Google and Amazon.

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