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April 6, 2004

ICANN says VeriSign lawsuit a SLAPP to free speech

The Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers yesterday said it has asked a California court to throw out most of a lawsuit filed by VeriSign Inc in February, and said it will try to toss out more next week on free speech grounds.

By CBR Staff Writer

ICANN filed a motion late Monday, asking the judge to dismiss six out of seven claims in VeriSign’s suit. If the judge agrees with ICANN, the suit would be stripped down to how VeriSign originally described it – a contract dispute.

ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey said in a statement sent to reporters that he will file a second motion next Monday, which will try to strike portions of VeriSign’s complaint using a California law designed to protect free speech.

VeriSign sued ICANN in late February, calling it its de facto regulator and saying it has spent the last few years preventing and slowing VeriSign offering new services, in violation of contracts under which it runs the .com and .net domain names.

Notably, VeriSign claims ICANN acted outside its powers last October when it instructed the company to turn off Site Finder, a service that intercepted misspelled .com URLs and redirected web surfers to VeriSign pages without their consent.

Jeffrey said he will shortly ask the court to strike some of VeriSign’s complaints, using California’s so-called Anti-SLAPP law. A SLAPP is a strategic lawsuit against public participation, sometimes used by people or companies to chill debate.

California’s SLAPP law allows defendants to strike claims against them if the complaints arose from them exercising first amendment free speech rights, unless the court decides that the plaintiff will probably win the suit.

It’s not clear yet how ICANN will use this law. Most of ICANN’s decisions come after extensive public debate among internet stakeholders, even if sometimes the decisions go contrary to the prevailing feeling among these stakeholders.

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This week ICANN wants the judge to toss VeriSign’s claims of antitrust violations, and five other civil violations, because they all rest on the assumption that ICANN’s interpretation of the contract is wrong, according to the latest filing.

ICANN and VeriSign disagree over whether ICANN has the power to approve and block VeriSign’s registry services. ICANN wants the judge to first decide this issue before looking at the company’s other claims.

The notion that ICANN is scheming to injure VeriSign is particularly ironic in view of the fact that ICANN has been successfully defending lawsuits brought in this court in order to protect VeriSign’s ability to offer one of the services, the filing reads.

That’s a reference to suits brought by some of VeriSign’s rivals that are trying to block Waiting List Service, another controversial offering that would allow VeriSign to charge five times more for some premium domain names. Rivals say it is anticompetitive.

This article is based on material originally published by ComputerWire

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