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German registrar bans Web site

A domain name registrar deletes the registration for a gruesome photo gallery that featured stomach-wrenching images from autopsies and medical procedures.

A domain name registrar in Germany has deleted the registration for a gruesome U.S.-based online photo gallery that featured stomach-wrenching images from autopsies and medical procedures.

Computer Service Langenbach, which operates the Joker.com registrar in Dusseldorf, Germany, yanked the Ogrish.com domain name from its database this week in response to a request from a German prosecutor, said the hosting service and the owner of the site Tuesday.

"I've never heard of a case where a registrar can disable a domain over content," said Ted Hickman, who runs Virginia-based ProHosters.com. "I certainly won't be registering any domains at Joker.com...We'll host anything that's legal in the U.S. It's not our job to determine whether content is acceptable to others."

In an e-mail message to CNET News.com on Wednesday, Joker.com said the domain name was deleted because of a Jan. 26 order from Staatsanwaltschaft Dusseldorf, the public prosecutor's office. The alleged offense was "gewaltverherrlichung, and could be translated as glamorizing brutal force," the company said.

This is another case of the global Internet running up against national laws, which in Germany can be unusually restrictive. In October 2001, the Dusseldorf government ordered local Internet providers to block access to four U.S. Web sites, including shock site Rotten.com.

In October 2000, the Chicago Board of Elections won a court order shutting down VoteAuction.com, a Web site in Austria that claimed to allow Americans to trade their votes in the presidential elections that year. It soon popped up under the new name Vote-auction.com.

"The German government has shut Ogrish.com--one of the biggest shock Internet sites around--down through Joker.com," Dan Klinker, the founder of Sterling, Va.-based grish.com, said in an e-mail message on Tuesday. "Ogrish.com is currently being hosted on Ogrish.prohosters.com."

In hopes of finding a more free-speech-friendly locale, Klinker said he has tried to transfer the domain away from Joker.com to a U.S. registrar but the transfer has not taken place yet.

Chuck Gomes, a vice president at VeriSign, which runs the dot-com registry, said he was not familiar with the Ogrish.com dispute but the transfer could be in the middle of the standard five-day process. If Joker.com refused to comply with the transfer request, Gomes said, "We would only take (such) a step if there was some violation of the terms of the agreement that we have with the registrar. We wouldn't unilaterally take it away from them."

"Joker.com's dealings with its customers are basically governed by the usual rules that govern business dealings," said a spokeswoman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which licenses registrars including Joker.com. "So it can permit or deny the transfer between registrants, if that's permitted by its contract and the applicable law."

Ogrish.com became briefly infamous in May 2002 when it posted the 4-minute video of reporter Daniel Pearl being brutally murdered. ProHosters.com deleted the video after legal threats from the FBI, then restored it after the American Civil Liberties Union came to its aid.