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All Your Internets Belong to US, Continued: The Bodog.com Case

Bodog.com and its owner, Canadian Calvin Ayre, was one of the world’s largest sports gambling operations, employing hundreds of people in Canada and Costa Rica. Last November, its free gaming site, Bodog.net, signed a three-year sponsorship deal with the Canadian Football League.

The U.S. has been particularly aggressive about trying to shut down online gambling operations (Las Vegas and Atlantic City are apparently less of a problem), though typically those operations have some U.S. connection. In the Bodog.com case, U.S. officials targeted a site with limited connections to the country as the site had licensed out the bodog.com domain name in 2006 and stopped accepting U.S. bettors late last year.

The legal issues surrounding its operations will be played out in court, but the manner in which the bodog.com name was seized could have a lasting impact on Internet governance.

The domain name was registered in Canada with Vancouver-based DomainClip. In past years, registering a domain name with a non-U.S. registrar and avoiding U.S. servers was viewed as sufficient to fall outside U.S. jurisdiction. This is because a court order requiring the domain name registrar to transfer ownership of the domain (or redirect the site) was only enforceable in the jurisdiction in which it was issued.

No longer.

In the Bodog.com case, State of Maryland prosecutors were able to obtain a warrant ordering Verisign, the company that manages the dot-com domain name registry, to redirect the website to a warning page advising that it has been seized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The message from the case is clear: all dot-com, dot-net, and dot-org domain names are subject to U.S. jurisdiction regardless of where they operate or where they were registered. This grants the U.S. a form of “super-jurisdiction” over Internet activities since most other countries are limited to jurisdiction with a real and substantial connection. For the U.S., the location of the domain name registry is good enough.

The aggressive assertion of Internet jurisdiction was one of the key concerns with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the controversial bill that died following a massive online protest in January. It simply defined any domain name with a registrar or registry in the U.S. as domestic for U.S. law purposes. The bodog.com case suggests that the provision was not changing the law as much as restating it, since U.S. prosecutors and courts follow much the same approach.

In an era when governments are becoming increasingly active in regulating online activities, the Bodog.com case provides a warning that by using popular dot-com domain names, companies and registrants are effectively opting-in to U.S. law and courts as part of the package.

30 Comments

  1. Bob LeDrew says:

    Tail wagging the dog?
    Two questions, just to make sure I understand this issue:

    1. If bodog had chosen a dot-ca or dot-tv or any other country-specific TLD, would they have been protected from this seizure?

    2. Shouldn’t regulators (of both domains and businesses) be quite upset about this? Dot-com is the “default” business domain. Doesn’t this essentially give the government of one country a “back door” into a huge number of companies which may have zero operations in that country?

  2. tail wagging
    You’re right Bob. Bodog has in fact registered the .ca version of their site, and it’s still up and running fine.

    Personally, this is completely terrifying. To have the US claim jurisdiction over pretty much everything with a .com just scares me. Worse, I’m not sure what we can do to stop it.

  3. Anonymous - standing on guard for thee says:

    We must defend our dot ca from US seizure NOW
    Domain name rights are the Holy Grail. We need to wake up and realize that there is a war going on and we are in it.

    There were only a few hundred people who voted to elect Byron Holland as President and CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, saving our .ca (for now) from the control of so called “Intellectual Property” owners and other powers of the 1%.

    The freedom to vote was just a precursor to real democracy, the democracy of ideas; anonymous (meaning free) speech, which is then modded up, re-treeted, “liked”, or re-blogged, also anonymously. Democracy is what we have to defend from Monopoly, from Fascism, and the right to anonymous (meaning free) assembly online is the only strategy.

    Right now the Domain name system is the only universal addressing system we have, and because dot com has been shown here to have been lost to the US, all that we have is our dot ca.

    That is our war chest and Byron Holland is guarding it for us, but many of his opponents would give it away to our enemies. We need to reinforce it with policy, a constitution if you will, perhaps this one: anonsource.org/sovereign

  4. What about .ca
    I think what will happen out of this is people are going to massively start exiting the .org, .com and .net addresses. But if the US can gain the write over them… where’s the top level registered? Can they seize the .ca domain? I think what all non-US countries should do is get together and design a DNS which is decentralized and under no country specific jurisdiction.

  5. 1) I believe so.

    2) Yes they should be and apparently yes it does give them a back door. A rather sneaky and disingenuous back door.

  6. I know of several people who bought stun guns from online stores and off Ebay which came from the US, Sometimes the shipments are caught in customs sometimes they go through, So with this Bodog precedent Canada could shut down Ebay and those US sites and charge the owners of selling illegal fire arms to Canadians. Even better what if a Canadian buys one with a CC from and Canadian bank and has it sent to an address in the US, still the same thing. But but but I bet the US would cry foul and tell Canadian authorities that its the Canadian citizens that should be punished for breaking Canadian laws and not the US business. I bet anything Verisign wouldn’t do shit to help Canadian authorities seize the domain of the stun gun sellers.

    So I guess Canadian businesses selling Cuban Cigars online are next?

  7. ICANN VeriSign Agreeement
    From 2005 http://www.icann.org/en/news/announcements/announcement-24oct05-en.htm
    “VeriSign agrees not to make changes to registry services without prior notice”

    Guess that’s borked.

  8. Simple solution
    Take the .com registry away from VeriSign and give it back to ICANN.

  9. Doug Webb says:

    Come back investors, come back!
    We promise we won’t do that aga… a lot.

  10. ModernDemagogue says:

    It seems to me that since .com are administered by Verisign, and updated DNS information is likely propagated from within the US, then if you want to use a .com you are very clearly under US jurisdiction.

    I don’t understand how or why you think this amounts to “super-jurisdiction.” If you don’t want to subject yourself to US jurisdiction, its very simple — don’t do anything within the sovereign territory of the United States, and, while this has not become a real issue yet, I would say don’t use US dollars.

    Just because you are doing something digitally and you cannot see the way you are influencing electrons within the United States, doesn’t mean you have not done something within the United States — and it has every right, not even a right, it has a duty, to its citizens to prosecute criminal actions within its borders.

  11. Actually, you non-US registrars can take over the .net,.com,.org…
    Or anything else you want. All you have to do is give your customers a version of the named.ca file with those domains the IP numbers of top level servers in Canada.

    At first, of course, you will want to mirror the contents of the .com/.net/.org from the existing Verisign servers. But with a twist – override the mirror values with your own local extensions. This will maintain the original IP numbers even though the “official” source has them redirected.

    Of course, Verisign can be expected to complain… but you also have your own jurisdiction now, and changes would have to be required through that and not something in the US.

  12. Someone Somewhere says:

    Grrr
    I live in America, and I hate it! I hate our empirical government and all its stupid laws. But most of all, I hate it when our government flexes its muscles and reaches into other countries just to be a bully.

    It’s no wonder every other country in the world hates us!

  13. fear
    this is terrible precedence… this is terrible rationale.. if the US were to have total jurisdiction above a TLD, it was supposed to be only domains in the .us TLD, not in the .com or .net

  14. hope ?
    We must fight against those behaviors, and one possibility is to build a true decentralized DNS system without a central control, like the Dot-Bit project :
    http://dot-bit.org/Main_Page

    Try it now :
    http://dot-bit.org/HowToBrowseBitDomains

  15. Precedent?
    So, now that the US has unilaterally declared that its laws control domains regardless of the country they are registered in, or where outside the the USA the physical servers are located, exactly what would stop any other country from making the same claim? And, how do they enforce it? Financial or military attacks? What if China decided that servers in the USA violate its censorship laws and declare them illegal. What would the USA do? Why would the USA expect any country not to behave toward it as it would behave toward China if China did what the USA did.

    Basically, the USA is controlled by corporate interests which lobby with the largest bribes, a.k.a. “campaign donations”, and always acts at their bequest and in their favor. The Federal government is even acting against the freedoms of US citizens using “National Security Letters”, RICO, DHS, FEMA and even worse, the TSA, which is now moving out of airports and onto the Interstates, highways, bus stops and in cities, randomly stopping people. It’s getting down right scary! In January the military stages a training exercise in population control in Los Angeles which involved over 100 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, tanks and helicopters. Several other training exercises had taken place in prior months in Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. I’m 70 and I’ve never seen this kind of training taking place, not on military grounds, BUT WITHIN city boundaries and which involved military patrols on the streets. Our government is definitely planning on enacting some form of martial law or police state.

    We used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave.

  16. alternic
    Back in the olden days of the internet, people had the exact same concern. Some people thought that registration fees were too high…some thought that tld restrictions were too strict. Do a google search for alternic and see what you find. All of this is nothing new, folks.

  17. wth, it’s (.Com)mercial not .(US)A

  18. The implication for .org is worrying. There are a large number of NGOs on this domain to show that they aren’t under the command of a particular government.
    Regional efforts for the global good such as ours (www.cybercrimeforum.org) benefit from working in such an environment.

  19. The implication for .org is worrying.
    http://wikileaks.org

  20. One more reason to hate US

  21. A small grammatical correction ;)
    It should be “All Your Internets ARE Belong to US”

  22. They are seizing any domain that is under Verisign control, .tv and .cc included. This is old news. Better question would be, why are they seizing .cc and .tv domains and then try saying with a straight face that only .com/.net and .org fall under US jurisdiction?

    Lame.

  23. Ones I can remember straight offhand are tvshack.cc and firstrowsports.tv, see for yourself, whois them. Being redirected by Verislime gtld servers.

    Verisign just rolled over and no longer should be governing gtld on any domains at all.

    ICANN as usual is staying silent, other than their one response that “we do not shutdown any websites”.

    (oops posted this in the wrong article by mistake earlier)

  24. Your.ca Isn't Safe Either says:

    Squished by the US Thumbprint.
    ICANN, the ultimate arbiter of the Internet’s TLD, is also a US corporation. You are not safe hiding under .ca, both the Internet root domain and ARIN IP address delegations are under the thumb of the US Government.

  25. Bobby Two Cents says:

    In my lovely country the local version of the Revenue Service has given the ISP’s a list of unregistered online gaming sites and the ISP reroutes any attempts to access them to a Revenue notice page.
    I bet that would have worked as well in the US, but no, they just had to stop a canadian company from violating US laws both inside and outside US. This bit is scary. Any and all national laws and any and all acts in enforcing a national law are bound within the same nation’s borders. In shutting down a business based in Canada that is accessible worldwide from Belgium to Bhutan the US is in violation of that principle.

  26. Work Around It says:

    Taking control back belongs to the individuals
    Using a local cache to bypass the DNS configuration will always win. Imagine a plugin that captures a sites IP when accessed and stores it in the local computer’s DNS cache. Future access can be used with the stored IP instead of using the DNS server where the rerouting occurs. Once something is big enough to be known it is out there for good for those who accessed it to begin with. Sharing the IP later can be handled all sorts of ways.

  27. Yeah this sucks…
    But on the other hand it’ll hopefully reduce Calvin Ayre to a begger on the street so I’m cool with it.

  28. Stupid US govt
    They took the wrong domain. bodog.com was taken over by a troll back in 2008 and bodog immediately switched to other domains and continued business. [i should know, i use to work there]. So basically the US gov’t took a domain that was now owned by a troll and all other worldwide bodog URL are still working just fine. Just like you Michael…one step behind. Nice try though.

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