Opinion

EFF Coalition Doesn’t Speak for All Nonprofits on .Org

By Mike Montgomery
January 10, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

As the executive director of CALinnovates, I rely on our website calinnovates.org as the meeting place where we can articulate our views and engage with policy experts, business leaders and media on the future of innovation.

.Org is an important brand. It speaks to our nonprofit role as an advocate, educator and convener on important issues facing our country. We need our website to be available; if it’s not, it’s as if our organization is in hibernation or has shuttered.

That is why it makes no sense that an Electronic Frontier Foundation-driven coalition is trying to stop the sale of the Public Interest Registry, the operator of the .org domain, to a private sector group. The primary arguments against the sale are:

1) Prices for websites may go up

2) That as a keeper of the domain for nonprofits the .org domain should be controlled by a nonprofit

3) PIR may get more aggressive intervening in trademark disputes

The first argument is actually contrary to the long-term interests of the .org community. Here’s why: If you go to GoDaddy, the leading seller of domain names, you can buy a .org domain for $10.99. That is hardly a steep price that would discourage a nonprofit from getting a domain name. The EFF coalition contends if the PIR is sold to a for-profit group prices will go up. But the company that is acquiring PIR says it won’t raise prices by more than $1 a year.

In other words, this pricing fight is over the cost of a small box of paper clips. But if PIR has more resources to keep .org safe and secure, nonprofits benefit.

The second argument is that .org — as the go-to domain for nonprofits — should be run by a nonprofit. That is logic that simply doesn’t add up. As a registry, Public Interest Registry is essentially the wholesaler. You can’t obtain a domain from PIR. To do that, nonprofits have to go to a register such as GoDaddy or Network Solutions. And guess what? GoDaddy and Network Solutions are both for-profit companies.

What this fight is really about is whether the PIR will be more aggressive in enforcing trademark issues such as cybersquatting, when a person obtains a domain name of a famous figure or company in an attempt to profit from the confusion or leverage it to sell it back to the rightful owner.

When the PIR’s contract to run .org came up for renewal, EFF fought tooth and nail for it not to include these trademark protections. It lost. 

In fact, EFF consistently fights against protections for trademark holders or even expectations that internet companies take any responsibility for what appears on their platforms. EFF, for example, earlier this year fought against a law to crack down on sex traffickers. It lost on that, too.

Here’s the thing: I believe many nonprofits are like CALinnovates in doesn’t matter to them who operates .org. What they do care about is that it will most certainly be up and running 24/7, 365 days a year. They want to know their community can reach them. They want a .org to be affordable; and I doubt you could find a nonprofit that would claim adding a dollar or two to the $10.99 annual cost will have an effect on its organization.

Most nonprofits also want to know if someone maliciously obtains a domain name that tries to confuse Internet users they’d want to know they could get it removed. The animal advocacy group PETA once had to sue to take down the website PE-TA.org. Today, PETA could use procedures put into place by ICANN that enables a rights holder to petition to have an infringing website taken down.

I get it. EFF wants the internet to be like the Wild West. That’s its right. But when it tries to block the sale of .org, it may well be hurting the .org community if the new owner intends to invest to make .org more secure, safe and working for those who need it most.

 

Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates, a nonpartisan coalition of tech companies and nonprofits.

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