The registry operator for .us Internet domain names recently required registrars offering .us domains to stop offering proxy registration services. This means that, unlike domains under other top-level domains (like .com, .info, or .tv), it will be difficult for a .us registrant to legally obtain a private registration to hide its identity as the owner of a particular domain.
In the realm of generic top-level domain registrations, pseudonymous, or “proxy” registration services are common. Most major registrars (including Network Solutions, eNom, and GoDaddy) offer services by which, for an extra charge, the registrar or an affiliated company will be listed as the domain name registrant of record. The proxy registrant provides the beneficial owner a means for administering the domain, and forwards communications addressed to the registrant of record concerning the domain.
In the event of a legal dispute challenging ownership of the domain, or the legality of content posted at or originating from the domain name, the proxy service will generally either give the beneficial owner a chance to remedy the problem, or will terminate its proxy service. If this happens, record ownership of the domain is transferred to the beneficial owner, revealing the owner’s identity in a Whois search.
By a February 2, 2005, amendment to the .us Registrar Accreditation Agreement, which gives domain name registrars the ability to offer .us domains, the .us registry operator mandated that neither the registrar, “nor any of its resellers, affiliates, partners and/or contractors shall be permitted to offer anonymous or proxy domain name registration services,” which prevent the display of accurate Whois information on the “real” owner of the domain.
The revised .us agreement still allows the legal owner of record to license the domain to another party to use (although as with other domains, the record owner faces legal liability “unless it promptly discloses the identity of the licensee” when presented with “reasonable evidence of actionable harm”). For example, a web developer or hosting provider could register a domain in its own name on a client’s behalf.
However, the mandate should greatly curtail the use of proxy ownership by .us domain owners because most proxy services are currently offered by registrars, or their resellers, affiliates, or partners, which benefit by being able to offer proxy services in the course of the domain purchase (or renewal) check-out process. Owners of .us domains currently using a proxy service will be unable to renew their proxy service when the domain is next renewed, or will find it terminated in early 2006, whichever comes first.
Against the backdrop of an increasing number of proxy domain name registrations, the INTA Whois Subcommittee is interested in information from INTA members to help it gauge whether pseudonymous domain registrations — either inherently, or as they are currently administered — thwart the effective enforcement of IP owners’ rights. Please contact INTA External Relations Manager Michael Heltzer (firstname.lastname@example.org
) if you have had either positive or negative experience dealing with proxy registration service providers related to rights violations on domains where the owner has used a pseudonymous service to mask his or her identity.
Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items carried in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.