Business News Digital Legal

Arbitrator confirms police unit can’t force domain blocking

By | Published on Monday 13 January 2014


Canadian domain registrar easyDNS has published a National Arbitration Forum ruling in its favour in relation to the domains that were blocked by Public Domain Registry in response to a letter from the City Of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit.

As previously reported, the IP Crime Unit, launched last year, wrote to various domain registrars expressing concerns about specific websites whose domains the targeted registrars administered. Said websites, the policing unit said, were almost certainly involved in rampant copyright infringement, which likely violated the terms and conditions of the registrars, giving them the right to disable those domains. Thus cutting off access to piracy services.

Which was all fine, to a point. And some of the registrars contacted by the IP Crime Unit duly disabled the piracy sites that had been named. But after easyDNS publicly stated it was ignoring all and any letters it received from the City Of London Police, the operators of some of the affected sites tried to move their domains to that registrar. However, one company, the aforementioned PDR, refused to allow the blocked domains to be transferred.

And that wasn’t fine, easyDNS argued, because the IP Crime Unit is not a court of law, and, according to the ICANN rules that govern internet addresses, only a judicial ruling can stop a domain being transferred from one registrar to another, even when a website owner violates the T&Cs of their original domain administrator.

Now the arbitrator charged with the task of considering this dispute has ruled in favour of easyDNS. The arbitrator notes: “No court order has been issued which would prohibit the transfer of the domain names at issue from the Registrar Of Record to the Gaining Registrar. Therefore, there is nothing in the Transfer Policy which authorises the Registrar Of Record to refuse to transfer the domain names”.

Noting the dangerous precedent that would be set if non-judicial institutions were given powers to block domain transfers, the ruling continues: “To permit a Registrar Of Record to withhold the transfer of a domain based on the suspicion of a law enforcement agency, without the intervention of a judicial body, opens the possibility for abuse by agencies far less reputable than the City of London Police. Presumably, the provision in the Transfer Policy requiring a court order is based on the reasonable assumption that the intervention of a court and judicial decree ensures that the restriction on the transfer of a domain name has some basis of ‘due process’ associated with it”.

To be fair to the IP Crime Unit, it never suggested in its letters that it had the power to force registrars to disable domains, or to stop those domains being transferred elsewhere, and instead said it felt listed websites were simply violating the registrars’ own terms. Though clarification on the limits of the Unit’s powers might make future such letters less effective.