Battle Continues Over Job Websites

By Toni Vranjes

July 8, 2011

The controversy ignited by a huge network of employment websites is still red hot, even though the legal battle over the project has been dragging on for quite a while.

At the center of the dispute is the .Jobs Universe, a platform of 40,000 geographic and occupational domains that end in the “.jobs” suffix. Some examples are boston.jobs, dallas.jobs, engineering.jobs, and healthcare.jobs.

The .Jobs Universe is the result of an expansion of the .jobs domain, and the legal fight over it ultimately might end up in arbitration.

In 2005, Employ Media became the licensed operator of the .jobs domain. At that time, registration was limited to corporate names, such as nissan.jobs or lockheedmartin.jobs. Companies use these sites to list their own job openings.

Last year ICANN, the group that oversees Internet domain names, approved an expansion of the domain. The approval allowed registration of the geographic and occupational names, and in January, the DirectEmployers Association launched the .Jobs Universe.

DirectEmployers, a nonprofit trade group, operates the .Jobs Universe through a non-exclusive alliance with Employ Media.

The launch occurred despite the objections of a group of competitors. The group, known as the “.Jobs Charter Compliance Coalition,” asserted that the project violates the charter governing the .jobs domain. The coalition claimed that the launch of the .Jobs Universe would harm its members, which include Monster Worldwide, CareerBuilder, the International Association of Employment Web Sites, and the Newspaper Association of America.

In February, there was an unexpected turn of events. ICANN publicly reprimanded Employ Media, raising questions about the future of the .Jobs Universe.

ICANN sent Employ Media a notice claiming that it had violated the “spirit and intention” of its contract. The letter stated that Employ Media and its sponsoring organization, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), had failed to establish appropriate registration policies. ICANN asserted that the lax procedures appeared to serve the groups’ financial interests.

Employ Media and SHRM failed to establish meaningful restrictions on who may register second-level domain names within .jobs, according to the letter. It states that anyone can register a second-level domain name, as long as the person or entity pays a $40 fee to SHRM to become an associate member.

In the letter, ICANN raised concerns about DirectEmployers’ registration of 40,000 domains.

“The recently launched universe.jobs appears to be a job board that advertises job openings for multiple employers,” the letter states. “It is our understanding that one registrant, who is a member of SHRM, registered forty thousand second-level domain names in the .JOBS TLD [top-level domain] for use on this job board.

“It appears that Employ Media and SHRM, through the Direct Employers Association, intend to use the .JOBS TLD primarily to compete with other internet job boards. Such use is inconsistent with the purpose stated in the .JOBS Charter and represented to the ICANN community. As opposed to numerous, international, human resource management professionals registering second-level .JOBS domain names, it appears one US-based registrant is registering thousands of second-level .JOBS domain names. These registrations appear to serve the interests of the registrant or company causing the registrations, as well as Employ Media and SHRM rather than the interests of the human resource management professionals.”

In the Feb. 27 letter, ICANN urged Employ Media enact registration polices that comply with the intent of the charter. ICANN threatened to cancel Employ Media’s contract if it failed to do so.

Shortly afterward, Employ Media issued a response, calling ICANN’s notice “a surprising reversal of position” and describing the claims as “utterly without merit.”

Since that time, the parties have been trying to resolve the dispute. In May, Employ Media said the talks had been unsuccessful, and the group announced that it had filed a request for arbitration with the International Chamber of Commerce. That move allowed the .Jobs Universe to keep functioning, because it automatically stayed any further enforcement action.

Employ Media executive Ray Fassett says that his group would like to avoid arbitration, if possible. Talks with ICANN are ongoing. If necessary, though, Employ Media will proceed to arbitration, according to Fassett, the executive vice president of operations for Employ Media.

In a statement released in May, SHRM emphasized that it has a limited role in the operation of the .jobs domain, and that it isn’t a party to the arbitration.

“Over the past several weeks, SHRM has let both Employ Media and ICANN know that SHRM, in accordance with its limited role, stands willing at an appropriate time to seek input from the community about any proposals that ICANN and Employ Media may wish to present,” the group said in the statement. “SHRM remains confident that it performed its role as sponsor and policy delegate in a proper manner and that it represented the community well in doing so.”

Meanwhile, critics of the .Jobs Universe are continuing to speak out.

The .Jobs Charter Compliance Coalition formed in May 2010 in response to concerns about Employ Media’s expansion plans. After the ICANN board approved Employ Media’s proposal in August, the coalition asked ICANN to reverse its decision.

In December, ICANN upheld its decision, which gave Employ Media the green light to go ahead with its plans. But the ICANN board instructed its staff to monitor the initiative to ensure that Employ Media followed the rules.

Peter Weddle, a critic of the .jobs expansion, says the coalition’s objections are based on principle.

“All those major organizations came together because we all operate on the Web,” says Weddle, executive director of the International Association of Employment Web Sites. “We said that we’re fine with competing – but everybody’s got to play the game the same way.

“The effort to expand .jobs into what amounts to a job board simply breaks the rules,” he adds.

Weddle says that the .Jobs Universe violates the charter – and he doesn’t see any way that it can stay online in its current form.

However, Fassett insists that these criticisms are merely an effort by competitors to protect their turf. The coalition is a special-interest group that was created to deny market entry to others, according to Fassett, who is also the founder of the .jobs domain.

“This is about stopping innovation and being protectionist,” he says.

In an e-mail, Bill Warren, the executive director of DirectEmployers, noted that the association isn’t a party to the contractual issues between Employ Media and ICANN.

“The .Jobs domain registrations by DirectEmployers Association should not be affected in any way by any contract issues Employ Media and ICANN have or may have in the future,” said Warren, a former president of Monster.com.

Meanwhile, each side has accused the other of being uncooperative.

In the e-mail message, Warren said: “It’s unfortunate that the .Jobs Charter Compliance Coalition has chosen to reject our many offers to work together to make .Jobs all it can be for the global human resource community.”

Weddle countered: “There have been no genuine attempts to work with us.”

As the dispute drags on, both sides are waiting for a resolution, and frustration is growing.

Earlier this month, coalition Chairman John Bell sent a letter to ICANN, complaining of the lack of an update regarding Employ Media’s arbitration request, ERE.net reported.

ICANN didn’t respond to requests for comment.

To view the arbitration request, visit the ICANN web site.

 

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