Network solutions faces 'hoarding' allegations

Networks Solutions Inc (NSI) has illegally restrained trade and willfully maintained monopoly power over expired domain names, according to a class-action lawsuit recently filed by an Alabama businessman.

NSI has a stranglehold over the previously registered and expired domain names, and competition in the domain marketplace has been "injured" by the company's actions, according to the suit, filed September 29 in the US District Court of Alabama. Greater competition would occur if NSI, now a division of Verisign, was required to release the names, and the accredited registrars could let companies and users register them. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction requiring NSI to release the expired domain names.

NSI spokeswoman Christina Binko said the Herndon, Virginia-based company declined comment on the ongoing litigation.

In June, Alabama businessman Stan Smith, the plaintiff in the case, tried to register 28 expired domain names held by NSI. But Smith, who buys and sells computer equipment from his home, alleges NSI refused to delete the specific domain names he requested from the WHOIS database, so he could be the first person to register them. The WHOIS database is an information repository for all the domain names on the Internet.

"They are hoarding property interests for which they have no claim," said Smith's attorney, Scott Powell. "They are not theirs to auction. They don't belong to network solutions. They do not have a property right to them. They have no property interest in them. Once they expire, they belong to the public."

Powell said his client tried to register several domain names including kam.com and swa.com. The WHOIS database showed they were expired but he could not gain access to them, Powell said. Smith called NSI several times and company officials said they were not releasing them and did not provide a reason.

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