.com beholden to Maryland law

A recent domain seizure has shown that the US Government doesn't need the Stop Online Piracy Act to do something about websites that contravene its laws and principles.

A recent domain seizure has shown that the US Government doesn't need the Stop Online Piracy Act to do something about websites that contravene its laws and principles.

The seizure notice
(Screenshot by Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet Australia)

This week, a federal grand jury in Maryland, US, indicted the founder of a company running online gaming site Bodog.com along with three other people for conducting a gambling business that is illegal in that state. It also accused them of arranging payment of winnings from bank accounts outside the country to US gamblers, as well as payments made to companies inside the US for site promotion.

The company itself is not based in the US; however, the US attorney behind the indictment, Rod Rosenstein, has said in a statement that just because a company operates overseas, it does not mean it can flout the laws of the state.

In prior cases when US law enforcement had encountered problems with sites operated from outside the US, it has turned to domain registrars such as GoDaddy in order to get the sites taken offline.

In this case, however, the domain registrar used was not based in the US. So the authorities bypassed the registrar and went instead to the US-based company that administrates the .com and .net top-level domains, Verisign. The US District Court in Maryland presented a seizure warrant to the company, saying that it was authorised to seize the domain name bodog.com and replace the gambling site with a seizure notice.

The notice is currently live on the bodog.com site, although the company's other betting sites (for example, bodog.co.uk) are still up and running.

Despite this, the fact that US law enforcement could impose its will on the domain of a company and its domain registrar, which are both based overseas, indicates how long the arm of the US law can be.

The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which aimed to stop consumers from accessing pirated content, was stymied partly because of a provision that provided powers for a similar measure, requiring internet service providers to block access to overseas websites accused of piracy.

This provision was removed from SOPA and the Bill itself was ultimately postponed after widespread online protest.

There have been moves to try and move this kind of control out of the sphere of the US, handing control of Domain Name Services to the United Nations International Telecommunications Union via a new UN treaty. This would arguably make the governance of the internet more international; however, companies like Google are not fans of the concept, saying that more regulation was risky and that the current governance system works well.

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