No, you can't seize country TLDs, US court rules

In a landmark ruling that signals a win for the current system of Internet governance, a U.S. court has quashed an attempt to seize Iran’s, Syria’s and North Korea’s domains as part of a lawsuit against those countries’ governments.

The plaintiffs in the case wanted to seize the country’s ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) .ir, .sy and .kp after they successfully sued Iran, Syria and North Korea as state sponsors of terrorism. The domain seizure was part of a financial judgment against those governments.

The claimants wanted to seize the domains from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit US-based organization which oversees the Internet.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colombia however denied the plaintiffs’ motions to seize the domains earlier this week, ICANN said.

“This is very good news,” said Peter van Roste, general manager of the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries (CENTR).

“It is very important, especially in these times, to show the world that domain names cannot simply be seized by U.S. law firms with all the possible consequences for the global use of the Internet,” he said.

ICANN had argued that ccTLD’s can’t be seized because they aren’t property. Instead, they are more like postal codes that allow users to go to websites and send email to addresses under those domains, it said.

However, the court didn’t rule that domain names aren’t property, said Van Roste, adding that the domain name sector would have welcomed such a verdict.

Rather, the court found the ccTLDs have the nature of a contractual right, and ruled that rights arising under a contract cannot be seized as part of a judgment.

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