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Domain Seizure Rights Claimed by US Government

The US Government has a blunt message for webmaster: We can seize .com domains whenever we want, no matter where the domain was originally registered.

This directive comes in response to widespread criticism of the Feds’ seizure of the domain name last week as part of their prosecution of gaming magnate Calvin Ayre. Ayre originally registered the domain name in his native Canada.

Internet rights activists have long claimed that the US Government has no right to seize domains that aren’t registered in the States. But despite increased opposition from Web users, the situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

Domain Seizure 101

Whether you agree with it or not, Federal .com domain seizures are perfectly legal thanks to the complicated infrastructure that runs the World Wide Web.

Most top level domain names, including .com; .net; .cc; .tv;and .name, are administered by a U.S. based company called Verisign. They control two of the main root servers that form the backbone of the Internet. There are 13 of these root servers, but the top level domains run through Verisign.

Verisign’s contracts were awarded by the US Department of Commerce back in 1999 and are unlikely to be moved elsewhere.

For their part, Verisign officials say they are complying with lawful orders when shutting down domain names and will continue to do so until directed otherwise.

Happens All the Time

Though the Bodog case is particularly high profile, it’s also not particularly uncommon. DOJ, ICE and other Federal Agencies seize hundreds of domains every year. Just last month they grabbed hundreds of domains that were selling counterfeit NFL merchandise and illegally streaming NFL games.

Calvin Already Thought of That

Of course Ayre had long anticipated a Fed domain seizure and moved his gaming operations to .eu domains. Sites operating under the .eu domain could, technically, be shutdown for violating U.S. laws, but it’s highly unlikely. With online gaming legal in most of Europe, few EU governments would be willing to hand over a site to the Americans.

What It Means For Affiliates

The DOJ’s latest attack on US facing gaming sites is a painful reminder that online gaming is nowhere near legal in the US despite recent events in the poker world. It’s seems obvious that any .com site that still takes US players is playing with fire and should consider other options.

It seems very clear that accepting US players from a .com site is recipe for seizure. Despite protests from abroad, the US Government is likely to maintain control of .com domains for a long time, making .eu a much safer bet.

What do you think of the U.S. Government’s control over .com domains? Let us know in our Online Gambling Laws and Regulations Forum.