International Governance

True Lawfare -- The Fight to Seize Iran's Domain Name Continues

By Paul Rosenzweig
Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 5:24 PM

A month ago, we wrote about an effort by several plaintiff's lawyers, representing terrorist victims, to seize the Iran domain name (.IR).  Turns out there was even more to it than we were aware of at the time, as the same group of lawyers have filed similar writs of attachment against Syria (.SY) and North Korea (.KP).

ICANN (the organization that runs the world domain name system) has now filed its response.  ICANN makes several interesting legal arguments:

  • ccTLDs (the country domains) are not "property" subject to attachment rather they are an addressing service;
  • As such, the ccTLDs are not "owned" by the countries to which they are assigned; and
  • More to the point, if they were property, they would not be "in the US" and therefore subject to attachment -- rather the ccTLDs are located where the servers that contain the domain are located -- in this case in Syria, Iran and North Korea

ICANN also argues that the suit is barred by the sovereign immunity of the "property" owners; and that it lacks legal authority to make the transfer requested.  Finally (and to my mind most persuasively) it argues that having US courts force the re-delegation of the domains would destroy their entire value and go a long way to fracturing and destroying the general domain name system of the internet.  Though this last is a policy argument rather than a true legal argument it strikes me as unarguable.  Having now read these responses I am exactly where I was initially -- I have immense sympathy for the victims who are trying to recover; but this just seems to be a can of worms that will ultimately cause more harm than good, both to the Internet and to American interests in its free and open operation.