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3/24/2008
02:09 PM
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Anti-Koran Film Site Suspended By Network Solutions

Networks Solutions says it is investigating whether the Web site for a movie that has not yet been released has violated its acceptable use policy.

Network Solutions on Saturday suspended a Web site registered by controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders who said he planned to use the site to host a movie critical of Islam and the Koran. "Network Solutions has suspended the fitnathemovie.com Web site while Network Solutions is investigating whether the site's content is in violation of the Network Solutions Acceptable Use Policy," the company said in a statement. "We have received a number of complaints regarding this site that are under investigation."

Networks Solutions did not respond to multiple requests to clarify how it determined that Fitna, a movie that has not yet been released, has violated its Acceptable Use Policy.

The Networks Solutions Acceptable use policy forbids, in addition to protected intellectual property, "material that is obscene, defamatory, libelous, unlawful, harassing, abusive, threatening, harmful, vulgar, constitutes an illegal threat, violates export control laws, hate propaganda, fraudulent material or fraudulent activity, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable material of any kind or nature."

The inclusion of the clause "otherwise objectionable material" appears to give Network Solutions the right to block sites because of any imaginable objection.

Coming only a short time after Internet domain registrar Dynadot suspended domain name service for Wikileaks.org in response to a court order, a move that incensed free speech advocates, Network Solution's decision to block Wilders's site has prompted similar complaints about heavy-handed censorship.

Karl Auerbach, CTO at InterWorking Labs, Inc. and a former board member of ICANN, the non-profit group that oversees Internet domain registration, said in an e-mail to David Farber's Interesting People mailing list that many domain registrars have similar policies that allow them to take control of Internet domains according to very subjective criteria.

"What NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] has done via its ICANN is to create, via contracts, a de facto law of the Internet in which registrars can impose their private view of Internet morality and acceptable use," said Auerbach. "Given that most registrars are for-profit companies, they will generally take the path that is most likely to avoid conflicts -- which tends to mean a rather puritanical outlook and a willingness to sacrifice a $10 domain name registrant."

Yet the incident is complicated by the fact that Network Solutions is at once a domain registrar (a company that manages and allocates IP addresses to domain registries for sale), a domain registry (a retail seller of domain names) and a Web hosting company.

Jonathan Zittrain, professor for entrepreneurial legal studies at Harvard Law School and the chair in Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University, said in an e-mail to Farber's mailing list that Network Solutions may have simply decided not to host Wilder's controversial site in its capacity as a Web hosting company. That would be a less troubling development than a registry interfering with access to a registrant's Internet domain, he said, because Wilders would be free to move his site to a different Web hosting company.

Even so, the question remains as to how far Web hosting companies will go to defend customers who post content that is legal but controversial in the countries where those companies do business.

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