Some of the groups and companies vying for the .music gTLD. That is, the people that will be selling you http://www.YourBandName.music back to you at possibly exorbitant prices.
Let’s take a trip to the near future. It is August 2015 and the new .music top level domain names (gTLD) have just launched.
Now, hypothetically let’s say you have a moderately successful indie rock band named Leland Stanford’s Octopus. Your band has been around since 2005 and you’ve developed a loyal global following. Yes I know , it’s a funny name for a band but perhaps you and your bandmates were particularly interested in California-based 19th century railroad monopolies, corrupt politicians and robber barons. And why not? Leland Stanford like many railroad tycoons and robber barons of the 19th century had a hipster beard and a sort of devil-may-care longish hairstyle. You could do worse for band name inspiration.
Now for 10 years you’ve had http://www.lelandstanfordsoctopus.com as your main domain name, but with the launch of the new “dot music” domains like most bands you decide you want to migrate to the new .music gTLD. The only problem? The board of ICANN gave the rights to administer the .music domain to a for-profit consortium formed by Google, Amazon and Cerberus capital. Never mind that none of us ever voted for the members of ICANN and it’s not clear how they have amassed such awesome power with so little oversight or transparency. With no real accountability to the public much less to your band, ICANN members simply let the close friendships and revolving door between ICANN and companies like Google influence their decision. Thus they rewarded their cronies with the rights to the .music domain (and probably more of the dozens that these tycoons want to control).
And of course what will give the .music domain any value is not the consortium–it will be the artists and musicians who brand the gTLD by migrating to it.
Now in order to make it appear not to be a forced collectivization of hundreds of thousands of artists’ intellectual property rights for the benefit of some of the richest corporations on earth, there was a “sunrise” phase in which artists who had spent the thousands of dollars to trademark their names and hundred more to register them with the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) could get their domain name for a nominal fee. However like most bands Leland Stanford’s Octopus didn’t have the money nor the wherewithal to trademark their name and register it internationally. Now their domain name along with tens of thousands of artist’s domain names have been snapped up by mysterious brokers registered in places like Malta, Belize, Gibraltar and Panama City.
A mysterious former “Canadian pharmacy” promoter turned cybersquatting domain name broker is holding www.lelandstanfordsoctopus.music and is asking $2,200 dollars for the domain name. Of course you are outraged. Having to buy back your own domain name from anonymous brokers?
So what are you gonna do? Rationally, the cheapest thing to do is just to simply pay the shady broker (and indirectly Amazon, Google and Cerberus) to get your intellectual property back. And soon, because next year it may not be the same price.
Far fetched? Nope we’ve seen this sort of abusive cybersquatting happen with far less valuable and potent domain names while the registrars, governments and ICANN stand idly by. It surely will happen with .music unless we have a group running .music that is truly on the side of artists and performers and empowered to decide that a band gets to control its own domain name with a .music gTLD. If we are not vigilant this could be the choice facing many artists.
Here’s the problems the way I see it:
The .music gTLD should be owned by at least a neutral party with real knowledge of the business. It shouldn’t favor record labels over artists (especially after labels sold artists down the river on streaming, trading low royalties for equity in these companies). But most importantly this valuable bit of virtual real estate should not be handed to Silicon Valley and Wall Street. And not just because they are the 1% of the 1% and have the cronies to get control of yet more Internet real estate.
Google and Amazon have shown their true colors and have no cred with creators. Google actually funds ad sponsored piracy and uses their monopoly power to cram down deal terms on indie labels. Amazon routinely jams up authors and uses indie record stores as unpaid showrooms with predatory pricing designed to drive mom and pop record stores out of existence.
Giving these people control over the .music domain would just be increasing their domination of the music business. Google is already facing an antitrust complaint in Europe from indie labels. UMG controls over 40% of the recorded music market no one in their right mind would give them exclusive control over the dot music domain. So why would someone even consider giving Google dot music when YouTube has a virtual monopoly in online video (with much of it is illegally uploaded)?
This is like giving the fox control of the domain name .chickens.
This is just completely wrong and almost guarantees that the only artists who will use the .music gTLD will be those who don’t know any better until it is too late.
Please let ICANN know how you feel. Be firm but polite. Please write Akram Atallah at email@example.com
My letter is below.
To: Fadi Chehadé, ICANN President and CEO and Akram Atallah, President, Global Domains Division, ICANN
I’m writing to oppose your handing off control of the .music domain to any tech giant especially Google or Amazon (or both of them). I am a songwriter and founder of the band’s Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. I also teach the economics and finance of the music business at the Terry School of Business at the University of Georgia. I have spent many years studying the effects of the dominance of massive tech companies on the music industry as a whole as well as individual performers and songwriters. Regulators not unlike yourselves have allowed theses companies to extract monopsony pricing and unjustified rents from artists. Giving these same companies control over the .music gTLD would essentially hand these enormous companies valuable intellectual property that rightfully belongs to the artists. They would then be in a position to sell artists their own intellectual property back to them.
After a review of the ICANN leadership, it is obvious that none of you have any real world experience in the music business. After reviewing my resume, you should come to the conclusion that I have no experience with what you do. Fair enough.
However when it comes to your decision as to who should control the .music gTLD, you are injecting yourselves into my business and you appear to be doing so in a way that increases the domination of already dominant companies like Google and Amazon. Because you have chosen to do this, I must point out to you how ill qualified ICANN is to take such decisions. I mean this with respect and with the full knowledge of how sensitive tech people are about their expertise. While my criticism may sound insulting to those who carefully guard their turf and titles, it is not intended to be.
However, the insults likely will come from far and wide if you hand over the .music domain to people who are culturally like yourselves but are largely despised by huge swaths of the professional creators as well as the larger music industry. Why? Amazon has made no bones about using it’s power to exact monopsony pricing from authors and recording artists. What will happen when they control our most valuable domains? In the case of Google, many of us believe that Google continues to directly profiting from piracy—a crime—on a massive scale through its Adsense and Doubleclick operations. Google has also shown a willingness to use its online video monopoly to extract monopsony pricing from independent labels for its proposed YouTube music streaming service. Further Google should be disqualified simply because they have demonstrated a willingness to do business with criminals.
FACT: Google paid a half a billion dollar fine to avoid CRIMINAL prosecution by the US Department of Justice for assisting criminal groups in selling drugs in the United States.
Google, Amazon and a host of other big tech companies lack the bona fides to control an asset as key to the music business as .music. If you allow them to own it, you will be participating in just another Internet farce. I for one will do everything I can to see to it that no self-respecting artist uses the .music gTLD.
The registrar for the new gTLD .music should have a record of treating artists fairly and should not be simply extracting further rents from artists by selling them back their own intellectual property at inflated prices.