Lawsuit targets Network Solutions, ICANN over the 'front running' of domain names

This one was as predictable as lawsuits ever get: A Los Angeles firm this afternoon has announced a class action against Network Solutions and ICANN over the former's practice of locking up domain names as soon as they are searched for on its site, which means the party searching can buy the name only from Network Solutions.

The practice has been highly controversial and now lawyers at Kabateck Brown Kellner are tossing around words such as "defraud" and "scheme." They're also suing ICANN for failing to stop what is known in the industry as "front running."

From the press release:

Network Solutions has forced millions of people to buy Internet domain names from them instead of cheaper competitors through a scheme that's netted the firm millions of dollars, a federal class action lawsuit filed today by Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP states. ICANN, whose policies facilitate the scheme, is also named in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California.

"Imagine if you asked a car dealer if they had a black convertible and were then forced to buy the car from them. Would you get a good deal? Each time someone asks Network Solutions about a domain name, the firm creates a

monopoly for itself, forcing consumers to pay the price they demand," said Brian Kabateck, lead counsel in the class action and Kabateck Brown Kellner's Managing Partner.

A spokeswoman for Network Solutions tells me the company has yet to receive papers regarding the lawsuit and that it will not likely have a comment about it today.

Network Solutions has defended the practice previously with a lesser-of-two-evils rationale, contending that their locking up of searched-upon names actually protects those names from being snapped up by "domain tasters" who register names by the thousands without paying a penny, thanks to a five-day grace period, a loophole that ICANN only recently promised to close. ICANN has indicated it has no problem with front running.

Plaintiffs' lawyers aren't buying that argument:

This allows Network Solutions to continue charging substantially higher prices for domain name registration. Network Solutions charged $34.99 to register the name sought by this suit's lead plaintiff. A competitor would

have charged $9.99.

I've contacted ICANN but have yet to receive a reply.

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