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Top Level Domain Names Are Not Protected Speech
Description Appeals court affirmed dismissal of suit brought by firm that began using Top Level Domain names not restricted by the existing system of seven names determined by NSI. The orderly transition of the Internet to a more open domain name system justified, at least for a time, the restrictions on Top Level Domain names.
Topic Cyberlaw
Key Words Domain Names; Protected Speech; Antitrust
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Name.Space sued Network Solutions (NSI), then the only provider of Internet domain name registration services, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) for free speech violations for restricting control of generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs). NSI was granted control of the Domain Name System (DNS) by the National Science Foundation in 1993. NSI restricted gTLD to seven gTLDs (.net., .com, .org., .gov, .edu, .int, and .mil). Name.Space began providing domain name registration services in competition with NSI and accepted about 530 new gTLDs. Since the names did not conform to the NSI system, the addresses often could not be recognized by Internet users. The district court dismissed the suit; Name.Space appealed.
Decision Affirmed. The fact that NSI was awarded DNS control as a government contractor does not entitle it to violate free speech rights. However, the rapidly evolving nature of the Internet means the courts will be cautious in making legal pronouncements. The existing gTLDs are not protected speech but only because the DNS limits them to three-letter afterthoughts which are lacking in expressive content. Longer and more content-full gTLDs may be protected speech, such as political speech or parody; the functionality of domain names does not automatically place them beyond the reach of the First Amendment. The need to have an orderly transition to a more open DNS meant that Internet expression, via gTLDs, could be restricted until the more open system could be effected.
Citation Name.Space, Inc. v. Network Solutions, Inc., 202 F.3d 573 (2nd Cir., 2001)

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