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Buy a .com in England, go to jail in America?

Kevin Murphy, July 5, 2011, 12:37:31 (UTC), Domain Policy

People who register .com or .net domain names to conduct illegal activity risk extradition to the United States because the domains are managed by an American company.
That’s the startling line reportedly coming from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is trying to have the British operator of shipped out to stand trial in the US.
According to reports, 22-year-old student Richard O’Dwyer is fighting extradition to face charges of criminal copyright infringement.
ICE assistant deputy director Erik Barnett told The Guardian that any overseas web site using a .com or .net address to spread pirated material is a legitimate target for prosecution in the States.
The agency has already started shutting down .com and .net sites by seizing their domains, even if the sites in question had been found legal in their own overseas jurisdictions.
It does so by serving a court order to VeriSign, the registry manager, which is based in Virginia. The company is of course obliged to obey the order. provided links to bootleg movies and TV shows, rather than hosting the content itself. It appears to be a matter of some confusion in the UK whether that behavior is actually illegal or not.
The site reportedly was hosted outside the US, and O’Dwyer never visited the US. The only link was the domain name.
I’m British, but DI is a .com, so I’d like to exercise my (presumed conferred) First Amendment rights to call this scenario utterly insane.
The issue of legal jurisdiction, incidentally, is one that potential new gTLD applicants need to keep in mind when selecting a back-end registry services provider.
Most incumbent providers are based in the US, and while we’ve seen plenty of upstarts emerge in Europe, Asia and Australia, some of those nations sometimes have pretty crazy laws too.

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Comments (6)

  1. JS says:

    Very difficult to believe that .com or . Net alone create a nexus for the whole website to be under US jurisdiction. At best the domain is, but certainly not the content, which is hosted elsewhere.
    I think this issue will be brought to the (US) court and ultimately decided by a judge, not a customs official.

  2. JL says:

    About the new gTLD, I understand we here talk about applicants selecting RSP, but is the RSP location going to decide wether or not you are subject to this or is it the applicant location ?

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      If you use a provider based in the US, law enforcement there would have no problem issuing that provider with a court order to seize one of your domains.
      Example: was also seized.
      The delegated party for .cc is an Australian company, but VeriSign GRS provides the back-end.

      • JL says:

        Thank you Kevin for your quick note.
        I had some trouble trying to understand what could happen p.e. for a .poker application that could be issued by a let’s say german company but signing with Verisign as a RSP.
        I imagine we all have Poker Black Friday in mind, with a huge difference between what’s legal or illegal depending on the country, but also between what’s decriminalized or just tolerated.
        I imagine, p.e. in this case, a registry based in Germany, Ireland or Australia sounds safer.
        Well, anyway, thank you!

  3. U.S has gone mad says:

    so a cctld looks the safest bet, especially if building a political site, particularly one critical of the U.S ‘regime’
    i see above even .cc would not be safe!
    would .eu be safe? or maybe .ru better?

  4. Unless IANA say’s it’s officially an international entity, in the Root Directory, consider it to be American.
    IANA & ICANN are ultimately functioning at the pleasure of the Department of Commerce, as such, if an international enterprise is doing something that even remotely impacts the US, negatively, you’d best consider stopping.
    I’m Canadian, not an ‘Ugly American’ type pounding my chest, chanting USA, USA; however, I’m very happy to see the internet governed by The States.
    Cheers, Graham.

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