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More on Dell's Anti-Tasting Suit

John Levine

Dell filed a suit in Florida in early October against a nest of domain tasters in Miami, widely reported in the press last week. The suit was just unsealed, after giving the court time to approve a restraining order and serve it on the defendants. The primary defendant is a Miami resident named Juan Vasquez, doing business as several registrars called BelgiumDomains, CapitolDomains, and DomainDoorman, as well as a whole bunch of tiny companies of unknown authenticity in the Bahamas, various small Caribbean islands, Panama, Argentina, and even Indian Ocean tax haven Mauritius.

Those registrars have an egregious history of domain churning. I gave a talk on domain tasting at MAAWG in October in which I picked out the registrars who churned the most domains from the May registrar reports, and those three were the worst, each having registered about 500,000 domains, refunded over 10 million (presumably from the last few days of the prior month) and kept only 23,000. In his blog entry on the suit, Jay Westerdal estimated that those registrars were responsible for 185 million of the 255 million domains tasted in the past six months. The total number of domains in .COM is about 70 million, so that's a lot of tasting.

Dell's suit is a straightforward trademark suit, arguing that several thousand of Vasquez' domains infringed Dell's trademarks on Dell and on Alienware, their gaming computer subsidiary which happens by coincidence also to be in Miami. In the most recent case filing on the 29th, Vasquez says he won't fight the restraining order. The evidence is overwhelming so there's no way he can win this suit, leading to some interesting questions about what his plans are.

If he were planning to flee, he'd be gone already. He lives in a house (see picture) in a not particularly fancy part of Miami, and his wife answered the door when the marshals served the complaint, which suggests that someone else is funding this venture. (Domain tasting is capital intensive, since you need enough money on deposit with the registries for all the domains you're tasting, which in this case would be several million dollars.) Will he take the fall for the funders? Cut a deal in exchange for testimony? Something else?

Also, it's interesting to note what other parties are and are not named in this suit. VeriSign is mentioned in passing in the request for a restraining order, to have them freeze the defendants' domains so they can't refund them and obscure the evidence, which VeriSign presumably did.

ICANN is not mentioned at all. Since domain tasting and kiting exist solely because of Add Grace Period language added to the registrar agreement a few years ago that has (debatably) little other use, and ICANN is aware of tasting since there has been extensive discussion about it at recent meetings, they clearly are an interested party, and it's reasonable to assume that even if these particular registrars are shut down, new tasting registrars will pop up other places, most likely outside the U.S., enabled by the language in ICANN's registrar agreement. They weren't named in this suit, but I'd be surprised if they avoided the next one. 

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker. More blog posts from John Levine can also be read here.

Related topics: Cybercrime, Cybersquatting, DNS, ICANN

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Comments

Re: More on Dell's Anti-Tasting Suit John Berryhill  –  Dec 04, 2007 11:39 AM PDT

As with Verizon, there's another game in town, of course:

http://searchengineland.com/070523-083042.php


Last year, Google signed a landmark deal to become the default search engine on new Dell computers, plus to bundle Google software. Now, people are noting anew that a consequence of the deal seems to be pushing Dell users to search results dominated by Google ads, rather than editorial listings.

Yes, let's get rid of those ad-filled parking pages, so that Dell can fill them with ad filled parking pages.  Hoorah, my user experience is enhanced!

Re: More on Dell's Anti-Tasting Suit John Levine  –  Dec 04, 2007 11:53 AM PDT

Hmmn, I was unaware that ICANN's registration policies forced you to use Dell's computers. Is there a clause in the RAA that I missed?

If I choose to buy a Dell computer and use all their shovelware, it may not be a particularly wise decision, but it's my decision.  If I land at some kited page that replaced an expired domain in a bookmark, I get whatever junk the kiter chooses.  That's not my decision.

Re: More on Dell's Anti-Tasting Suit John McCormac  –  Dec 13, 2007 11:20 AM PDT

Isn't Dell trying to have the cybersquatting treated as counterfeiting due to the industrial scale of the operation? That apparently means that the maximum penalty per offence is $1 Million.

Are there any further documents available on the case?

Re: More on Dell's Anti-Tasting Suit John Levine  –  Dec 13, 2007 11:55 AM PDT

Dell's complaint had a typical laundry list of trademark related charges, including cybersquatting and counterfeiting.

There's one new case document, a response from the defendant, which I'll blog at http://weblog.johnlevine.com in a few minutes.

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