Business News Digital Labels & Publishers Legal

Domain registry sale could finally mean an end for The Pirate Bay’s .org domain

By | Published on Monday 2 December 2019

The Pirate Bay

An increasing number of organisations have started calling on The Internet Society to abandon plans to sell off the registry that administers the .org domain, fearing that the proposed new owners might ramp up the prices and clamp down on websites accused of copyright infringement by the entertainment industry. One website that might lose its .org domain if that was to happen would be the good old Pirate Bay.

The lobbying of domain registries – those being the organisations that control domains like .com or .org – is one of the tactics routinely employed by the music and movie industries when they are seeking to combat online piracy. The tactic is simple, ask or demand that registries cancel the web addresses of websites that exist primarily to promote and enable copyright infringement. You know, like the aforementioned Pirate Bay.

Some domain registries are commercial entities, others are not-for-profit organisations, while others are state-owned. When it comes to complying with the requests of copyright owners to remove domains from piracy operations, the policies of different registries vary greatly. Some tend to comply easily. Others will quickly comply if a court order confirms the infringement liabilities of a site. Others go to great lengths to resist such requests, insisting it’s not their job to become the “copyright police”.

Whereas the .com domain is run by the US-based commercial business Verisign, the .org domain is controlled by the Public Interest Registry which, in turn, is owned by The Internet Society, an organisation that represents internet service providers and other internet companies. However, last month The Internet Society announced plans to sell its domain registry to a private equity outfit called Ethos Capital.

That decision has led to the Savedotorg campaign, which is calling on The Internet Society to reverse its decision regarding the registry sell off, partly because of fears the new commercial owners might hike the prices for registering .org domains, but also because they could change the registry’s policies regarding copyright issues and other complaints.

The campaign’s website says that the proposed deal would give Ethos the “power to develop and implement rights protection mechanisms unilaterally, without consulting the .org community. If such mechanisms are not carefully crafted in collaboration with the NGO community, they risk censoring completely legal non-profit activities”.

The new owners, the site adds, would also have “the power to implement processes to suspend domain names based on accusations of ‘activity contrary to applicable law’. The .org registry should not implement such processes without understanding how state actors frequently target NGOs with allegations of illegal activity”.

Although the .org domain is often associated with not-for-profit organisations, like the NGOs referenced by the Savedotorg campaign, anyone can register one. For anti-piracy teams within the music industry the most notable .org domain is probably

The US record industry once requested that The Internet Society block that domain given that The Pirate Bay has been found liable for copyright infringement in multiple courts around the world. And is called The Pirate Bay!

Fearing that it might lose said domain because of music industry and US government actions, The Pirate Bay started to use its Swedish domain as its main web address. When it looked like that might be blocked too, it started jumping from one domain to another. Ironically the music industry did manage to get some of those new domains blocked by compliant registries, meanwhile the .org and .se domains remained active.

However, once the Public Interest Registry is owned by Ethos Capital, would it more prone to respond positively to requests by the music or movie industries to take .org domains away from sites that the copyright owners reckon facilitate rampant piracy?

It’s not clear at all what viewpoint Ethos might actually take on issues like this. Although Torrentfreak notes that Ethos founder and CEO Erik Brooks has sat on the board of a commercial domain registry called Donuts that has a formal relationship with the US movie industry’s trade group, which is treated as a “trusted notifier” of “pirate” domains.

That said, that relationship was formalised prior to Brooks’ involvement in Donuts, so it doesn’t necessarily tell us anything about his plans for Public Interest Registry. Nevertheless, campaigners remain concerned. Among them the Nonprofit Technology Conference, which set up the Savedotorg campaign, and which is planning an online meeting about the sale later this week in which Brooks is expected to participate.

As for The Pirate Bay, although losing its .org domain would be an inconvenience, it’s long been prepared for such a thing. It almost certainly has a bunch of other options should the record industry have another moan and this time an Ethos-owned Public Interest Registry decides to comply.