In what appears to be a first, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”), the organization responsible for maintenance of domain names and IP addresses, has sent a notice of non-compliance to a registrar, Visesh Infotecnics Ltd. d/b/a Signdomains.com, for failure to comply with new rules implemented by ICANN to prevent so-called “cyberflight.”

The new rules, which went into effect on July 31, 2015, govern proceedings under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP”), an arbitration-based process that trademark owners can use to recover domain names.  They address a vulnerability under the old rules, which required a complainant to serve a copy of the complaint on the respondent immediately upon filing with the service provider.  The service provider would send a request to the registrar for verification of the registration details, but there was no obligation on the registrar to respond within any definite period of time.  And while many registrars, even absent a mandate from ICANN, routinely locked domain names upon receipt of verification requests, not all did so.

The old rules facilitated “cyberflight” by some respondents who took the opportunity, after being served with a complaint, to transfer the domain name to another party, change registration details so that they do not match what was identified in the complaint, or switch registration to a new registrar.  Such tactics could stall the UDRP proceeding by requiring the complainant to amend the complaint.  Worse yet, the tactics could undercut the complainant’s case if the new registrant had legitimate rights or interests in the domain name or has not engaged in bad faith registration or use.

Pursuant to the new rules, when a complainant files a complaint under the UDRP, the service provider administering the proceeding similarly sends a request to the registrar to verify the registration details for the domain name.  Within two business days after receiving a verification request, the registrar must confirm that it has locked the domain name, preventing alteration of the registration record and transfer to another registrant or registrar.  A complainant is no longer required to serve a copy of the complaint on the respondent, and the registrar is prohibited from alerting the respondent about the complaint until the lock is in place.  In most cases, a respondent does not become aware that a UDRP proceeding has been initiated until the service provider has completed its checks and served the complaint on the respondent.

ICANN’s notice of non-compliance to Visesh asserts, among other things, that the registrar has failed to comply with the requirements of the verification request in a recently-initiated UDRP proceeding.  ICANN warns that it may commence termination of Visesh’s accreditation if the registrar does not remedy the deficiencies by March 1, 2016.