August 27, 2004 9:51 AM PDT

VeriSign's antitrust suit against ICANN dismissed

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Internet domain name registry VeriSign just can't seem to convince anyone that redirecting misspelled Web addresses to its own site is a good thing.

A federal district court judge on Thursday threw out VeriSign's legal arguments that ICANN's ban on this tactic amounted to a violation of U.S. antitrust law.

VeriSign, which runs the master database for .com and .net addresses, had argued that its competitors had succeeded in stymieing VeriSign's plans for its Site Finder service by providing advice to the board of directors of ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

That does not compute, according to Judge A. Howard Matz of the Central District Court of California.

"VeriSign's contentions are deficient," Matz stated in a 16-page opinion. "There is nothing inherently conspiratorial about a 'bottom-up' policy development process that considers or even solicits input from advisory groups."

The court's ruling is the latest blow to VeriSign's attempts to gain support for its plan to parlay its government-granted monopoly over the administration of the databases for the .com and .net domains into better profits.

"What this means is the case will be heard in a California state court," said Tom Galvin, vice president of VeriSign's government relations group. "And while the venue will change, our objective to gain clarity regarding ICANN's appropriate role and the process for the introduction of new services does not."

Last September, VeriSign--through the new Site Finder program--temporarily redirected domain lookups for misspelled or nonexistent names to its own site. The practice confused some Internet e-mail utilities and drew angry denunciations from frustrated network administrators. Critics charged that the Mountain View, Calif.-based company was trying to make money off Internet users' typos through advertising on the Site Finder site.

VeriSign has defended Site Finder by saying it offers a better way to handle misspelled or nonexistent domain names than the unhelpful error messages that some Web browsers currently provide. Most problems it caused were "minor or inconvenient," VeriSign said in a presentation to the ICANN committee.

A long-awaited report on the service, prepared by a group of technical experts organized by ICANN and released last month, concludes that Site Finder had undesirable side effects, violated commonly accepted codes of Internet conduct and should remain offline.

The 85-page report says that while Site Finder did not have catastrophic effects on the Internet, it nevertheless ran afoul of "community standards and caused harm to individual users and enterprises."

This is the sort of advice to the ICANN board of directors that VeriSign alleges came from competitors and resulted in its service being shut down. The federal court dismissed the company's charges and said it was likely that VeriSign would have to prove a board-level conspiracy to be successful in an antitrust case.

"VeriSign has not alleged, and cannot allege, that the co-conspirators compromised a majority of the ICANN board of directors," the court stated. "It cannot allege that the 'supporting organizations' within ICANN's structure that do include competitors of VeriSign dominated the board."

After the antitrust lynchpin fell, the federal judge dismissed six other complaints leveled by VeriSign. It's still possible for VeriSign to refile the case in state court.

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report.

3 comments

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The power of misplaced trust
Verisign's slogan is "The Power of Trust". I think it's clear by now
that not only did Network Solutions abuse the trust placed in
them by the Internet community, but Verisign believes that they
somehow own this resource that they're simply managing.

The article doesn't begin to cover the many ways in which
Sitefinder broke the network. Any application that needed to
determine the validity of a name suffered some kind of failure,
and the only general solution was to program local nameservers
(caching or forwarding servers) to treat the Sitefinder address as
"not found" and returning a failure instead of an address. In
effect they would be filtering it out at the lowest possible level.
Some sites I know of also redirected it to a local error page...
often quite uncomplimentary to Verisign.

For any site that did this, Sitefinder would simply not exist.
Verisign would have had to discontinue it anyway as it vanished
slowly from the net, or start shifting its address as it's blocked
the way spammers do... aggravating the situation and causing
more damage.

I don't think I would trust them to do the right thing.
Posted by (5 comments )
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Dis-trust in Verisign
I do not trust VeriSign and never will. They are using their service which they charge customers for and trying to make more money off their .net and .com dns servers. To registar a domain with them its about $35 a year compared to Tucows ($15) and GoDaddy's ($7-10). Why is this? Is there service any better? N0!
Posted by (1 comment )
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can VeriSign be trusted with its government-granted monopoly?
If VeriSign's genuine concern is the well-being of Internet end-users, then they should be fine with someone other than themselves providing this service.

Perhaps VeriSign's government-granted monopoly over the .net and .com registries should be given to an organization that would be more trustworthy and less greedy.

The member-owned cooperative model of VISA might be interesting to look at.
Posted by pkingduck (1 comment )
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