Seizing Domain Names

A court in Kentucky has (ex parte) made an in rem judgment ordering the seizure of 141 domain names because, the court determined, they are “gambling devices” or “gambling records” under Kentucky legislation. Domain names, said the court, “are virtual keys for entering and creating virtual casinos from the desktop of a resident in Kentucky.”

Apart from the dubious nature of the court’s application of the legislation to domain names, issues arise in the case as to whether Kentucky has jurisdiction and whether domain names are property or, as the defendants argued:

[D]omain names are akin to a telephone number or business or residential address only; that domain names are but a combination of letters and numbers, which serves as a mnemonic aid, nothing more. They argue that domain names are not property, but rights in a service contract.

The property law teacher in me is interested in this grappling with an element in a (relatively) new technology. And, of course, all the world is struggling to sort out whether and how a local jurisdiction can have an impact upon the globalized network.

The judgment in Kentucky v. 141 Domain Names is available online [PDF]. And there’s a good post and collection of comments on this case over on Language Log, which is how I found out about it in the first place.

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