dotmusic-800x200-music-tld-150x37The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the global coordinator for domain names on the Internet, will approve thousands of new generic top-level domain (gTLD) names in the next year.  One of the most sought after and exciting gTLDs is .MUSIC. This is true for a number of reasons.

First, the term “music” has universal appeal.  It also lacks a natural plural form to contend with as compared to other potentially troublesome gTLDs such as .LAWYER versus .LAWYERS.  Second, it readily appeals to communities of artists and musicians who are eager to adopt new ideas, technologies and ways of connecting with their audiences.

There is a competition for ownership of .MUSIC among eight (8) contenders. Each submitted their application along with the “processing fee” of $185,000. The applicants are: Google (under the name “Charleston Road Registry Inc.”), Amazon, dot Music Limited, DotMusic/CGR E-Commerce Ltd., DotMusic Inc., Entertainment Names Inc.,  Donuts (under the name Victor Cross) and Far Further (under the name .music LLC).

The .MUSIC applications raise a number of interesting questions, one of which is, “what should this particular gTLD signify?” Specifically, different applicants have different motivations and plans for the .MUSIC registry – how should this be considered? For example, if Amazon secures .MUSIC, it may operate a closed registry, i.e., it would use its own discretion in determining who can use the new gTLD and likely maintain tight controls regarding how sites in the registry could be used.

The Internet blog explains the closed registry concept well with the example of .BOOK.  “One example is the possibility of Amazon becoming the registry for .book and closing the registration to only allow those who publish e-books for Amazon’s Kindle service to apply for a .book domain.”  This type of limited use of a registry for a popular/generic registry is more likely for large companies (with established brands) like Amazon or Google. Both are looking at the new gTLDs on a macro-level to integrate with existing businesses, and applied for multiple new gTLDs (not just .MUSIC) as a reflection of that strategy – Amazon applied for 76 gTLDs while Google applied for 101.

It is unsurprising that a lot of the discussion and focus about the .MUSIC gTLD has come from music industry insiders, in particular DotMusic/CGR E-Commerce Ltd., which has taken significant efforts to reach out to the music community with the idea of using the registry with the music industry – its natural stakeholders.

Constantine Roussos, 34, founder of the company has been lobbying for ownership of this highly sought after gTLD since 2005 and “envisions .music as the industry’s trusted inventory of Web sites operated by musicians, managers, studios, promoters, composers and so on.”  In a recent May 14, 2013 letter to ICANN concerning the Government Advisory Committee’s (GAC) advice on “sensitive” registries Mr. Roussos explained his position on restricted or closed registries, stating:

We fully agree with GAC’s assessment on the issues of exclusive and restricted access to new gTLDs. ICANN’s [sic] must uphold their commitments and “key responsibilities to introduce and promote competition in the registration of domain names” . . . and prevent anti-competitive behavior and discriminatory applications based on exclusion. ICANN objectives – as clearly highlighted in their Affirmation of Commitments – relate to “promoting competition, consumer trust and consumer choice.” . . . [a]llowing certain ‘closed’ music-themed applications for .MUSIC, .SONG and .TUNES or music-themed applications that exclude a significant legitimate portion of a community from registering will create material harm to that community. This will accomplish the opposite result that ICANN commits to fulfill with the new gTLD Program.  (Read the full letter here.)

Mr. Roussos also noted that even though a restricted .MUSIC registry could be used to combat music piracy and copyright infringement (which is rampant in the entertainment industry), the consequences of doing this would outweigh the benefits, because restrictions could create barriers for independent artists to participate in using the internet. It would also restrict their opportunity to further their careers and music by keeping them out of a potentially lucrative market. To this end Mr. Roussos cited the burgeoning crowdsourcing trend, that helps fund artist careers, as a market that could be cut off via a restricted registry. He pointed to a 2013 Crowdsourcing Report that states global crowd funding is expected to reach $5.1 billion this year.

As ICANN moves forward in its decision-making process for the .MUSIC gTLD, it will be interesting to see how it weighs of all these factors and concerns.  If one of the smaller music industry-focused candidates is a superior option, it may be able to circumvent the corporate behemoths’ deep pockets in an auction for the gTLD. To do that it must show deep and loyal ties to, and support from, the big players in the music community.  The only thing for certain is that the music industry will be affected by the addition of .MUSIC in ways that may reshape the entire business...