EFF Wants VeriSign Held Responsible In Sex.com Case

A San Francisco-based civil liberties group on Wednesday urged a federal appeals court to rule that Internet addressing giant VeriSign Inc. can be held responsible for allowing a lucrative domain name to be illegally transferred within its network.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Gary Kremen, the rightful owner of Sex.com, in his appeal against VeriSign. Kremen lost control of the valuable Sex.com domain in 1995, when a man named Stephen Cohen duped VeriSign (then Network Solutions) into transferring the name.

"A court has ruled that (VeriSign) can screw up its monopoly on dot-com domain name management and face no consequence for its actions," EFF Attorney Robin Gross said in a release today. "We hope the appellate court will recognize the danger in eliminating all accountability for this key component of Internet governance."

At the time of the transfer, VeriSign was the sole seller of names ending in .com, .net and .org.

Kremen's lawyer, James Wagstaffe, said that EFF's involvement with the appeal would help raise the profile of the lawsuit.

"It communicates to the court that this an issue more than ... just one domain holder," Wagstaffe told Newsbytes today. EFF's involvement "increases the odds that this case will not go below the radar screen," he said.

Last year, a federal judge ruled in Kremen's favor in the Sex.com case, ordering that the domain be transferred back to Kremen's control and further ordering that Cohen - who had reaped substantial profits by using sex.com as a banner farm for adult Web sites - pay Kremen $65 million in damages.

But while the judge adjudicated the case in Kremen's favor, he also dealt Kremen and his legal team a blow earlier in the trial when he ruled that VeriSign could not be held financially responsible in the case.

U.S. District Court Judge James Ware accepted VeriSign's argument that Internet addresses are not property and concurred with the company's assertion that it was not responsible for ensuring that domains be transferred properly.

Cohen gained ownership of the domain name in 1995 by using forged papers purporting to contain Kremen's signature.

Kremen has not been able to collect any money from Cohen, who is wanted on a warrant for not appearing in court.

VeriSign, which also filed a brief this week in the case, was not immediately available for comment on this story.