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URLs Aren't Property? 151

stevarooski writes "I saw this over at Ars. Apparently a judge ruled in a lawsuit about the alleged illegal transfer of the domain name '' that URLs do not qualify as property, at least under current law. They are instead a "designation for a service -- akin to a phone number." I dont know if I buy that. . .People very much treat domain names as property--buying and selling them on the web all the time. (Examples from Ebay and Yahoo.)"
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URLs Aren't Property?

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  • If domain names are not any sort of property, specifically Intellectual Property (like trademarks and copyrights), then companies should not be able to sue domain holders as they have for taking their name. Etoys v. Etoy comes immediately to mind.

    I strongly agree with the previous posts that Congress should get on the ball, learn something about the technologies they are legislating, and at least be consistent in their law-making. Even if the laws suck, they should at least suck consistently.

  • I am so sick of this type of thing happening. If a URL isn't property, why can someone get sued over a domain? If a URL is like a phone number, then what is the difference between getting a phone number that spells something and getting a domain that spells it? Somebody had better start making actual laws regarding modern technology. All we have now are a bunch of laws never meant for these situations being applied in contradictory manners. Judges can come to any conclusion they like just by bending around existing laws. (ie. Your privacy online depends on the medium by which you connect...)
  • The worst part of it is that my current number used to belong to a fax machine and so I get fax calls at all hours.
    In a case like that, I'm almost positive that you can get them to change your number at no charge (if you want to go through the hassle of changing your phone number again).

    Arbitrarily reassigning your phone number, though, that just doesn't seem right. Yet another reason to dislike the phone company. (I'm still waiting on getting my DSL from Verizon after that cute li'l strike of theirs.)


  • That's a lot easier said than done

    Oh, I totally understand that. Of course it wouldn't be an easy task, I'm just saying that it needs to be done, otherwise things that seem unfair to people that know about computers will continue to happen because businesses have a greater influence over what non-computer savvy people think, and how computer related problems should be dealt with.

  • I know for a fact that Ameritech holds back certain mumbers. Absolutely ALL numbers that have ANY type of repitition are 'reserved' because they know they will get more moeny for them (I.e., 888-0088, or 724-9999). I just recently moved to a new house and tried to get ANY number that sounded cool.. I litterally tried over 200 numbers before I just gave up and took what they gave me (a stupid one). I was trting everytthing from 888-1010, 794-9909, ANYthing with two digets that matched. No chance. It was redicluos, and infuriating. When I asked the phone company why those same numberes when called, said they were not in service, I was told they were 'reserved'.
  • Wait till it's some industry giant like or that has sombody claim their place in "Cyberspace" (I hate that term), and we'll see how the URL becomes "property" very fast!
  • Didnt a law pass so consumers can keep their phone numbers?
    This way they can use any phone company, and not change thier phone number.

    So in that case we do OWN the phone numbers.

    Ok, well sorta....

  • I can get a phone number that spells out my company name or someone elses company name. I can get a personal number plate that spells out my company or someone elses company I can get a URL that spells out my company. In all 3 cases you don't own the 'product', you just have the right to use that 'product', or sell or lease that 'right' to someone else. All these URL legal problems would be solved if they just made URL registraltion, first in first served , just like personal number plates on cars & 'personalised phone numbers. If no one else has already got it I could get a phone number that spells out COCACOLA, or a personalised number plate for my car that spells out COCA-COLA, Coco Cola either had the choice of getting them before me, or buying them off me, if I beat them to it. Now why should URLs be treated any differently than personalised number plates or personalised phone numbers? It would keep things simple & keeps the lawyers away.
  • "People very much treat domain names as property--buying and selling them on the web all the time. "

    So what? That doesn't make them property. Only the law can do that.
  • Here in the US when you don't pay your "property taxes", you lose exactly that. The land you live on and anything on it, presumably your house. Makes you realize just how little we actually "own". Our ability to own any physical object is dependant on forces largley outside our control, unless you believe the common man actually has much say in our government. As I result I try to look for security in knowledge instead of material things.
  • Domain names and phone nubers are almost exactly the same thing and I'll tell you why, when you get a phone installed you get a number 555-1234 when you hook a computer to the internet you get a IP adress,, now say you want a easyer to remember phone number say "call-bob" you can contact the phone company and if the numbers available and willing to pay what they ask "call-bob" is yours as long as you keep paying for it the same is true about the computer connected to the net, want a easyer name say insted of a string of numbers you contact a domain registration servis and if its available you can get it for a small fee, both of the seervis phone and DNS are basicly the same after that, if you dont pay for it, they take it away , if you try to get your phone number "1800-mcdonald" bascily couse you wanted the name, you can get sued same as on the web, there are always gray areas such as if your name just happen to be Mc Donald then its up to the cort to deturm if your intent was to break copyright violation
  • I don't know the law concerning the practice, but desirable 800 numbers have been sold for huge amounts of money. This has also happened with the call signs for radio stations. Someone with a radio station badly wants KROK, and pays the existing station to swap call signs.
  • God forbid the US needs ANOTHER way to initiate the creation of NEW laws...what we _really_ need is a way to force legislators to clean up the OLD laws!!!
  • Big difference. I sell you a digital copy of a piece of software or a song, I still have the software/music AND you have a copy. I sell you a domain name or a +15 sword, and I no longer have the domain or weapon. As such, the domain or game item *is* property, regardless of it being digital.
  • > I will listen to the people who tell me that the income tax is really voluntary,

    Can you show me the LAW that requires a person to have a slave, er, social identification number?

    I'll save you some time: There is NONE. Therefore it is voluntary. You might want to study contract law, before replying.
  • The purpose of number portability is to increase competition, by reducing the barriers to switching between phone companies. It was not intended to grant property rights to subscribers.

    The phone company can change your local number without your permission. There are good technical reasons for them to be able to do this.

  • Hey man, I love crack as much as anyone else around here, but I don't believe for a second that my 1st amendment rights should allow me to tell people where to buy crack.... of course it all depends on the context. Like if someone asks you and you say "oh, you're in the wrong town to be looking for that, you oughta go to New York or something." that could be construed as okay. But hows' the law to decide if that's okay and if you walking up to someone and saying "hey, you want some crack? Well... i don't have it on me, but if you give me $10 i'll tell you exactly which newspaper it's hidden under in that alley behind me...".

    Nothing. Either way could be interpreted as you giving directions to get crack. Unless the law mandates that as long as your directions only get so and so within 10 blocks of the crack, that's illegal, but if it's any further than that it's legal...

    Yeah, forfeiture laws are bullshit. Laws abridging the discussion of methamphetamine are equally bullshit. But intended to thwart people trying to stay "one step ahead of the law" are there for that purpose...

    Wow... did i wander or what?!?

    So, yeah, anyways, go smoke crack or something :P
  • I've been saying this to anyone who'd listen for years. No one owns a domain name (despite the false advertising of the .tv domain registrar), and no one has a God-given right to a domain name any more than they have a right to a specific phone number. I'm still wondering why it is we ever allowed WIPO to have any say in domain names, let alone this new "authority" to take them away and assign them to others.
  • Well, Vanatu may be able to register (or whatever their top-level is), but they cannot register That is a United States top-level domain suffix, as decided by ICANN.
  • Had any of them READ their contract when they 'registered' a domain, they would clearly see that they do not 'OWN' it, that this is merely a registration of a name in the DNS, and all that that implies.
    Sounds like you need to get a new registrar. The contract [] for registration at [] starts out as follows:

    The client ("SLD holder") owns the registered domain name ("SLD"). GANDI ("Registrar") simply acts on the client's behalf.


  • The same thing for MP3s, books, movies, software, etc. The internet makes copyright laws nearly impossible to enforce. []
  • Does this mean that if I want to go out and snatch up "", I can? I mean, no one owns it, no one has any property rights to it, so why not just go out to the nearest DNS root server and reprogram every domain you can think of to go directly to your own little IP address?

    Can this federal judge really be this stupid?

  • seems to me, a domain name is like an office space, whereas a URL is like a telephone number -- the URL provides a path to your services, the domain name provides a place to house your what-have-you.

    from this angle, it looks like domain names should be property, whereas URLs should not.

  • Dude, reread my message. See: 005-200-340454.html?tag= [] I did not state whether or not domains are property. Merely that the system is clueless. If you disagree, then what is your opinion of these comments: "The value of a domain name is that it's a storefront," said Rich Gray, an attorney with Bergeson, Eliopoulos, Grady & Gray." "What the court is saying is unremarkable: A party seeking to get its attorney fees back can try to [tap] the assets of [the defendants] and these domains names are just like a building or property," he added. According to Morrison & Foerster attorney Jonathan Band, "It strikes me that it's an obvious ruling, but one that would need to made."
  • That is a United States top-level domain suffix, as decided by ICANN.

    Well, that's interesting. If that's true and I were a citizen of another major industrial nation, I'd be pushing for internationalization of .com, since it's become pretty much the domain associated with business everywhere.
  • I think the case actually had to do with THEFT,
    which requires something TANGIBLE. A URL clearly
    fails that criteria.
  • What happend.. NSI transfered from it's holder to someone else...
    The Judge says Domain names are akin to phone numbers and are a service...

    Dose this mean PacBell (My local phone carrer) can take away my phone service at any time and give it to someone else?

    No... PacBell allmost did this once and returned service to me... (The other guys were a larg company BTW.. I've had the same phone number sence childhood.....)

    If it is a phone number then... they can't issue regenal domain names to people in OTHER regens... (*.com, *.org etc are international... like 800,900 and 700 numbers)
    They can not remove them for trademark violations.
    And first is first...

    It is quite posable NSI did this knowingly (Prove it... hmmm?)
    PacBell would much sooner sue the larg company for fraud than screw the little guy...
    It's probably a matter of being smart and greedy... You can make more money suing a weathy crook than you can by doing busness with same...
    Maybe someone should clue NSI in on this fact... they could make a lot of money in the legal area by simply suing fraudulent transfer requests like this...
  • Excellent, so anyone running a DNS should send a bill to NSI? I guess that's why NSI's business seems like it's pure profit - other people are providing the service that NSI is being paid for.

    In my opinion? YES. You're helping them out. DNS servers should be subsidized from registration fees. That'd make sure that there's always DNS boxes up, and that they stay current. It's an incentive thing.

    But hey, I'm not in charge.
  • It is true.

    And before you could do anything else to complain, you'd first for have to try to internationalize .com in the first place which is highly unlikely.

    And .com's are nice, but look at this, it's a .org! and i do most of my shoping at's... I am a US citizen, with a dot com of my own, by the way....

    And anyways, unless your name is also harrison ford, why in the world would you want that name in the first place, unless just to capitalize from his fame and fortunes?
  • by happystink ( 204158 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @07:46PM (#823906)
    The one thing noted in the wired article about this was that the plaintiff still has recourse because a fraudulent act was committed, so he WILL get some money eventually. It sounds like his lawyers were just arguing it in the wrong way to begin.

    The fact this has taken 5 years is ridiculous though, and if it was Microsoft it definitely would have all been over and done with by now. For proof, look at how NetSol did an emergency update of the root nameservers last year when's name was hijacked. They would definitely never do that for any company smaller than MS or AOL. But then when there is provable fraud going on, they just drag their heels and let the court take care of it? sick.


  • by AntiNorm ( 155641 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @01:53PM (#823907)
    If domains aren't property, will InterNIC/ still be able to keep them away from customers as they have been doing?

  • No, anyone can register .com's, .net's, and .orgs, but since they're all ultimately adminsitered by NSI, a US corporation, and they need to abide by the laws of the land, if they find that you registered a name that US courts decided for one reason or another yuo couldn't have, they'ed have to take it back from you. If you don't want to deal with US laws, don't get US administered domains, it's a simple compromise...
  • Way before Gore invented the internet, I had to buy a telephone number back in Australia. The company wanted the number and the person was able to negotiate a fair price for agreeing to transfer it.
    I see the conclusion of the judge perfectly reasonable.
  • Here, we'll put it in GPL terms for you... the GPL prohibits you from GPL'ing software that you don't have the legal right to GPL, such as (until next month) products containing RSA encryption.

    That said, no matter what the contract says, if the contract is illegal, it's unenforcable. I could agree to you to sell my next 10 children for $10 a kid, but if the courts ever found out, no matter how concrete sounding and binding the contract was worded, you wouldn't get my kids. Though, i probably wouldn't get to keep them either! But NSI's not actively solicting in that sense, and we're not talking about anything but domain names.

    Short answer, a contract is only as enforceable as it is legal. If the contract is found to be illegal, it is null and void.
  • Can the phone company take away your phone number? I think they can. What may be questionable, though, is whether they can auction them off. Is the phone company allowed to 'sell' phone numbers? I know you can request them, but can the company actually sell them to you?
  • But if you read your contract at all, or even the verbage on their website, you'd learn that you weren't buying it from them. You can't buy something frm someone that you need to return to them in 2 years. They're loaning it to you for a specified period. And they're not even loaning you a domain name. They're selling to you the service of telling people who type in "" that the name server that knows more about that domain is located at the IP address of, or if that fails try

    I don't think it's an NSI problem specifically. No registrar ever claims to be selling domain names. They're just selling the service of putting your name somewhere that gets looked at by the reoot servers for a year or two...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There are several errors here. IANL, but do have some familiarity with US property law. First, anything, tangible or intangible, that can be bought/sold is property. Second, yes, if you purchase a license to use or do something, you own that right, which can be sold, unless terms of the license prohibit transfer. Third, most US auto registration tags are not transferable, either to another party, or to another vehicle. Fourth, yes, patents can be sold and some companies specialize in acquiring patent rights. A license to use a patent is a property separate and apart from the property of the patent itself, and the license is transferable, unless terms of the license prohibit transfer.

    URL's are probably similar to telephone numbers, which can be valuable to their assigned users. The user does not own the telephone number, or a URL, only the exclusive right to use it. There have been cases of telephone number hijacking by companies wanting the number(s) for commercial advantage, and they have essentially gotten away with it because value of the loss of use to the original owner is usually small, so the cost of recovering the value of the loss is as much or more than the value of the loss. It ain't fair, but it is the golden rule - those that have the gold get to make the rules.
  • One of the issues that is being repeated in this thread is that there are many companies out there that have grabbed their domain name, and all similar ones (.com,net,,tw etc) just so that they all redirect to a common place. That is fine, but when the name of the company is not unique in the world, they are going to tread on other companies toes, and the consumer (us) are going to suffer when trying to find a site based on what we assume its URL to be. What happens when Billion dollar company meets small consulting company head on over a URL ? If the small company got there first I feel that this is a legitimate case for an "out of court settlement". However in the of cyber-squatting, whereby an individual buys a URL prospectively, I think that there have been too many high-profile examples for the big companies to be playing dumb now. If you are a multi-billion dollar company with no web presence, that is your problem. If I owned I would sell it to FoMoCo for the millions that it is probably worth to them to own. If I reallyu wanted to get crazy I would just start looking up businesses in the yellows and start registering domains - oh is already taken huh ??? I think that you should not be forced to part with the domain that you have, assuming a few basic rules, but I have no idea what those rules should be, things like legitimate use of the URL, and a reasonable claim to the domain other than stumping up the $$$$'s. Anyone ???
  • It's contextual. They are simply trying to say that they are acting as an agent of the customer, and that they are not registering it themselves, but registering it on behalf of the customer, in the customers name.

    THey are not implying 'ownership'.
  • by DarkMan ( 32280 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @01:58PM (#823916) Journal
    Just because something is sold does not mean it is 'property'.

    Consider a software liscence. You 'buy' that. Do you own it? [0]

    A car registration plate can [1] be sold, and bought. You definitly don't own those, they are 'owned' by the govenment, but that doesn't stop you paying extra fo a 'personalised' plate.

    You can purchase a liscence to use a patent. The patent does not become your propery.

    The term property is used here in a fairly strict legal sense, not in an everyday sense. It's as per the law of 'conversion', whatever that may be.

    [0] I'll leave the whole 'is it legal question to the side here'

    [1] At leat, you can in the UK
  • I dont know if I buy that. . .People very much treat domain names as property--buying and selling them on the web all the time
    This is only because of the potential to make money if you own a good domain name. Things like are URLS that people will type in just to try it out and see if it exists. I'm sure people....companies actually... have purchased the rights to a phone number because it would help with their business. Its just not as widespread.
  • If a URL is not a "property", then what is it? A service? If so, it is still something that can be bought and sold, so what's the big deal? []

  • Yes, but no. A domain name is included in a URL whereas your address isn't included in your phone number. Frankly, there isn't really any part of the URL that's important other than the domain name at this point.
  • by cnj ( 87028 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @02:39PM (#823920) Homepage

    IP == Designation for service (like phone number).

    URL == property. They have become so valuable in today's world that they can easily be considered similar to a great big sign signifying who you are and/or what you do.

    Btw. . . this is a pretty old case . . .


  • A domain name could have been considered like a phone number, but with multiple registrars apart from NSI, this kind of ruling can only lead to chaos. With one company controlling phone numbers, they can give and they can take. If domains aren't property and you can do whatever you want with them, does that mean NSI and can hack each other to death and grab domain names? Again, this has to do with a stolen domain.
  • Your are correct that the laws suck, and we need the governments to learn and create laws that would cover this, but the domains are not property.

    The only reason that people can sue over domain names is for their trademarks, which protect the trademark holder from other people using it, either to get business away from them, or causing damage to that name. This has lead to companies getting domain names for their trademarks. But it has also let big companies with that trademark name take it from another company with that trademark.

    And this is why they need to create new laws that will protect everyone not just people with money by using existing laws that don't make sense in the digital world.

    Asta la vista
  • Another piece of NSI's plan has fallen into place.

    They changed the policy to state that they, not you, own the domain.

    Now they have a court decision to back it up.

    You will be reciving notice in the mail that a corporate partner has expressed interest in your domain name; you will of course have the option to outbid them. Have a nice day.

    -- Greg
  • I used to work with Steve Cohen from time to time for a few months back in late 1995/early 1996. He must have just acquired at that time because he liked to show off the whois record to anyone who would pay attention. He claimed that he had picked up the name in the early 80s along with a bunch of other domain names that he thought would be worth something.

    He claimed to be making $1000000/month at the time off (as of 2/1996). Of course that didn't explain why he was spending his time doing background checks for contract recruiters...

    He represented himself at various times as a lawyer, a locksmith, a travel agent and a brothel owner (in Nevada).

    Last I heard about him was a few months ago. I was testifying on behalf of the plaintiff in a sexual harassment suit against the company; Steve was one of the primary named perpetrators, except no one could locate him since he had transferred all his businesses to the Cayman Islands.

  • Arbitrarily reassigning your phone number, though, that just doesn't seem right.

    Well, the phone company technically loans you your phone number. Doesn't the sysadmin get first pick on what login he wants? Doesn't he have the right to reassign logins or assign them in whatever fashion he chooses?

    This would directly relate to IP addresses, so I would then liken trademarks to the domain name. What if someone took the domain That's integral to's business.

    We must remember that property rights in America are extensive in order to facilitate capitalism. That's what drives us, and that's what drives the legal system, like it or not. I see the big companies winning out on this one, so don't be surprised if things do get passed on up the food chain.
  • Are bits in someone's computer. There's nothing that says I can't come up with a competing system. I've actually been advocating this for quite some time. So I think a bigger question is at what point does a system that people decided on become succeptable to government registration? If a few hundred people on the net use a new naming system, no one would notice. If a few million people did, would the WIPO step in and claim juristiction over it?
  • Does anyone here remember the big deal the olympic committee made a while back over people using any type of domain name with the word olympic in it? I seem to think there is a contradiction in law here. They can enforce the laws surrounding olympic name useage but URLs can't be property? I just don't get it. If someone could explain this to me, please do.
  • If you purchase a domain name that someone else wants, it can be brought up for review by a board. In the event that you're not using it for a purpose the board thinks is worthy, you can lose it. This is what I've heard/read from a very credible source, and haven't confirmed it. Flames to /dev/null. I haven't made up my mind on whether this is a good idea or not, but I'm leaning to the latter. I think it should be treated as property, yeah.


  • The United States Navel Observatory

    Is that what the US Navy do in their spare time?
  • by lowe0 ( 136140 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @02:50PM (#823930) Homepage
    You pay these people to resolve a domain name to your IP address. The address is like the phone number (that's the only analogy I can use to explain it to people anymore anyway), and a company provides a layer linking your friendly name to an address.

    Therefore, how NSI runs its business should be entirely up to NSI. I'm not against a little intervention; after all, the Internet is well on its way to being a utility similar to the phone system, but it doesn't mean that they aren't property. They're just the property of NSI.
  • The difference is that you can't snatch up a .gov because Network solutions has no control over it, so their shitty security won't help you. I doubt the root servers could be easily reprogrammed, and it's already illegal to tamper with them.
  • I am not a lawyer by any means, but I would consider a software liscence to be my property in that by buying it, I am in essence buying permission to--as you put it--'use a patent.' The liscence itself is representative of that, and yes, we 'own' liscences--i.e., we can sell them, trade them, give them away, etc.

    The judge in this case thinks that URLs are like phone numbers or house addresses, as well as like the liscence plate numbers that you mentioned. The pattern here seems to be [my interpretation] that they are assigned designations and therefore not available to be commercialized.

    I dont agree. A web URL is a lot more personalized and can do a lot more to describe what it points to than a phone number does. It'd be different if we all could choose phone numbers based on text monikers or something--that might be considered property.

    From this, I would argue that a domain name is NOT just a designation for a place on the internet (although technically, it really is). The fact that it in itself can have meaningful content regardless of what it points to makes it different from the examples the judge used. Since that content reflects on the owner, I would have to say that URLs can indeed be 'owned.'


  • If you recall, the etoy(s) lawsuit was not about one company taking another's domain name. Rather, etoys claimed that etoy was taking advantage of customer confusion and thereby infringing on their trademark. Supposedly the etoy site had pictures of toys on their front page and information about a (fake) stock offering, both aimed at customers who mistyped the URL or confused the names. A better example of a lawsuit over nothing more than the domain name itself would be one of the suits filed against cybersquatters.
  • Does this judge not know what an IP address is? THAT is the designation akin to a phone number.
    The domain name is more like the sign on the front of the store.
    Where can the word be found, where can the word resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.
  • I would have do disagree with the judge in this case. It is true that it is the court's responsability only to interpret the law as it is written, not to make new laws. IANAL, nor have I read the IP laws on domain names and telephone numbers etc, so he might have very well been in his rights with his decision. I will not debate this from a legal standpoint, I do not understand the details of the law completely enough to do so. Nor is all lost yet, as the case could still be won in a fraud suite, as the article states.

    I do believe that, on a logical, realistic level that domain names are property. I also might have some legal proof that they are. Look at it from this point of view. A telephone number is randomly assigned by the telco and has no meaning, it is a simple address to your telephone. A domain name, on the other hand, is in my opinion intellectual property. Why? Domain names aren't randomly assigned. It takes creativity to think of a domain name, no matter how simple. I wouldnt just go to a dictionay and pick a random word for my website. I would think of one that suites the content of my site, or at least one that has personal meaning for me. To take this even further, go to a registrar and try to register, and see what happens. It will tell you that you cannot register Microsoft.* anything because it is a tradmarked name. I'm sure that many examples of this are active, but this is just the one that I am aware of. OTOH, Microsoft is an original name, is a standard english word. But aren't all works of intelectual property just a compilation of words in native tounge? Who is to say that I cannot write and copyright a book that is only one word long? So what makes a domain name, basicly a title to my book in a manner of speaking, or a title to my business, not copyrightable? How about sites with common words that their domain is their business name? Like, or Is that protected under tradmark laws? Remember, trademark laws are seperate from copyright laws.

    I think this whole Intellecual Property debate is going to continue for some time to come. The recent explosion of computers and digital media have come far faster and further than the big, slow wheels of Big Brother could dream of turning. It will be interesting to see how it unfolds. With all the recent news of judges stripping sites of their domains, i.e., and others, this seems to be something that needs immediate attention of the lawmakers. Or at least the law interpreters. But just because this happens to involves computers, I don't see how it is complicated. Seems pretty straightforward to me, it's IP. I thought of it, I registered it, it's my exclusive right to use it for as long as I desire. So, while I technicaly might never "own" the domain name, I will forever own the thought that created it. And isn't that what copyrights and trademarks are?

  • Glad to see that CDRTaco got his law degree. Nice to know that you know more about the law then a judge.
  • Fraud is considered theft by deception. Still theft.

  • That's why it's a dumb idea to have a ".com" at the end of your company's name.

    Not to mention, IMO, that it seems incredibly tacky. Is all this obsession over domain names just a sign that the current system royally sucks?

    while ( !universe->perfect() ) {
    hack (reality);

  • Urrrrgh, my brain hurts.

    A couple of nice metaphors, but what was your point? [btw, I'm aware of the fact that you cannot legally enforce an illegal contract: another example, if I hire you to kill me, with a signed contract exonerating you, you are still guilty of murder. I cannot sign away my life in a contract.]

    This thread has been about the rights of foreign nationals to register domains in the .com (and also .net/.org) TLD, and as I see it, this is really quite simple:

    1. When you register a domain name you are entering into a legal, enforcable contract.
    2. This contact gives ICANN/your registrar certain rights to revoke your domain name. Eg, domain names must be registered appropritely: so you must be a comercial entity to register a name in the .com TLD. However, there is no requirement that you must be based in the US to register a .com address, so they have no right to arbitrarily take .coms from non-US companies.
    3. If you are not satisfied that the actions of ICANN/your registrar uphold the contract that you have with them, then you have recourse against them through the US courts.
    4. If ICANN have treated you unfairly, the courts should restore the domain name to you. [and/or possible impose damages against ICANN for failing to uphold their part of the contract.]
    • Short answer, a contract is only as enforceable as it is legal. If the contract is found to be illegal, it is null and void.
    Are you suggesting that the contact entered into between domain name registers and their customers is not a legal, enforcable, contract? If so, why is it not legal? Otherwise, what the @%*& is your point? :-)


  • It seems to me that domain names should be considered intellectual property, and be covered by the same laws that govern trademarks and copyrights.

    Since IP is dying, URLs are dying.

  • by jaa ( 22623 )
    the most interesting thing, IMHO, is that this ruling might actually help the original domain holder -- more so than if the ruling was in his favor. He's now suing for "unfair competition", which, if he wins, entitles him to all of the profits of the interloper. In this case, those profits are in the millions of dollars.

  • >>It'd be different if we all could choose phone numbers based on text monikers or something

    You can.
  • That's only because the War on Drugs has pretty much disregarded the Constitution as well as common sense.

  • by AugstWest ( 79042 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @03:17PM (#823947)
    Let's say that 1-800-mattress decides to close up shop....

    Can they sell the 800 number, or does it have to go back to the telco?

    The paradigm seems to fit, despite everyone's arguments that it's a "mew thing" from the "new economy."
  • You pay these people to resolve a domain name to your IP address. The address is like the phone number (that's the only analogy I can use to explain it to people anymore anyway), and a company provides a layer linking your friendly name to an address.

    Therefore, how NSI runs its business should be entirely up to NSI. I'm not against a little intervention; after all, the Internet is well on its way to being a utility similar to the phone system, but it doesn't mean that they aren't property. They're just the property of NSI.

    Excellent, so anyone running a DNS should send a bill to NSI? I guess that's why NSI's business seems like it's pure profit - other people are providing the service that NSI is being paid for.
  • 1. If urls are property, can't hyperlinking become illegal if a site does not want linking to their data?

    2. If urls are property, can't the government get involved to dictate their usage and or delegation?

    3. If urls aren't property, how about other forms of data, like e-mail?

    There is something a little bigger than it just being property or not.


  • The domainname you 'have' is in fact a rented name. You own the right to rent that name. No-one can also rent that name, because you have the exclusive right. As in this case, it's not about 'who OWNS' (because the ICANN does) but who owns the RIGHT to rent it from ICANN. If you obtain the right to rent the name, say,, no-one can do something about it, only the organisation who lets out the names, the ICANN (or their representatives, NSI and others).

    See it as an apartment. If you rent an apartment from a certain organisation, you live there. but if someone else obtains a legal contract to rent that same apartment and you thereby loose the right to rent it, you have to move.

    The ONLY RIGHT thing that should be done here is that the organisation who owns the domain, and thus lets out the domains to others, fixes the rent contracts so the legally owner of the RIGHT to rent is given back that right.

    IMHO, the judge should have ruled that the ICANN or NSI have to fix the records so is back to the original subscriber.

  • You most certainly should be able to tell people where to buy crack. You should say, "Go down this street about 3 blocks and take a left. There's a Walgreens about half a mile down." Then that person can show their prescription and buy their crack, or whatever drug they happen to need. The problem is that the WoD is bullshit in the first place. We can smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, why can't we smoke pot or use cocaine? Any of them can screw up your life and health if you abuse them. They're all addictive to some extent. The WoD is a complete failure and we should put an end to it now. There have been countless human rights abuses perpetrated by the US in the name of the WoD. Thousands of people are sitting in prison for years for having a couple of joints on them. This war has been going on for decades now. When the hell will this country wake up and realize how fucking idiotic this damn war is? How many people will have their lives ruined because of a petty, victimless "crime." How many people's rights will be disregarded because of the exceptions our government makes to the law when drugs are involved?

  • You're making a mistake in even assuming that you're "buying" a software license. You're not. You're licensing it. There's a difference, which you clearly understand, else you wouldn't have made the argument in the first place.

    In the case of the license plate, the state owns it, and you're just putting it on your car. You don't own it, nor are you licensing it. The only reason it's there is because the law says you have to attach it. When you pay for a vanity plate, you aren't buying that either; what you're buying from them is the usage of a series of digits of your choosing, rather than there's.

    The very definition of selling/buying something involves giving up/gaining ownership of it, which in turns makes said item "property". However, just because you've given money to someone for a service, doesn't mean you've bought anything at all.


    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • by KFury ( 19522 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @03:27PM (#823963) Homepage
    On one hand URLs aren't property, thus can't be stolen. (US court)

    On the other hand, URLs can be forcibly reassigned from one party to another. (ICANN)

    URLs aren't like software licenses. They aren't fungible assets, they're unique. Can a court rule that your phone number will be taken away just because it's 225-5288 (CALL-ATT)? Can they decide to transfer that number to AT&T in every area code that contains an AT&T office?

    Now, if it's a trademark issue, then a legal ruling entity should be able to order the cease and desist of the use of a specific domain name, but shouldn't be able to order the transfer to another party. The trademark namespace is not exclusive. Just because there's a Ford Motor Company doesn't stop there from being a Ford Bookstore. It only stops there from being a Ford something-or-other in the auto industry. The Internet in not an industry that umbrellas over all trademark namespaces. A good case in point is Nissan Computers []. They're being sued by Nissan Motors [] because they want the domain. This is clearly not a case of trademark infringement, as both companies have the registered trademark "Nissan". What right does Nissan Motors have over the domain?

    So when would trademarks apply, and how should it be dealt with? If, for example, I had the domain name and started a car company I would get sued for trademark violation, and rightly so. After I received a judgement forcing me to abandon the name ford in conjunction with my car company, I should be free to market the domain name to anyone who can legally use it, not just the one who was fastest to sue. Ford Books should have just as much right to purchase it as Ford Motors. It's unlikely that they would, because in an open market Ford Motors would pay me more, but this is an economic issue, not a legal one.

    Just one more hypothetical: Say 'Orange' is a small organic farm in Idaho, been in business for decades. is registered by someone else and they set up shop as an organic farm on the net. Say the original Orange goes to ICANN and asks for the domain, because of a trademark violation. The company wins and is now in the first person's name. then Orange Computers, a multi-billion-dollar company comes along to ICANN and says needs to go to them because they have a stronger tie to the name in the internet space. Shopuld it just get passed up the chain? Is this right?

    Property is what this is all about. We have far more laws over property and posession than we do over 'name assignments'. The telephone number analogy is full of crap. My 'net telephone number' is my P address and you can do whatever you want with it, I don't care. When you choose a domain name from a mutually exclusive 100+ character namespace you're creating a brand, an identity, and not just a choice between THE-KING (845-5464) or THE-BING (845-2464). When is one of these cases going to make its way up the chain of appeals?

    Kevin Fox
  • by titus-g ( 38578 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @04:44PM (#823968) Homepage
    If that's true

    It's not, never has been.

    ICANN Sez: []

    The domain name space is constructed as a hierarchy. It is divided into top-level domains (TLDs), with each TLD then divided into second-level domains (SLDs), and so on. More than 200 national, or country-code, TLDs (ccTLDs) are administered by their corresponding governments or by private entities with the appropriate national government's acquiescence. A small set of gTLDs do not carry any national identifier, but denote the intended function of that portion of the domain space. For example, .com was established for commercial users, .org for not-for-profit organizations, and .net for network service providers. The registration and propagation of these key gTLDs are performed by NSI, under a five-year cooperative agreement with NSF. This agreement expires on September 30, 1998.

    Then again I guess for all intents and purposes...

    Reckon US voting should be opened internationally as the laws seem to be, or at the very least the pretence of being a democracy should be dropped.

  • by Carnage4Life ( 106069 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @02:01PM (#823972) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    The judge acknowledged that it's not totally clear whether property law should or shouldn't apply to Web domains, but emphasized that the job of clarifying the law rests with the legislature, not the courts. Legal experts seconded his opinion.

    It seems the judge simply did not want to set a bad precedent and instead decided that congress should write laws that specifically govern "virtual real estate" instead of the pseudo-laws being created as the side effects of various lawsuits.

    (-1 Troll)
  • what effect does this have on linking?

    how can some one sue someone (MPAA Vs. 2600) over listing a *phone number*


  • What I find really interesting is how U.S. law seems to be the driving force that's deciding so many of these issues. It's as though the rest of the world doesn't exist. How come I never hear of some Spainiard, for example, saying "Hey wait a minute! Our law says cybersquatting is perfectly reasonable!" Who's resolving this sort of thing, or is the U.S. just dragging the rest of the world along with it involuntarily?
  • It seems to me that the most direct comparison between a domain name and something pre-internet would be a company's name or logo. The name or logo is not a solid object, but is identified with a particular entity which created it. It seems to me that domain names should be considered intellectual property, and be covered by the same laws that govern trademarks and copyrights.
  • In the article, it says that NSI lawyers were arguing that domain names aren't property either. That leaves them open to always "owning" them, since they aren't really property, you can't legally own them. Sounds like trouble for everyone that has a domain name through them. They got the courts to give them a good amount of power.
  • ...but since the rate of technological advance is accelerating, we'd have to shrink the "kill-off" intervals continously (sorry, don't know how it's spelled ...) .... for today, I'd say an interval o f 10 years should be fine ....

    OTOH, I'm in favor of starting wars to kill 4.5 billions of humans ... then (most of) humanity could have good living conditions
  • The .com suffix isn't a U.S. TLD.

    The original poster was mistaken, or trolling, or both.
  • by barracg8 ( 61682 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @04:01PM (#823989)
    • That is a United States top-level domain suffix, as decided by ICANN.

    Check out the FAQ [] at To quote from it:

    • Are .com, .net, and .org domain names available for registration on a global basis?

      Yes. The .com, .net, and .org domains are available for registration by Internet users across the globe.

    The US has its own ccTLD (country code top level domain - shockingly this is .us), and anything else is international.

    However, Harrison Ford would probably be able to take the domain for a different reason. They generally get you with the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, paragraph 4(a)(iii) (here []). This is the bad faith clause, i.e. even if you are called Harrison Ford, few people who go to the site are likely to be going there to see you. They would claim that you registered the domain name to either capture people who wanted to go to the site of the actor of the same name, or that you hoped to sting money out of him. They would say that one of these circumstances are more likely than you needing the name for yourself. [I'm trying to stay neutral - though in this circumstance I'd agree with them.]


  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @04:02PM (#823991) Homepage
    ICANN/IANA and NSI are incorporated under U.S. law.

    Nothing's stopping anyone else, in any nation, from setting up their own alternative root server. However, as long as the only existing, generally accepted root servers are controlled by organizations incorporated in the U.S., U.S. law will be the governing authority for domain names.

    Steven E. Ehrbar
  • by bkosse ( 1219 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @05:24PM (#823993) Homepage

    And he set one here.

    Makes me wonder if we shouldn't go about creating another option for judges to exercise: "No law for this" which punts the decision straight to the appropriate legislative body to create a law.

    Ben Kosse

  • You might want to keep reading until you get to point 21. Where it clearly states that 21 - The client agrees that its registration of the SLD name shall be subject to suspension, cancellation, or transfer pursuant to any ICANN-adopted policy, or pursuant to any registrar or registry procedure not inconsistent with an ICANN-adopted policy, (1) to correct mistakes by Registrar or the Registry in registering the name or (2) for the resolution of disputes concerning the SLD name.
  • For Radio stations. The letters signify a certain frequency which is kind of similar to a domain name resolving to an IP address. Call letters can be bought and sold, but the FCC technically "owns" all of them.
  • Linking is distinct from a URL

    I could have a URL that had certain content, and, indeed these exist. However, the case against 2600 was not over the existance of these places, but the fact that 2600 was publicising a list of them.

    By the analogy with the telephone service [0] 2600 are prevented from publising the phone number of the code.

    Very different case.

    [0] Which, in my opinion, is actually a good one
  • by cot ( 87677 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @02:11PM (#824001)
    If I gave you a phone number to call to get some crack, I bet I could end up in jail.

    Linking to a site with illegal content is certainly different than linking to yahoo. Especially if I knowingly do it (i.e. the link say "go here to get your kiddie porn/warez/etc.")

  • While this cases current resolution does make me cringe to think of the large holes in laws regarding ownership of virtual items, I have to say that the Judge ruled correctly in deciding that current law does not cover such property. Simply looking at the complex and often misapplied laws for physical property, I don't think that expanding their scope to cover this kind of problem would be either a viable or desirable end. Since the wording of existing statutes can be twisted enough by a skilled lawyer when it is used in its intended form, I doubt it would add any clarity to simply extend them to cover an unintended area. I hope that the size of the earnings that were realized from this domain name (the article quoted hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue) will add to the pressure from other well known cases and persuade legislators to write laws specific to the electronic economy.
    • So a US judge can take away a domain that a Iranian(etc.) court says belongs to you.
    True, but assuming that the US courts decide to uphold the law, there is such a thing as contract law.

    When you 'buy' a domain name, you are not buying it in a property sense. However, you are binding ICANN/NSI, to a contract, to honor your domain name. The contacts allow for them to take the domain name away from you under certain circumstances. If you had a legal right to the domain name that you had registered, a US court should force ICANN/NSI to allow you to keep the name.

    When I said 'False' in was refuting Meatloaf's claim that .com was a US specific TLD. .com is not a US specific TLD, and therefore the defendant being a foreign national is not sufficient justification for ICANN to take away your domain. If ICANN take away a .com domain from an Iranian citizen, it should be because they would have taken the domain away from a US citizen, in the same circumstances.

    I repect the US judicial system, and I would expect US courts to uphold contract law, and force ICANN to treat US and non-US citizens equally.

    BTW. This judge made a brilliant decision. He ignored conventional 'wisdom', that domain names are property, and simply applied existing US law.

    I'm not saying that domain names shouldn't be treated as property, but if you want that change made, it should be the leglislature, not the judiciary, who change the law. Talk top your congressman. When judges make up the law as they go along, you get the kind of situation in the DeCSS case where judge Kaplan made an 'unprecedented expansion of traditional copyright law'[story] [], or the Napster case where the betamax precedent was totally ignored.

    Well done, judge.

  • 1-800 & the other free numbers are bought & sold.

    Local numbers are less frequently bought & sold, mainly because there isn't so much demand, but it still happens.

  • Last time I checked when you pay for a domain you do not buy the root server. The domain system that is used is only one of many.......if you want to own them, setup your own root level server. The Root Server and all domains on it are property of the server's owner.

    Just because your root server is ignored by the world isnt my fault, the other root server's organization's fault, or anyone elses.......

    Grow up, the DNS system in my opinion is outdated and should be replaced by a better directory service......but stop complaining, you do not own pay for them to set it up and maintain the service........

    Remember, it was once free when demand was very low......once the damand dictacted hiring hundreds of people to manage domains and the equipment, they needed to charge money.
  • Actually, only the software companies are of the opinion that you're 'renting' a license from them. Everyon eelse, courts, etc, are of the opinion that software is like a book and you can do anything to a program you can do to a book.

    The UCITA says otherwise, but it's only in effect in some states and is obviously the product of extensive bribery. For the rest of the world, this bullshit about licensing is just something else to laugh at the software companies for.

    You own that software, and have the legal right to use it in any copyright-law compatible manner you see fit. Any license that says otherwise is void, at best, and perhaps grounds to sue for fraud. (If you, for instance, disclaim responsibilities in a warranty that you can't disclaim, you can be sued by a customer.)

    So go and buy a 10-user license of NT server and use it to serve files on a 50-computer network, it's not breaking any law or any contract.
  • by 2quam4 ( 207152 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @02:18PM (#824022)
    I think this is yet another example of the legal system not understanding technology, mainly the net (OMG, its a new and scary thing). For some odd reason, the system continually treats anything Internet related differently than if a law was to be applied to any other subject matter. Courts just don't get it. For instance, a court ruled in 1999 that domain names are property []. What to do? I graduated law school, worked for a federal judge and became extremely frustrated -- I returned to tech. A significant number of attorneys continue to utilize WordPerfect for DOS. Most judges do not know how to use a computer. The vast number of 'high-tech' lawyers are in it for the $ and are clueless. It is interesting that a system which is suppose to apply precedent to all legal matters has, with the Internet, not applied precedent. Rather, new rules have been written for application to anything Net-related. This is great material for conspiracy theorists. However, is it simply a problem of techies unable to communicate to the legal community (i.e.: "Open Source = Anti-copyright")? Even if it was, how could techies communicate with the legal sector? Free luncheon conferences? Campaign donations? ABA and state bar advertisements? Frustrating.
  • I would think that hijacking someone's phone number (e.g. routing 1-800-Flowers to your corner florist) would be illegal as wire fraud, not as theft. I could be wrong, but that's how I'd pursue it if someone stole my domain name(s).


  • by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @02:20PM (#824024)
    Just because people 'treat' somethign like property doesn't mean it is.
    Had any of them READ their contract when they 'registered' a domain, they would clearly see that they do not 'OWN' it, that this is merely a registration of a name in the DNS, and all that that implies.

    IT's companies that started treating them like comoddities that have made idiot people think they are 'property'.
  • Not understanding? This is GREAT.

    They only exist in the context of the DNS system at-large, and that is also subject to change in the future.

    They are 'leased'. Read your domain registration agreement. You don't 'own' it at all.
    The judge is right on.

    He's not sayhing 'it's not property at all', he's saying that for the purposes of law, current property law does not apply to domains.

    If you steal my domain.. I can get you for fraud, theft of service, etc... but not 'theft over 1000' or whatever.
  • by icqqm ( 132707 ) on Sunday August 27, 2000 @02:23PM (#824026) Homepage Journal
    What shocks me is that the URL here was stolen which was the whole point of this case. If I were to go and hijack, would the judge rule in my favor as well? Heck no, because Microsoft is a big company. Network Solutions would yank the domain from under me before I could say "hypocrisy". The little guy once again loses out to the law, and the most important thing to have when it comes to the internet for most companies is now subject to an EULA.

    P.S. This is the second story in a day that I submitted well in advance. (2000-08-25 19:08:15 Judge Rules Domains Aren't Property (articles,doj) (rejected)), note that it has a more correct title, since this applies to domain names and NOT URLs.

  • I was asking a broader question. I can see where the U.S. courts would be involved where both parties are Americans, but what makes their decisions binding on the rest of the world? Why can't a citizen of Vanuatu register and get away with it, presuming Vanuatu doesn't have anti-cybersquatting laws?

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant