Killing domain names as means to enforce court rulings

Posted in Internet, Legal at 1:11 pm by Jens Hardings

Ed Felten asks interesting questions regarding the Spamhaus.org case. You can read his post for details, but basically, Spamhaus.org has ignored a ruling in which it should pay a plaintiff for damages and publish a declaration stating that it has erroneously published the plaintiff in its “spammers” lists. It might be possible that a court rules that Tucows (as the registrar managing the domain registration) and/or ICANN has to withdraw the name assignment of Spamhaus.org, so that the domain ceases to exist. Felten’s questions are:

  1. Is it appropriate under U.S. law for the judge to do this?
  2. If the spamhaus.org is revoked, how will spamhaus and its users respond?
  3. If U.S. judges can revoke domain name registrations, what are the international implications?

As for question 1, I reserve my opinions. The important fact is that, however small, there is a chance that a judge will eventually rule that some domain name has to disappear. So let us just assume that it might happen and continue with the other two. My bet i: there would be a proliferation in the usage of alternative root servers for the Domain Name System (DNS), probably lead by Spamhaus and its users. ICANN would loose its position, which is fragile at best. This would have a high cost for all Internet users (see RFC 2826 for details), as it would make the ‘Net a less reliable place.

You might think of it as a social or political revolution, but in this case, as in many others, there would be no winners, we would all loose to some extent. So, while accepting a loss just to make someone else loose more is no recommendable practice, my intuition says that it’s precisely what would happen in this case. I assume that is what Felten is thinking when he writes:

The result wouldn’t be pretty. As I’ve written before, ICANN is far from perfect but the alternatives could be a lot worse.

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