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Spamhaus.org faces threat to its domain name

A U.S. company accused of being a spammer is escalating its legal fight against Spamhaus, a British organization that maintains a blacklist of junk e-mailers.

e360 Insight, which filed suit against Spamhaus in federal court in Illinois, on October 6 asked U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras to delete the spamhaus.org domain name.

e360 has proposed that be done by ordering the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, and registrar Tucows, to suspend the registration for the domain (PDF). While e360 claims to be a "responsible, opt-in marketer," Spamhaus has posted examples of junk e-mail that appears to originate from the company.

The case is somewhat unusual because Spamhaus initially participated in the suit to defend itself, and then intentionally dropped out on the theory that a British organization shouldn't have to worry about a U.S. lawsuit. That resulted in a $11.7 million default judgment against it last month.

If e360 gets its way and ICANN and Tucows are forced to delete the domain name of a non-U.S. group, the result would likely renew concerns about a U.S.-dominated Internet and spur calls for reform.

But Jonathan Zittrain, who teaches Internet law at Oxford University, says that result is a long way off. For instance, Kocoras may not sign the order. Or Tucows and ICANN could intervene in the proceedings and try to head off being required to delete the domain name.

"There's some chance this could turn out to be more than mildly interesting, but I don't see any reason to think it's some grave event for cyberspace," Zittrain said in a mailing list discussion.

For its part, Spamhaus says: "We think it can not actually happen, due to the effect it would have both on the Internet and on millions of users. We believe a government agency would have to step in before it happened."

There's another option for Spamhaus, even if it loses in U.S. court. It could quickly switch to a U.K.-based domain that would be less vulnerable to the federal court system.