So, Now That ICANN Has Appointed an ‘Independent Objector’ — What’s an ‘Independent Objector’?

May 17, 2012

By Doug Isenberg

ICANN recently announced the appointment of Alain Pellet as the “Independent Objector” for the global top-level domain (gTLD) program. Pellet is a professor at the University Paris Ouest with an impressive background in academics and government service.

So, what will Professor Pellet do in his new role at ICANN, and how will this affect gTLD applicants and others?

The short answer, directly from section 3.2.5 of the gTLD Applicant Guidebook: The Independent Objector “may file objections against ‘highly objectionable’ gTLD applications to which no objection has been filed” (emphasis added).

Although the gTLD program allows objections to applications on several grounds, the Independent Objector is limited to filing objections based on the following, and only if at least one comment in opposition to the application already has been made:

  • Limited Public Interest: “The applied-for gTLD string is contrary to generally accepted legal norms of morality and public order that are recognized under principles of international law.”
  • Community: “There is substantial opposition to the gTLD application from a significant portion of the community to which the gTLD string may be explicitly or implicitly targeted.”

The International Chamber of Commerce will hear both types of objections.

Although the Independent Objector is not the only entity that may file these objections, the creation of this role could increase the number of objections actually filed.

Still, the Independent Objector’s mandate is far from clear, given that the Applicant Guidebook does not define what a “highly objectionable” application is, nor does it actually require the Independent Objector to file an objection under any circumstance. As a result, the Independent Objector apparently will have wide discretion, which means we could see few or many objections filed.

ICANN’s description of the position doesn’t provide much insight into how active the Independent Objector might, stating only that the person fulfilling this role (that is, Professor Pellet) will “act solely in the best interests of the public who use the global Internet when determining whether to file an objection to a given application” and “will be compensated fairly.”

Fortunately, ICANN wants the Independent Objector to “publicly report” on his activities and his “time spent.” So, based on these public reports and the applications actually filed, we will all learn more in due course about the relevance of this unusual role.

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