A dot com is an American domain

Verisign seizes .com domain registered via foreign Registrar on behalf of US Authorities” (via Daring Fireball) — a gambling site based outside the US, using a .com domain registered by a non-US registrar, has had its domain seized by US authorities after prosecutors in Maryland asked Verisign, who control the top-level .com nameservers, to hand it over.

The prosecutor noted that “sports betting is illegal in Maryland, and federal law prohibits bookmakers from flouting that law simply because they are located outside the country”. It’s not clear whether the site was doing anything that would be considered illegal outside the US, but I can’t see anything in the story to suggest so. It looks like a legal business in the country it operated in.

In my earlier post about the now-postponed SOPA regulations in the US (Why the proposed US copyright regulations should worry UK citizens) I wrote

The definition of a “domestic” site [in the draft legislation] is brief, but not without ambiguity: it’s a site with a domain name registered or assigned by a US registrar, or (if it has no domain name) a site hosted in the US.

I can’t tell whether that means names whose top-level domains have US-based sponsoring registrars, including all .org, .com and .net domains, or only those whose registration was carried out by a US-based registrar.

This case shows that US authorities may be inclined to treat any .org, .com or .net domain as being under US jurisdiction, no matter where its registrar was based.

Here in the UK, I think we’ve become too used to thinking of .com or .org domains as meaning simply “of the Internet” rather than of any specific country. That will have to change.

I’m not going to suggest we should rush to replace all our .org domains with ones—chances are many of them are hosted in the US in any case—but it’s time to forget the old ideal of an Internet domain rather than a national one. A dot com is an American domain.