The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

16 June 2003

Sex.com, lies, and VeriSign

Gary Kremen owned the presumably lucrative domain sex.com, and all was well, as the phrase goes.

Then in 1995, one Stephen Michael Cohen forged a letter from Kremen's company asking domain registrar VeriSign to transfer the domain to, um, Stephen Michael Cohen. And VeriSign promptly did so.

Six years of litigation followed. Cohen admitted to the forgery, but has thus far managed to avoid the $65 million in penalties and restitution ordered by the court. He appealed the size of the judgment to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused any relief, and last week the Supreme Court upheld the judgment. Cohen himself wasn't present; he is hiding out in Mexico.

Gary Kremen, however, has bigger fish to fry: VeriSign has refused to accept any responsibility for turning over the domain to Cohen, arguing that a domain name cannot be considered "property" in any legal sense and therefore they cannot be held liable; further, says VeriSign, if it is found liable, the entire registry system could crumble, heralding the end of the Internet as we know it.

VeriSign's Network Solutions unit has been working to clean up its act in recent years — and, not incidentally, to further limit its liability in domain disputes — but should the courts find for Kremen, it will cost NSI $100 million and what's left of its credibility.

Posted at 7:43 AM to PEBKAC


Credibility? VeriSign has none with me. I tried several times to get them to transfer my McGeheeZone.com domain to a new host, and I never heard from them about it until I had gotten fed up and contracted with a new registrar to do the job. And VeriSign merely informed me they couldn't do as I had requested because they were no longer the registrar for my domain.

And don't even get me started on why I was changing hosts. Suffice it to say the old host contacted me after the transfer trying to get me to pay a back invoice I'd never received in the first place, and I told them to eat it. Which apparently they decided to do.

Posted by: McGehee at 4:35 PM on 16 June 2003

I had the very same problem with Network Solutions saying they were not the registrar of my old domain also, even though WhoIs plainly said they were. Thankfully, I had been mulling abandoning that name and getting a new one anyway, so just did so, and went with EasyDNS. Will the Internet crumble if VeriSign crumbles? I think not, since it was finally decided that they should not have a monopoly on domain registration.

Posted by: Tiger at 6:22 PM on 16 June 2003

VeriSign horror stories are frighteningly common; I had my own issues with them. Both my current hosts, as it happens, are registrars in their own right, so there's no need for me to endure them past their current expiration date (though I'm loath to switch in the meantime, because I'm cheap).

Posted by: CGHill at 9:16 PM on 16 June 2003