On September 3, 2003, United States federal law enforcement officers arrested the notorious John Zuccarini accused of allegedly creating misleading domain names to deceive children and direct them to pornographic websites. Zuccarini's arrest is the first to be made under the Truth in Domain Names Act, which took effect earlier this year prohibiting people from creating misleading domain names as a means to deceive children into viewing content that's harmful to minors, or tricking adults into clicking on obscene websites.
What follows is a collection of commentaries made by experts in response to this event:
James B. Comey, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
"Few of us would imagine that there was someone out there who was, in effect, reaching through cyberspace to take that child by the hand to one of the seediest corners of the Internet...Children make mistakes...the idea that someone would take advantage of that, of a young girl, for example, trying to go to the American Girl Web site to look at dolls or a child trying to visit the Teletubbies Website, and mistypes, to take advantage of those mistakes to direct those children to pornography sites is beyond offensive...We cannot imagine a better way for this law to be used for the first time."
Mike Pence, Congressman and Author of the "Truth in Domain Names Act" Signed into Law by President George Bush
"I found in sitting down with my kids to do their homework on the Internet, that you could type in the most innocuous phrases, and that you literally had to cover their eyes before you activated the Website."
Lawrence G. Walters, Attorney at Weston Garrou & DeWitt - FirstAmendment.com
"The PROTECT Act was a misleading piece of legislation that was sold to Congress as an Amber Alert Bill, but was really a law aimed squarely at the adult Internet industry. It is a dangerous precedent, from a First Amendment standpoint, to criminalize one's choice of domain names. While the courts are split as to whether a domain name, itself, constitutes protected speech, the focus of this law is clearly on the content of identifying communications themselves. Any such content-based restriction on speech is presumed to be unconstitutional under First Amendment jurisprudence. This case may provide the vehicle by which the Truth in Domain Names Act can be challenged, and perhaps be held unconstitutional."
Benjamin Edelman, Harvard Law School Student and Researcher at its Berkman Center for Internet & Society
"One big puzzle — and, to be sure, a big disappointment — is the fact that Zuccarini's arrest has taken so long, and that his domains remain operational even to this day. The FTC has been after Zuccarini since 2001 and a court ordered shutdown of his domains in 2002 as well as payment of a $1.8 million fine (still not collected, to the best of my knowledge). Zuccarini was reportedly in Bahamas for at least some of the intervening time, which might explain difficulties in collecting the fine and in bringing about his arrest. But shouldn't the ICANN process facilitate the disabling and cancellation of these domains, subsequent to the order of a court of competent jurisdiction, rather than dragging the procedure out for so many years? In the interim, as my research documented, Zuccarini continued to operate thousands of domains likely to be stumbled on by children and other unsuspecting visitors, and certain to show them pornographic images and to prevent easy exit — making domain cancellation delays all the more serious."
Eric Goldman, an Assistant Professor at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.
"Zuccarini has been notorious for years, so to think he would finally get busted for this is kind of like seeing the end of the line for (computer hackers Kevin) Mitnick or (Kevin) Poulson...I think millions of Internet surfers may cheer at the thought of Zuccarini receiving some rough justice. However, the idea of putting someone in jail based on their choice of domain names should make us all concerned. I could see some First Amendment problems with this prosecution, because fundamentally it criminalizes Internet speech, and the courts have not been kind to Congress' attempts to do that in the past."
Doug Isenberg, Editor and Publisher of GigaLaw.com and an Atlanta Attorney Specialized in Internet law
"The law itself is a bit unclear about using a misleading domain name. While Zuccarini allegedly engaged in misleading activities, it's not clear what a misleading domain name is...and a law that is vague is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. I would not be surprised if he challenges the law as vague and, therefore, unconstitutional. And anytime a new law is challenged in the courts for the first time, it gives an indication of the breadth or limits of the law itself. Depending on how this arrest plays out, it will ultimately tell us about the strength, or weakness, in the Truth in Domain Names act."
Bret Fausett, Internet and Technology Attorney and Publisher of the Popular Weblog ICANN.Blog
"Zuccarini didn't register typographical errors of children's sites as domain names because he wanted to expose children to pornography; he did it because someone was paying him to do it. That's one of the problems when web site operators use a "pay per click" model to reimburse those who direct traffic to their sites. With "pay per click," all Zuccarini cared about was generating traffic — he didn't care about the quality of the traffic for the site owner. Had the operators of the pornography sites paid a referral fee only for, say, new members, the incentives would have been completely different. That's not a defense, of course, but it does suggest that we'll see more enterprising John Zuccarinis in the future so long as the market rewards his style of behavior."
Filed FTC Papers, Referring to Zuccarini's "Mousetrapping" Technique
"After one FTC staff member closed out of 32 separate windows, leaving just two windows on the task bar, he selected the back button, only to watch as the same seven windows that initiated the blitz erupted on his screen, and the cybertrap began anew."
Andy Sullivan, From Reuters
"Spammers, scammers and child pornographers can hide easily on the Internet because regulators allow them to register under false names with stolen credit cards, lawmakers and technology experts said Thursday.
One day after U.S. attorneys charged a Miami man with using misspelled domain names to direct Web surfers to pornography sites, lawmakers said the manner in which domain-name sellers collect information about their customers is too lax.
A new law to require accurate customer data might be necessary because the U.S. Department of Commerce and other oversight bodies have not been doing their job, lawmakers on the House of Representatives intellectual-property subcommittee said."
Timothy J. Muris, Chairman of the FTC
"Schemes that capture consumers and hold them at sites against their will while exposing Internet users, including children, to solicitations for gambling, psychics, lotteries, and pornography must be stopped. In addition to violating the trademark rights of legitimate Website owners, the defendant may have placed employees in peril by exposing them to sexually explicit sites and gambling sites on the job, in violation of company policies. With more than 63 previous law suits against him for the identical practices, we believe the court will shut down the defendant's schemes permanently."
Anonymous, Posted on Slashdot
"How can anybody get through to one of these sites and spend any money with them if their computer is crashing from the overload of trying to open half a zillion pages at once? Is this guy covertly doing these people a favor by luring those who would spend their money at those sites and frustrating them to the point of giving up?"
Anonymous, Posted on Slashdot
"The guy was only exploiting a system that pays money based on "impressions" or "exposures." He set up traps that generated as many ad exposures as possible, but it made no difference to him whether the ads made a possitive impression on anyone. This is why most of the ads were for porn, since he needed advertisers who didn't check what the presentation of their ads would look like or the nature of the site itself. Outside of porn, few advertisers are that lax any more. I'm sure that, given a choice, even porn advertisers would want a "friendlier" presentation than this guy gave them. But they don't care enough to even check. In the mean time, this guy was raking in a hundred or more ad exposures per victim."
Richard Keyt, Arizona Attorney and Publisher of KEYTLaw.com
"According to the FTC, the scheme works like this: The defendant registers Internet domain names that are misspellings of legitimate domain names or that incorporate transposed or inverted words or phrases. For example, he registered 15 variations of the popular children's cartoon site, www.cartoonnetwork.com, and 41 variations on the name of teen pop star, Britney Spears. Surfers looking for a site who misspell its Web address or invert a term - using cartoonjoe.com, for example, rather than joecartoon.com - are taken to the defendant's sites. They then are bombarded with a rapid series of windows displaying ads for goods and services ranging from Internet gambling to pornography. An FTC investigator entered one of the defendant's copycat domain names, annakurnikova.com , and 29 browser windows opened automatically. In some cases, the legitimate site to which the consumer was attempting to go is also launched, so that consumers may think the hailstorm of ads to which they are being exposed is from a legitimate Web site."
John Zuccarini, During the Philadelphia Case
"One reason I registered so many domain names which are of interest to children and teenagers is because teenagers and young people tend not to know how to spell."
John Zuccarini, Email Sent to One of the Opposing Lawyers During a 1999 Case
"You do not own the Internet!!! People can say and do whatever they want!!!"
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