Terrorist Victims'Bid for Iran, Syria Web Domains Denied

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By Alexis Kramer

Aug. 2 — A federal appeals court Aug. 2 denied a bid by terrorist victims to take control of the top-level internet domains of Iran, Syria and North Korea to recover unsatisfied money judgments against those countries ( Weinstein v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 2016 BL 248821, D.C. Cir., No. 14-7193, 8/2/16 ).

Such a move would require the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—the nongovernmental body that oversees technical operations of the domain name system—to transfer management of the .ir, .sy and .kp domains to the plaintiffs, who may not possess the necessary technical competence or commitment to serving the interests of the Iranian, Syrian or North Korean internet communities, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said.

The lawsuit was the latest attempt by victims to recover a number of judgments for state-sponsored terrorism that had been obtained in as early as 2002. The decision spotlights the legal ambiguity surrounding internet real estate.

“Because of the enormous third-party interests at stake—and because there is no way to execute on the plaintiffs' judgments without impairing those interests—we cannot permit attachment,” the court said.

Terrorist Victims Seek Relief

The plaintiffs obtained judgments amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars against Iran, Syria and North Korea for acts of state-sponsored terrorism. The plaintiffs sought those countries' domains from ICANN to recover the judgments.

The lower court ruled that the domains weren't property under D.C. law and thus couldn't be seized for satisfaction of debts (19 ECLR 1480, 11/19/14). The plaintiffs appealed, and the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments in January (21 ECLR 109, 1/27/16).

The court declined to rule on whether the domains constituted property, but said that transferring them to the plaintiffs would impair the interests of parties not liable for the terrorism claims and resulting judgments.

ICANN requires managers of country-code top-level domains to be: technically competent; located in the applicable country; and committed to serve the local internet community's interest.

Even if the plaintiffs are able to show adequate competence and commitment, forcing the transfer itself would impair ICANN's interest in protecting the stability of the domain name system, the court said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at akramer@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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