Back in November 2011 the US Department of Justice announced its continuing program of domain name seizures under the authority of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. At the same time, ICE removed the domain from 150 sites allegedly infringing copyright. Back then, I felt that this would be a big development in the ongoing War on Piracy. Then we were hit with the Megaupload arrests, an important part of which was the seizure of its .com domain by US authorities using existing powers.
Last week we saw another incredible example of domain name seizure when JotForm, a free web-based WYSIWYG form builder, had its .com domain redirected by GoDaddy under request of the US Secret Service. It is believed that this was done because some people were using the service for phishing, but that is besides the point. What is really interesting is that the domain take-down has become the latest weapon in the US regulator arsenal, and it seems like registrars are more than willing to comply with any order, even if it is not judicial.
This has lots of worrying implications, but I believe that there must be growing concern amongst legitimate businesses around the world about the viability of keeping a .com domain name, specially if the business has any sort of involvement with users and user-generated content. It is clear that sites which engage in copyright infringing are starting to migrate outside of the US, with The Pirate Bay being the most prominent example when it moved to a .se domain. But should legitimate operators do the same? The answer to me is yes. With the presence of trigger-happy law enforcement agencies running amok in the US with the domain name system, I cannot see how an international business would endanger its name by keeping a .com name. Sure, they were useful once, but in the age of Google their importance is overstated, and it doesn’t really matter anymore if your domain is .co, .ly or .ca. It seems clear that keeping a domain with a US-based registrar may open one to have any domain seized with little or no prior notification, and with no apparent legal recourse.
Similarly, a big concern for any business should be that by keeping a domain name in a US registrar could also be the equivalent of signing up to American jurisdiction. Needless to say, if your country has an unfairly harsh extradition agreement with the United States, you should not make it easier for you to be sent to one of their jails.
In the short-term, I predict a slow trickle away from US registrars. Now, that’s an interesting business opportunity for countries around the world…