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Registrars responsible for proxy cybersquatters

Domain name registrars can be liable when their customers break the law, if those customers use a privacy service, according to new ICANN guidance.

The ICANN advisory clarifies the most recent Registrar Accreditation Agreement, and seems primarily pertinent to UDRP cases where the registrar refuses to cooperate with the arbitrator’s request for proper Whois records.

The advisory says:

a Registered Name Holder licensing the use of a domain is liable for harm caused by the wrongful use of the domain unless the Registered Name Holder promptly identifies the licensee to a party providing the Registered Name Holder with reasonable evidence of actionable harm

In other words, if a domain gets hit with a UDRP claim or trademark infringement lawsuit, as far as the RAA is concerned the proxy service is the legal registrant unless the registrar quickly hands over its customer’s details.

Law enforcement and intellectual property interests have been complaining about registrars refusing to do so for years, most recently in comments on ICANN’s Whois accuracy study.

ICANN offers a definition of the word “promptly” as “within five business days” and “reasonable evidence” as trademark ownership and evidence of infringement.

I don’t think this ICANN guidance will have much of an impact on privacy services offered by the big registrars, which generally seem quite happy to hand over customer identities on demand.

Instead, this looks like it could be the start of a broader ICANN crackdown on certain non-US registrars offering “bulletproof” registrations to cybersquatters and other ne’er-do-wells.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find the number of ICANN de-accreditations citing refusal to cooperate with UDRP claims increasing in future.

The new ICANN document is a draft, and you can comment on it here.

Go Daddy feature tallies Whois queries on your domain

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2010, Domain Registrars

I may be a bit late off the blocks, but I just learned about a rather nifty little feature buried within Go Daddy that lets you see when somebody has done a Whois lookup on one of your domains.

Log in to your Domain Manager, click Tools, click Exportable Lists, click Add New Export, then check the relevant boxes in the wizard.

The feature exports a .csv file telling you how many Whois searches have been run against each of your domain names in the last day, week, month and year.

I imagine this could provide a few useful data points when deciding how much interest there is in a domain you’re planning to sell.

I also found it quite interesting that more people executed Whois queries on domainincite.com in March than bothered to click the About tab at the top of the page.

Domain people are an odd bunch.

IP address privacy policy killed

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2010, Domain Policy

A proposal that would have brought the equivalent of domain name proxy registrations to IP addresses in North America has been dropped after its author had a chat with the FBI.

The policy would have allowed ISPs that take their IP addresses from ARIN, the American Regional Internet Registry, to substitute their own contact information in place of their customers’ details.

Proposing the policy, Aaron Wendel of WholesaleInternet.com initially said that the requirement to publish customer lists into a Referral Whois (RWHOIS) database “runs contrary to good business practices” and allows ISPs to poach each other’s customers.

Wendel publicly withdrew his proposal an hour ago at the ARIN meeting in Toronto, shocking some attendees.

He said he was doing so after a late-night session hearing the concerns of an FBI agent who is at the meeting, as well as conversations with members of ARIN staff.

The proposed policy had also been criticized by companies including Paypal, and many security experts.

RWHOIS allows any internet user to identify the user of an IP address in much the same way as Whois allows domain name registrants to be identified.

It is regularly used by law enforcement to track down spammers and other online crooks.

Unlike Whois, RWHOIS has a carve-out protecting residential users.

ICANN publishes Whois reform wish-list

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN’s latest stab at reforming Whois could lead to lots of useful new features, from more comprehensive search to more uniform privacy services.

The organization has released a staff report, “Inventory of WHOIS Service Requirements”, outlining 12 technical areas where Whois could be improved.

If the ideas were implemented, Whois records could one day contain your Twitter address or instant messaging screen name, as well as the current set of data.

The proposals could also lead to registrant search features in Whois as standard, allowing users to pull up a list of all the domains registered by any given individual.

That kind of service is only currently available at a premium price from the likes of DomainTools. The ICANN proposals could bake it into the spec.

The new paper, apparently released yesterday, was designed to outline technical requirements that might be needed to support future policies on Whois.

So while it’s not policy, it’s a good indicator of where ICANN thinks policy may head.

It concludes with a list of 12 “possible requirements” for the GNSO and other stakeholders to consider over the next couple of months before the Brussels meeting.

Here are the highlights: (continue reading)