High Stakes in .Gay Top Level Domain Ownership Battle

Scott Seitz, president of dotgay, llc.

Scott Seitz, president of dotgay, llc.

In a move that may impact queer businesses and groups around the globe, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) may soon decide whether .gay, a top level domain, will be controlled by a business that buys and sells domain names or by community groups organized through the efforts of a for-profit company.

“We’re literally creating an Internet community that functions with the sensibility of our community,” said Scott Seitz, the president of dotgay, llc, the company that has submitted a community application to ICANN to control the .gay domain.

In his application to the Internet policy-making body, which cost $185,000 to file, Seitz proposed that dotgay, llc, which is for-profit, would control the top level domain, but that “authentication partners” would participate in the process of approving the use of the .gay name by community groups, businesses, and individuals. That means that people visiting those sites would have greater confidence that a site is legitimate and it would make it harder for people to register anti-gay sites, such as godhatesfags.gay or exgay.gay.

One company competing for rights says it will serve LGBT community members, groups best

Seitz said that in five years the .gay domain could generate revenues from $30 million to $100 million. If he wins the domain, his operations will be governed by a contract he would sign with ICANN. The proposed contract says that Seitz will return 67 percent of the profits from .gay to the community.

“We’re the only ones committing by contract in the end to a community relationship,” he said. “We have to get comfortable with transparency.”

At present, there are 22 top level domains, such as .com or .org, with an additional 200 or so country or government domain names. ICANN is releasing another 1,400 top level domains and that launched an application frenzy among businesses and communities to win the names. ICANN appears to be overwhelmed by the volume of applications.

“Because this is all new, they’re really not hitting any of their deadlines at all,” Seitz said, adding that the .gay application was slated to have been decided three years ago. “It was supposed to be done by 2011.”

With the support of 239 queer groups representing 200,000 businesses and seven million people from around the globe, Seitz is competing against three companies that have filed business applications for .gay. Those businesses have applied for other top level domain names, with one seeking to own 10 names. The other two have collectively applied for hundreds of names.

Two of the companies — Top Level Domain Holdings Limited and United TLD Holdco Ltd., a subsidiary of Demand Media, a Seattle company — either did not respond to a request for comment or declined to comment.

Raymond King, the chief executive of Top Level Design, LLC, the third applicant, referred Gay City News to editorials he has published on gay websites. In effect, King argues that the dotgay, llc proposal will constrain speech and limit access to the .gay domain. That view has some support in the queer community.

GOProud, the gay conservatives group, and the Metroplex Republicans of Dallas filed objections with ICANN to the dotgay, llc application. They argued that given the wider community’s hostility to gay conservatives and Republicans, they were likely to be barred from using the .gay domain, while a free market would afford them the same access as anyone else. It costs 5,000 euros, or just under $7,000, to file an objection.

GOProud’s objection was disallowed after it filed one that was over the word limit and it did not respond in a timely fashion to a request from ICANN to remedy that. A September 2013 ruling by an ICANN expert dismissed the Metroplex objection.

Seitz readily concedes that .gay domains will be more expensive under the dotgay, llc proposal, but the benefit is that the community will have substantial participation in and control over the .gay domain. That does not guarantee that there will not be disputes, but it does mean that, for example, small queer businesses won’t be competing with large businesses that buy and sell domain names.

“It doesn’t mean you’re not going to have conflict because there is going to be theeagle.net, theeagle.biz, theeagle.com, but they’re going to be community names against community names and we’ll try and work with them to find resolution,” Seitz said. “In that case, it’ll be a little bit of an auction, but it’s going to be a limited auction to a handful of people in the community that want it instead of an auction with domain grabbers.”