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A Letter to the ICANN Community

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported on the subject of rogue online pharmacies and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The gist of the article is that ICANN is not doing enough to stop dangerous pharmacy websites. There is reason to believe that ICANN could do more but it could also do too much to the detriment of consumers who cannot afford medication locally. There’s an appropriate middle ground for getting rid of rogue pharmacy sites, but not overreaching and ending online access to safe and affordable medication. Willfully ending such access threatens the public health and treads on global norms relating to human rights and access to medications.

Earlier this month I attended an ICANN conference for the first time, which was in Los Angeles. We’ve written on several occasions about the application by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) to ICANN to operate a new generic top level domain (gTLD) called “.pharmacy”. To remind many of our readers, gTLDs are the endings of websites, such as .com, .org, .gov, .edu, .int, etc. The bottom line here is that we and many others believe that NABP, if its application is successful, will use its new ICANN-conferred legitimacy to stifle competition, mislead the public about online pharmacies, and in doing so curtail access by Americans and consumers worldwide to safe and affordable medication online.

I met many dedicated, interesting and well-informed people at the ICANN conference, including those serving within the ICANN community and others following it closely. To follow up with them I wrote the following letter.

Dear ICANN Community and others I met in LA —

I met you at the ICANN/LA conference last week. As a newcomer to the ICANN scene, I was pleased to find so many members of the ICANN community, at high levels, too, who are very concerned with the effects of ICANN’s work on end users, known to most of us out of the ICANN world as simply “consumers” or “people”.  There seemed to be wide agreement that ICANN is not merely a technical organization that administers domain names and numbers but a global organization that affects the most fundamental aspects of our lives, such as privacy, freedom of speech, and the exchange of goods – such as critical medications – as they relate to the Internet.

I come to you with a concern that I believe strongly affects the future of the Internet and the very soul of ICANN. The issue is access to safe and affordable medication over the Internet. The ability for consumers to find safe and lower cost prescription medication online, which they cannot afford locally, is a quintessential example of how the Internet expands freedom and justice, but upends entrenched business models.

As I discussed with many of you, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) has applied for a new gTLD called .pharmacy. That application was, at least in very large part, paid for by multinational pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma). NABP and Big Pharma want to be the global arbiters of “legitimacy” to control the online marketplace in pharmaceuticals. If ever there was a protectionist, anti-consumer application to ICANN for a gTLD this would be it.

I published an article in the New York Times that I’d like you to read: It doesn’t address ICANN but you’ll quickly and, I hope, viscerally understand exactly what big pharma’s motives are for funding the application for .pharmacy. They want safe international online pharmacies to go away despite the fact that millions actually rely on them; those pharmacies sell safe medications at a much lower price. The U.S. market is the cash cow for drug companies.  The Internet could ruin that for them in the future. NABP does not just want to identify “legitimate” websites with .pharmacy: its actions demonstrate a goal to potentially try and lock all pharmacy domains without the .pharmacy gTLD at the end of their web address. Tech Dirt has exposed NABP’s interests: NABP is using ICANN to achieve a commercial goal that is manifestly against the public interest.

In March of 2013 we submitted a comment in opposition to NABP’s application in March of 2013. Many others submitted comments as well including Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines project: Here are more comments that were submitted:

We founded our company over ten years ago because of the problem and promise of websites selling medications. We undertook to inform consumers about which websites are safe and which are rogue and to show their drug prices.  You can learn about what does to protect the public health.  The NABP perversely refers to international online pharmacies that meet our high standards as “rogue.”

While I had to get back to NYC on Thursday, I was thrilled that Lee from RxRights got up at the ICANN Board public forum and defended the interests millions of consumers (even after doing the same at the GAC public forum!), citing inaction on the part of the ICANN Board. I support RxRights’ position 100% and hope you can all help in any way possible. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Warm regards,


Gabriel Levitt
Vice President

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