ICANN: Domain names aren’t property

ICANN is embroiled in an ongoing civil court case between victims of terrorism and the government’s of three countries, in the case of Rubin & ors v Iran and other actionswhich are in federal court in the District of Columbia. (Michele Neylon reporting).

Essentially the form of the current Claim is that ICANN are seeking to quash a court order that requires them to transfer the management of three Top Level Domain names to the successful Claimants in a number of separate actions against the Governments of Iran, Syria and North Korea.

ICANN’s full Application to Quash has been published here.

When analysis ICANN’s argument it appears to be that

(a) domain names, at the top level which consist of two letters only (i.e country-code domain names, or “ccTLDs) cannot be regarded as property;

(b) that even they are property they aren’t the sort of property that can be seized in law;

(c) that even if they are seizable property, they aren’t owned by the countries concerned;

(d) even if they are owned by the countries concerned, they aren’t inside the court’s jurisdiction;

(e) even if they are in the jurisdiction, a US Federal law giving immunity to foreign governments prohibits the seizure;

(f) even if that law doesn’t prohibit seizure, ICANN acting along cannot transfer ownership

(g) forced transfer would destroy the inherent value in the property.

The property question is particularly interesting and relevant, since many ccTLDs have invested major resources in developing their registries, and at least at first blush, ICANN appears to be saying they have no rights whatsoever to the delegation.

Even to raise such an argument appears that it might destabilise the smooth functioning of the Internet’s unique naming system . . .

 

 

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