ICANN Updates Domain Transfer Policy

MARINA DEL REY, Calif. – Recently, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced that its new inter-registrar domain name transfer policy had gone into effect after unanimous approval by both the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) and ICANN's Board of Directors.

According to a statement released by ICANN, "[E]nhanced domain name portability will provide for greater consumer and business choice, enabling domain name registrants to select the registrar that offers the best services and price." The new transfer policy is designed to simplify and standardize the domain name transfer process in order to prevent abuse, and is conceptually similar to how telephone number portability works in many countries.

Central to the new policy is its efforts to provide strong protections against unauthorized transfers, requiring registrars to use a clear, standardized form of authorization that "provides for the express consent of the domain name registrant prior to the initiation of any transfer." While registrants may elect to "lock" their domains as a means of preventing unauthorized transfers from one registrar to another, the policy also has provisions allowing authorized parties to easily remove this "lock."

One of the key elements of the new policy is the establishment of a robust dispute resolution process for resolving disputes between registrars, including registries implementing a "transfer undo" functionality to provide for efficiently reversing any transfer initiated in violation of the policy.

This dispute resolution process may be put to the test over a controversial element of the new policy, that is outlined in Section 3: "Failure by the Registrar of Record to respond within five (5) calendar days to a notification from the Registry regarding a transfer request will result in a default 'approval' of the transfer. In the event that a Transfer Contact listed in the Whois has not confirmed their request to transfer with the Registrar of Record and the Registrar of Record has not explicitly denied the transfer request, the default action will be that the Registrar of Record must allow the transfer to proceed."

The upshot of this provision is that anyone can submit a transfer request for any domain, and if the domain holder does not respond to the email notification regarding this transfer within 5 days, the registrant could effectively lose their domain.

Despite this potentially problematic provision, a recent OECD report concluded that "ICANN's reform of the market structure for the registration of generic top level domain names has been very successful. The division between registry and registrar functions has created a competitive market that has lowered prices and encouraged innovation. The initial experience with competition at the registry level, in association with a successful process to introduce new gTLDs, has also shown positive results."

Domain name owners have also recently begun benefiting from ICANN's implementation of a Redemption Grace Period Service that provides a 30-day period for domain name holders to reclaim their names if deleted unintentionally from a registry database.