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Foreign companies be warned, the US controls .com

Director, Digital Insight

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If your company is based outside the US you need to read this. There is a large and growing number of cases of US authorities shutting down websites that run afoul of its laws, regardless of where those companies are headquartered.

To be clear, most of the sites targeted so far have been blatantly illegal. The activities targeted are direct piracy, enabling piracy, selling copyrighted goods, or rebroadcasting cable TV. According to the US authorities, 669 websites have been seized to date.

When a site is seized, the Justice Department replaces it with this image:

There is a misconception that the traditional website extensions (called top-level domains, or TLDs) such as .com, .net, .org, and .edu are global in nature. In many cases they are not – sites are still regulated in the US if they have commercial dealings there. However, the US authorities seem to be able to take an extremely aggressive interpretation of the law. In the case of bodog.com, an online gambling site that did not allow US citizens to participate, they were able to seize the property based on their interpretation of US law and the fact that the .com TLD is controlled by Verisign, a company in the US.

Also, while online gambling isn’t considered the most reputable activity, Bodog seems to be an above-board company. It has a three-year promotional agreement with the Canadian Football League (CFL).

This is concerning for firms that provide services globally, especially those with headquarters outside the US. If a part of the US government decides that they have a problem with how that company is conducting itself they can disrupt its business on a global scale.

Non-US domains are also subject to US law, at least according to US courts. Sites ending in .tv have been seized as well (firstrowsports.tv). The leverage seems to be that Verisign operates the top-level domain servers for that extension, and they operate inside the US.

The risk of the US government seizing a healthcare company’s website is remote, but it is important to understand that they have that power and that the use of that power can have global implications.

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Brad Einarsen

Brad is Klick's Director of Digital Insight, supporting our Strategy, Accounts, and New Business groups to gather, disseminate, and make accessible knowledge about our clients, their products, and the markets in which they operate.

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