Plaintiff Marius Vizer is a prominent judo personality living in Hungary. An unknown individual registered the domain name vizernews.com and launched a website featuring Vizer’s name, photograph, and news and information about Vizer. Unable to identify the person or entity responsible for registering the domain name, Vizer filed an in rem action in the District Court in Washingtion, DC, under the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”), claiming bad-faith domain name registration. Vizer selected the jurisdiction based upon ICANN’s maintenance of an office in the District. When no defendant appeared in court, Vizer moved for default judgment. The district court denied the default motion and dismissed the case, holding that ICANN, the organization responsible for managing the Internet domain name system, which “links user-friendly names . . . to unique numeric addresses that identify servers connected to the internet,” was not a “domain name authority” that performed the functions of registering domain names under the ACPA.
The ACPA prohibits the “bad faith registration of trademarks as domain names.” Where the owner of the infringing domain name cannot be found, the ACPA allows for the filing of an in rem action against the domain name itself in the “judicial district in which the domain name registrar, domain name registry, or other domain name authority that registered or assigned the domain name is located.” Vizer claimed that ICANN was a “domain name authority” because it accredited domain name registrars and allowed them to give access to individual domain name registrants. The court rejected this argument, holding that ICANN was not involved in registering or assigning the disputed domain name to numeric Internet protocol addresses or to registrants. In reaching its ruling, the court relied upon the legislative history of the ACPA, which “explicitly noted that the [in rem] provision does not cover ICANN or its constituent units.” Thus, “ICANN’s role within the domain name system did not give it the ‘hands-on’ role in ‘register[ing]’ or ‘assign[ing]’ the defendant domain name sufficient to confer in rem jurisdiction in this Court over this defendant.”
This case highlights the importance of choosing the right jurisdiction for in rem actions under the ACPA. The Eastern District of Virginia, located mere miles from the D.D.C., would have been the proper jurisdiction for this action, as the domain name registry was headquartered in Virginia. The case also confirms that ACPA’s in rem jurisdiction provision does not include ICANN or its subsidiaries.