Forcing domain names off the internet does not help

Around May Day, we received advance notice that the Swedish Prosecution Authority had filed a petition with the Stockholm District Court requesting the seizure of two domain names, thepiratebay.se and piratebay.se. Now, this comes as no surprise and our General Counsel, Elisabeth, has already blogged about this.

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Danny Aerts.

(This is a translated blog post, written by Danny Aerts, CEO of .SE)

The new aspect in this case is the fact that the prosecutor has opted to pursue a legal process against us, as if .SE were party to the longstanding dispute between representatives of The Pirate Bay service and the copyright holders.

In the eyes of the prosecutor, .SE’s catalogue function has become some form of accomplice to criminal activity, a perspective that is unique in Europe as far as I know. There are no previous cases of states suing a registry for abetting criminal activity or breaching copyright law. Anyhow, Sweden strives to be the best and first in terms of the internet, even if the country’s track record for this is highly questionable.

And they want to do it quickly as well. Right before the Ascension holiday, we received the petition with two weeks to respond. The time to respond have now been prolonged until the beginning of June. The prosecutor believes that this is so pressing that the district court would be able to make a decision on the matters without deliberations.

.SE’s role

So, what have we done? As you know, we are the administrator of the top-level domain .se and we administer nearly 1.3 million .se domain names. We provide a search and cataloging function, and assist in the translation from domain names to the actual address on the internet – the IP address.

We do not do this alone.

.SE translates the .se domain names to name servers, a name server operator translates this into an IP address and a resolver operator (such as Telia) helps .SE respond to the most frequent queries.

IP addresses are subsequently allotted to an internet Service Provider (ISP) through RIPE.  And IANA grants us the right to administer the top-level .se domain. Perhaps I should also remember to mention Google, which helps you find the address if you do not know the domain name.

Where is the line drawn for legal processes and matters of liability?

We are part of an ecosystem of organizations and functions that enable people to find things on the internet. This is also my point: where should the line be drawn for legal processes and matters of liability?

The prosecutor aims to seize two names from .SE and for the state to have ownership of these, or alternatively, that we deregister and subsequently block these domain names forever.

What does this imply?

It is unclear whether all domain names under .se are the property of the Foundation. In that case, it is property that can subsequently be seized and fall under the guardianship of the state. So, should we send a bill to the state then?

Alternatively, blocking the names forever sounds as though it contravenes the National Top-Level Domains for Sweden on the internet Act. Previous discussions with the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority and the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority regarding the blocking of domain names resulted in an understanding that this approach is not necessary.

Removing the domain name – tantamount to removing the sign for a store

There are various ways of blocking content that is available online. Removing domain names from the address sphere is like removing the sign for a store in the city. It will be harder for customers to locate the store, but the store nevertheless remains in place and customers who manage to get there can still shop there.

Another metaphor could be to permanently remove addresses from buildings where a crime has been comitted. What would Stockholm’s address registry look like if you had removed all of the addresses where a crime had been committed? Probably like Swiss cheese.

Removing the sign – the domain name – is an ineffective and disproportionate way of achieving an impact from a previous verdict stating that a service is to be removed from the internet.

.SE is a quick fix but the wrong solution

Nor is .SE part of a problem that exists between two parties. We are a quick fix but the wrong solution!

.SE will naturally respond to the prosecutor’s perspective. We have an educational task ahead of us in explaining to the District Court what a domain name is, what .SE does and the fundamentally incorrect nature behind seizing a domain name forever.

This will be an expensive process and, although our lawyers will find it an interesting case, these are funds that we would rather spend on our investments in schools or digital inclusion.

Wish us luck!

Published: 2013-05-15

Picture: Wrong Way av Miles Tsang (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)