Judge halts domain reseller’s tactics

Internet domain name registrar Register.com Inc. last week won a preliminary injunction against a reseller of domain name registrations that it accuses of deceiving Register.com customers into transferring their registrations.

A U.S. federal judge last Thursday granted a preliminary injunction against Domain Registry of America Inc. (DROA) to block it from using alleged marketing tactics that Register.com said are deceptive, Register.com said Monday. The injunction, following a motion filed by Register.com in September, indicates there is a strong likelihood Register.com will prevail in its lawsuit, said Brett Lewis, assistant general counsel at Register.com.

DROA, which according to the injunction is based in Markham, Ont., is a reseller of domain-name registration services by eNom Inc., which is not named in the suit. The judge did not take action against registration companies for Canada, Europe and Australia that appear to be affiliated with DROA and are named in the suit, saying her court doesn’t have jurisdiction. Register.com is a large registrar based in New York.

The case involves alleged domain-name registrar “slamming,” which is similar to a tactic in which telecommunications carriers lead competitors’ customers to switch their long-distance service through deceptive practices. In this case, Register.com alleges DROA tried to make domain name holders believe their registration provider was DROA when it wasn’t, and said DROA was affiliated with Register.com.

DROA sent confusing mailings to customers of Register.com about renewing domain registrations that were soon to expire, Lewis said. Customers who called DROA were told the company was affiliated with, had merged with, or was part of the same company as Register.com, he added. The company also used Register.com’s name on one of its Web pages, he said. Register.com found out about those practices from its customers beginning in February, but the tactics probably began in December 2001, Lewis said.

Among other things, the preliminary injunction imposed by Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York orders DROA not do to anything “calculated to or likely to cause third parties to believe that DROA is their existing Internet domain name registrar or registration service provider if that is not in fact the case” and not to do anything that would make third parties think its services are associated with or endorsed by Register.com.

With the preliminary injunction in place pending a final judgment, the case now moves on to determining the merits of Register.com’s claims.

“We hope to hit them for a substantial amount of damages” in the millions of dollars, Register.com’s Lewis said. “We want to recoup not only what we feel we’ve lost in terms of business…more important is the hearts of our customers,” he added.

As for domain name owners who believe they have been misled into transferring their registrations, Lewis advised them to contact DROA to request that the transaction be undone and their money refunded. If DROA is not receptive, they should contact Register.com.

Some former Register.com customers also may have transferred their registrations by choice, he acknowledged.

“It’s possible there were people who understood what they were doing,” Lewis said. “It’s never about those people.”

An attorney for DROA had not returned a call late Monday afternoon.