ICANN to Claim VeriSign Suit Violates Free-Speech Law

In an attempt to block a lawsuit filed by VeriSign, the domain-naming agency will claim that the suit violates a California law banning litigation initiated to chill free speech.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will file a motion Monday to block an antitrust lawsuit filed by VeriSign Inc., contending that it violates a California law barring suits aimed at chilling public debate and free speech.

The "anti-SLAPP" law, enacted in 1992 by the California Legislature, seeks to thwart "strategic lawsuits against public participation" (SLAPP). ICANN on Monday will claim that the VeriSign suit violates that law because it would restrict public debate of ICANNs role as the Internet domain-naming agency.

The motion next week will supplement a 33-page brief that ICANN filed Monday, when it asked a federal judge in Los Angeles to throw out the lawsuit on the grounds that VeriSign has failed to provide a factual basis to support its antitrust claims.

VeriSign filed suit in late February, claiming that ICANN overstepped its authority as a technical review body to "become the de facto regulator of the domain-name system."

The lawsuit is the result of an escalating disagreement over VeriSigns attempt in September 2003 to launch its SiteFinder redirection service, which would send Internet users to VeriSigns own search site when they mistyped a domain name. VeriSign suspended its SiteFinder service at ICANNs demand.

ICANN claimed that the redirection service caused "a substantial adverse effect" on the Internets performance and stability. VeriSign countered that ICANN presented no evidence of any adverse effects and that it was exceeding its authority as the domain name registry service.

VeriSign wants to relaunch the redirection service, and the lawsuit is an effort to get legal clearance to do so.

ICANNs motions are routine defense maneuvers that usually take place in the early stages of such lawsuits, said Anthony Malutta, an intellectual property attorney and domain name specialist with the law firm of Townsend and Townsend and Crew LLP in San Francisco.

Even if the judge finds that the VeriSign suit hasnt provided facts to support the antitrust complaint, Malutta said, "Nothing would prevent them from refiling the complaint or amending" it so it could be deemed worthy of going to trial.

So far, ICANN has not challenged the validity of the breach-of-contract claims in the VeriSign lawsuit, Malutta said.

Somewhat more dramatic, Malutta said, will be ICANNs effort to convince the court that the lawsuit would violate Californias anti-SLAPP law. In this case, ICANN would have to convince the court that VeriSign filed suit primarily to restrict free public discussion of ICANNs position as the domain-naming authority by bringing a private lawsuit.

ICANN can cite the California law because it is based in Marina Del Rey, Calif., while VeriSign is based in Mountain View, Calif.

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John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s eWEEK.com since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...