ICANN is fighting a US court action that could see the ccTLDs of Iran, Syria and Korea being seized by victims of terrorism.
While ICANN has not been sued as such, it’s been named in three “writs of attachment”, which seek to force the organization to hand over control of .ir, .sy, .kp, سور, and ايران.
This audacious attempt to take over three nations’ domains is being attempted by lawyers representing victims of state-sponsored terrorism, reportedly led by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner.
Darshan-Leitner has secured billions of dollars worth of judgments against these states in US courts over the last decade.
But because the states won’t pay up, she’s been getting US courts to seize state-owned US-based assets, such as valuable real estate, instead.
Now her attention has turned to domain names.
The writs against ICANN, issued by a District of Colombia court a month ago, would force ICANN to hand over any assets belonging to Iran, Syria and Korea.
But ICANN says it cannot and should not be made to do so, filing hundreds of pages of court documents yesterday explaining why ccTLDs are not property that can be “attached”.
“Attachment” is a legal term used in the process of transferring assets from debtors to creditors.
In its defense, ICANN argues that allowing the seizure would do nothing less than jeopardize the globally interoperable internet:
First, a ccTLD simply is not “property” subject to attachment. Second, although operating for the benefit of the people of Iran, Syria and North Korea, respectively, the relevant ccTLDs are not “owned” by the defendants or anyone else, for that matter. Third, the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs are not “located” in the District of Columbia or even the United States, and therefore are beyond the reach of Plaintiffs’ Writs of Attachment. Fourth, even if these ccTLDs could be characterized as “property in the United States of the defendants,” this Court would lack jurisdiction over these proceedings, according to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Fifth, ICANN does not unilaterally have the capability or authority to transfer the .IR, .SY or .KP ccTLDs to Plaintiffs. Finally, a forced transfer of the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs would destroy whatever value may exist in these ccTLDs, would wipe out the hundreds of thousands of second-level domain names registered therein by various individuals, businesses and charitable organizations, and could jeopardize the single, global, interoperable structure the Internet.
“While we sympathize with what plaintiffs may have endured, ICANN’s role in the domain name system has nothing to do with any property of the countries involved,” ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey said in a statement.
In its motions to quash the writs, ICANN describes how it has no contractual relationship and few dealings with the three ccTLD managers in question and how it has received no money from them.
It goes on to describe its relationship to the DNS root zone and the US Department of Commerce
The motion then compares domain names to street addresses and not “property”:
a ccTLD can be thought of as a zip code. That zip code may encompass many different addresses, and those addresses in turn may correspond to certain places on the Internet that people can access, such as websites. But the street address itself is not property, nor is the zip code in which the street address exists…To the extent a ccTLD is capable of a legal definition, it is a collection of technical and administrative services, rather than property
There’s a bunch of US case law that states second-level domain names are not property, which ICANN draws on heavily in its motion.
I’m not going to dwell on the legal issues at stake here too much, but the case is politically, to use an inappropriate word, explosive.
If ICANN were to receive a court order, instructing it to transfer ownership of .ir to Darshan-Leitner’s group, and had no option but to comply, we’re looking at a major international political incident.
Under ICANN’s current IANA arrangement, ICANN-recommended changes to ccTLD management are handled by Verisign, but only with the consent of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The US Department of Commerce, of which NTIA is a part, would have to give its approval to the transfer of Iran’s ccTLD from an Iranian institution to an Israeli entity.
It’s a recipe for putting the IANA contract at the center of what can mildly be described as a “political incident” unlike anything the internet has seen to date.
While the US government has a role in ccTLD redelegations today, due to its membership of the DNS root zone triumvirate, it has announced its intent to step away from IANA stewardship.
The NTIA will be replaced, possibly as early as September 2015, by a mechanism that the ICANN community has started to develop.
If we can assume that the US government’s current role may prove to be a buffer between the US courts and potentially devastating forced ccTLD redelegations, it’s not at all clear that the NTIA-replacement mechanism would hold the same kind of political clout.
Would an IANA without US stewardship be more susceptible to crazy US court rulings?
If the US court asserts its authority over the DNS root zone, by ordering the transfer of a ccTLD to a private entity, all ccTLD registries would have a right to be very nervous indeed.
The case also highlights the fact that ICANN is subject to US court jurisdiction — something likely to remain after the IANA stewardship transition — which also makes some nations very nervous.
Rumors have been floating around for a while that ICANN would like to move its headquarters and primary legal structure to Switzerland — it already has an office and a legal presence there — and this case will certainly provide ammunition for those who would like to see such a move happen.
Google and Microsoft seem to have settled their contention set for the .docs new gTLD, with Google emerging the victor.
Microsoft withdrew its application for .docs this week.
It’s not clear how the deal was made, but Google is known to have participated in private auctions for other strings.
Google Docs is of course Google’s office document service.
Microsoft also has a Docs service, a collaboration with Facebook at Docs.com, but it seems to have been in beta since April 2010 and, by the looks of the site, isn’t what you’d call a success.
ICM Registry, the .xxx domain name registry, may have paid as much as $3 million for the .sex gTLD.
Internet Marketing Solutions Limited, the only other applicant for .sex, withdrew its application this week.
Word is that ICM forked out somewhere between $2 million and $3 million for exclusive rights to the string.
I hear it was a private deal, not an auction organized by a third party.
I wonder whether the price was affected by the revelation by ICANN earlier this month that it considers porn-related gTLD strings “sensitive” for no particular reason.
It’s quite low, considering that sex.com sold for $13 million and sex.xxx sold for $3 million just a couple of months ago.
ICM now is the only applicant for .sex, .porn and .adult. It plans to grandfather existing .xxx registrants into the new namespaces, assuming ICANN doesn’t throw a spanner in the works.
The world’s insatiable appetite for property in London is being reflected in applications for domain names during .london’s landrush, according to the registry.
Just a few days before the landrush ends, over 30 applications have been filed for properties.london, Dot London said, and apartments.london and houses.london “are among the most sought after” domains.
The registry said:
Trades that serve the property industry are also proving popular, with addresses such as removals.london and scaffolding.london receiving numerous applications, while there are three times as many applications for estateagent.london as for lettingagent.london.
The property market in London is utter madness right now. The average price of a house here is £567,392 ($963,275), up over 12% on a year ago, according to Zoopla.
I could buy a three-bedroom semi-detached house in the town of my birth for the price of a parking space in London.
Apartments literally smaller than a snooker table were selling for £90,000 ($152,000) two years ago.
It’s madness, I tell you, madness.
While much of the house price boom can be blamed on overseas investors, many of whom leave their properties vacant, Dot London is at least giving the city’s residents special treatment in .london.
The landrush is being carried out simultaneously with the sunrise period. Both commenced April 29 and end July 31.
Trademark owners get priority, followed by applicants with London addresses. In the event domains are contested by multiple applicants with the same priority, there’ll be a private auction.
Dot London says that the most-popular landrush domain is nightlife.london, completely unrelated to property. It has more than 40 applications.
Google and Amazon have started making deals to settle their new gTLD contention sets.
Google won three contention sets against Amazon this week, judging by the latest withdrawals, while Amazon won two.
Amazon won .talk and .you after Google, the only other applicant, withdrew.
Neither company appears to have a “You” brand, unless you count YouTube, but the .talk settlement strongly suggests that Google Talk, the company’s instant messaging client, is on the way out.
When Google applied for .talk in 2012 it intended to give Talk users custom domains to act as a contact point, but in 2013 Google started to indicate that it will be replaced as a brand by Google Hangouts.
The withdrawal seems to suggest that the existence of a gTLD application, a relatively small investment, is not an overwhelming factor when companies consider product rebranding.
I wonder what effect a live, active TLD will have on similar decisions in future.
But Google won the two-horse races for .dev and .drive and after Amazon withdrew its applications.
Google has a product called Google Drive, while Amazon runs Amazon Cloud Drive. Both companies have developer programs, though Google’s is arguably the more substantial of the two.
Google has also won .play — Google Play is its app store — after Amazon, Radix and Star Registry’s withdrawals. Amazon does not have a Play brand.
Google has also withdrawn its application for .book, leaving six remaining applicants, including Amazon, in the contention set.
I don’t currently know whether these contention sets were settled privately or via a third-party auction.