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Old 13th April 2007, 01:27 PM
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Ruling over domain name tests internet laws

In the latest twist in the dispute over the domain name, the ruling of a US court has significant consequences for internet law.

In 1994 Gary Kremen registered in the hope of making some money out of the emerging phenomenon of the internet. In October the following year, Stephen Cohen stole the name by forging and lodging the necessary transfer papers with the domain name registrar which refused to restore the name to Kremen.

In 2001, Kremen sued and was awarded $65 million and Cohen was ordered to transfer back to Kremen a block of domain names he had stolen along with their corresponding internet addresses (the number which "physically" locates the website on the internet).

Kremen succeeded in having the domain names transferred but the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which allocates internet addresses in the US, refused to re-issue the internet addresses unless Kremen agreed to their terms - which he refused to do, arguing that he should be given access to internet addresses on the same terms as Cohen, without having to sign up anew.

Kremen took ARIN to task in December but a court in San Fransisco ruled in favour of ARIN, upholding the company’s guidelines that “IP resources are non-tranferable, may not be sold or assigned, and may only be transferred upon ARIN’s approval of a formal transfer request.”

The ruling is significant not only because it gives ARIN continued control over the allocation of internet numbers but also because it recognises internet resources as having property rights attached.

Chris Reed, professor of electronic commerce law at Queen Mary University, says: “Internet addresses are going the same way as other internet resources - such as domain names - in that they are being treated more and more as a piece of personal property.

“What the court is saying is: ‘Yes, there is a property right associated with an internet address, but in order to ‘own’ it, you have to sign up to certain terms - as in the case of domain names, where the owner has a contractual relationship with a registry.

“To make sure the internet is run properly, we don’t give away too many of these things.

“What would happen if China - with one sixth of the world’s population - demanded one sixth of the available internet numbers? Our view is we give them out as and when they’re needed. They’re not an infinite resource.”

Kremen, who is appealing the decision, has seen little of the $65 million because Cohen transferred his assets offshore before the ruling. Cohen is currently in jail in San Jose.

There is a slightly longer version of this on the Times website -
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