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07|30|2014 10:07 am EDT

ICANN tells US Court that ccTLDs are not property and thus cannot be seized

by Frank Michlick in Categories: ICANN / Policy

Files Motion to Quash in U.S. legal action aimed at Seizing Top-Level Domains

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has told a U.S. federal court in the District of Columbia, that a country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) cannot be considered “property,” and thus cannot be attached by plaintiffs in a lawsuit, who are trying to obtain the assets of countries that they argued have supported terrorism.

“We filed a Motion to Quash in the US federal court today, to ensure that the court has the essential information about how the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) works. While we sympathize with what plaintiffs may have endured, ICANN’s role in the domain name system has nothing to do with any property of the countries involved”, said John Jeffrey, ICANN’s General Counsel and Secretary.

“We explained in our Motion to Quash, that country code Top-Level Domains (ccTLD) are part of a single, global interoperable Internet which ICANN serves to help maintain.” Jeffrey further explained that “ccTLD’s are not property, and are not ‘owned’ or ‘possessed’ by anyone including ICANN, and therefore cannot be seized in a lawsuit.”

ICANN’s arguments were put forth when the victims of terrorism who had successfully won lawsuits against Iran, Syria and North Korea, sought to collect on those civil judgments.  In their attempt to recover assets from these countries, the plaintiffs served ICANN with “writs of attachment” and subpoenas seeking information to help them seize the ccTLDs of those nations.

The ccTLDs (and related IP addresses) targeted by the plaintiffs include; .IR (Iran), .SY (Syria) and .KP (North Korea), as well as internationalized top-level domains in non-ASCII characters for Iran and Syria.

ICANN explains the motion as follows:

  • First, a ccTLD simply is not “property” subject to attachment.
  • Second, although operating for the benefit of the people of Iran, Syria and North Korea, respectively, the relevant ccTLDs are not “owned” by the defendants or anyone else, for that matter.
  • Third, the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs are not “located” in the District of Columbia or even the United States, and therefore are beyond the reach of Plaintiffs’ Writs of Attachment.
  • Fourth, even if these ccTLDs could be characterized as “property in the United States of the defendants,” this Court would lack jurisdiction over these proceedings, according to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
  • Fifth, ICANN does not unilaterally have the capability or authority to transfer the .IR, .SY or .KP ccTLDs to Plaintiffs.
  • Finally, a forced transfer of the .IR, .SY and .KP ccTLDs would destroy whatever value may exist in these ccTLDs, would wipe out the hundreds of thousands of second-level domain names registered therein by various individuals, businesses and charitable organizations, and could jeopardize the single, global, interoperable structure the Internet.

The ICA comments: ICANN’s .IR Response Opens Legal Can of Worms

[via Press Release]

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