In Case Over Attempts To Seize Iran’s ccTLD, ICANN Tells Court ccTLDs Are Not Property

ICANN has told a US federal court in the District of Columbia, that a ccTLD cannot be considered “property,” and thus cannot be attached by plaintiffs in a lawsuit, who are trying to obtain the assets of countries that they argued have supported terrorism.”We filed a Motion to Quash in the US federal court today, to ensure that the court has the essential information about how the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) works. While we sympathise with what plaintiffs may have endured, ICANN’s role in the domain name system has nothing to do with any property of the countries involved”, said John Jeffrey, ICANN’s General Counsel and Secretary.”We explained in our Motion to Quash, that country code Top-Level Domains (ccTLD) are part of a single, global interoperable Internet which ICANN serves to help maintain.” Jeffrey further explained that “ccTLD’s are not property, and are not ‘owned’ or ‘possessed’ by anyone including ICANN, and therefore cannot be seized in a lawsuit.”ICANN’s arguments were put forth when the victims of terrorism who had successfully won lawsuits against Iran, Syria and North Korea, sought to collect on those civil judgments. In their attempt to recover assets from these countries, the plaintiffs served ICANN with “writs of attachment” and subpoenas seeking information to help them seize the ccTLDs of those nations.ICANN also argued that if ccTLDs were property, they would not be “in the US” and therefore subject to attachment — rather the ccTLDs are located where the servers that contain the domain are located — in this case in Syria, Iran and North Korea, Paul Rosenzweig wrote on the Lawfare blog.Rosenzweig, a conservative attorney, also wrote that ICANN “argues that the suit is barred by the sovereign immunity of the “property” owners; and that it lacks legal authority to make the transfer requested. Finally (and to my mind most persuasively) it argues that having US courts force the re-delegation of the domains would destroy their entire value and go a long way to fracturing and destroying the general domain name system of the internet.”If successful, as I wrote on Domain Pulse/Domain News, the case could set a precedent and mean countries such as North Korea and Syria could lose control of their ccTLDs. The case was won by families in late June who won American federal court judgments that amount to more than a billion dollars against the Iranian government seeking to own all the TLDs provided by the US to Iran including the .ir TLD, the ایران TLD and all Internet Protocol (IP) addresses being utilised by the Iranian government and its agencies. The court papers were served on ICANN.The ccTLDs (and related IP addresses) targeted by the plaintiffs include; .IR (Iran), .SY (Syria) and .KP (North Korea), as well as internationalised top-level domains in non-ASCII characters for Iran and Syria.”This is the first time that terror victims have moved to seize the domain names, IPs and internet licenses of terrorism sponsoring states like Iran and are attempting to satisfy their court judgments,” attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel-Aviv said in a statement in June. “The Iranians must be shown that there is a steep price to be paid for their sponsorship of terrorism. In business and legal terms it is quite simple – we are owed money, and these assets are currency worth money.”