• New Legislation To Stop Domain Name Falsification
  • March 4, 2004
  • Law Firm: Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP - Cincinnati Office
  • Leaders on both sides of the aisle of the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property took part in the introduction of a bill Feb. 3, 2004 seeking to enhance civil and criminal remedies against the falsification of domain name registration data.

    The bill, entitled The Fraudulent Online Identity Sanctions Act, is designed to help law enforcement agencies and intellectual property rights holders track down operators of Websites where criminal activity or infringement might be occurring. Although the Whois database collects all the information gathered by domain name registrars from registrants at the time of registration, the contact information is often falsified, especially where Websites are connected with criminal or infringing activity.

    Sponsors of the bill criticized the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for failing to adequately enforce the provision of ICANN's registrar accreditation agreement that requires accredited registrars to verify the information submitted by domain name registrants. Bill sponsors note that better verification procedures would ultimately benefit the privacy interests of internet users because better information would enhance the ability to track down identity thieves and spammers.

    The bill amends three existing federal statutes -- the Lanham Act, the Copyright Act, and the sentencing guidelines of the federal crimes and criminal procedure statute.

    The trademark portion of the bill would create a new subsection to the Lanham Act that would make it a willful violation to provide false contact information with regard to a domain name registration. Similarly, the bill also would amend the Copyright Act to make the provision of false contact information a willful violation under the Copyright Act.

    The bill would create a new subsection under the sentencing guidelines to provide for a sentence enhancement of seven years for felony falsification of contact information.

    Although supporters of the legislation blasted ICANN, proponents of that organization note that the subcommittee was overlooking an obvious way in which to improve the quality of contact information; that is, by removing the requirement that domain name registrants place their personal information in a globally accessible public database.

    ICANN supporters note that many commercial Websites are operated by individuals out of their homes. Such individuals are often uncomfortable with the idea of posting their contact information to a public database, and this discomfort creates an incentive to falsify such information.

    A solution to this problem, according to ICANN supporters, is to simply leave contact information in the hands of the domain name registrars. Law enforcement agencies and IP rights holders, if they needed contact information for a criminal or civil proceeding, then could subpoena such information from registrars, just like any business that holds customer information.

    It's a tricky problem, and we'll keep you up to speed on the progress of this attempted solution.