ICANN May Help Owners Recover Domain Names After Expiry

ICANN is reviewing whether or not people have enough opportunity to reclaim domain names that they have allowed to expire. A committee of the domain name administration body has said that current rules do not work.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for the systems that match domain names to web pages. It has policies for what happens if a user forgets to register a domain name and whether the person can make a claim for names after that date has passed. This is called post-expiration domain name recovery.

The review was ordered by ICANN"s At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC). "The ALAC request … alleges that current measures aimed at recovering an expired domain name ‘have proven to be ineffective’," said a report on the issue late last year.

"The request asserts that ‘the loss of a domain name can cause significant financial hardship to the registrant, and that harm can increase with the time required to recover the name. Less concrete harm in the form of damaged reputation and permanently lost business is also relevant'," it said.

ICANN has now asked for public comments on how it could operate the system with better results.

"To what extent should registrants be able to reclaim their domain names after they expire? At issue is whether the current policies on the renewal, transfer and deletion of expired domain names are adequate," said its call for responses.

Currently if a domain name owner fails to renew an address it enters an 'auto-renew grace period' of 45 days. The registrar company through which the user bought the address can cancel it at any time within that grace period.

Once the address has been deleted there begins a 30-day redemption grace period. The address is put on hold for that time, but no website will appear at it. That is designed to help people realise that their address is in danger.

During that redemption grace period site owners can re-buy the right to their name through their registrar company. If they do not there then begins a five-day period when the name is waiting to be deleted. It is then finally deleted.

ICANN's consultation asks: "whether adequate opportunity exists for registrants to redeem their expired domain names; whether expiration-related provisions in typical registration agreements are clear and conspicuous enough; [and] whether adequate notice exists to alert registrants of upcoming expirations."

The consultation asks "whether additional measures need to be implemented to indicate that once a domain name enters the Auto-Renew Grace Period, it has expired (e.g., hold status, a notice on the site with a link to information on how to renew, or other options to be determined); [and] whether to allow the transfer of a domain name during the Redemption Grace Period (RFP)".

A domain name which enters the redemption grace period can be reclaimed by its previous owner. But it might never get there because in the auto-renew grace period the registrar can sell the domain name to someone else.

"This is one of the concerns expressed by ALAC; some domain names never reach the RGP because their registrations are sold, auctioned or transferred to another party which, the ALAC asserts, cannot be prevented by the original registrant," said an ICANN report on the issue late last year.

Some high profile domain name owners have been caught out by slack re-registering. Microsoft's Hotmail email system was crippled over Christmas in 1999 when it failed to register the domain name passport.com, which played a role in authenticating users.

Open source software engineer Michael Chaney noticed the error and bought the domain for Microsoft. It gave him $500 for his troubles, a cheque which Chaney auctioned for charity.