Internet domains, case I ACa 272/06

February 8th, 2010, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Appellate Court in Katowice in its judgment of 16 June 2006 case file I ACa 272/06 ruled that it is pointless to talk about the “ownership” of Internet domains, because the civil law sets the property rights in Article 140 of the Civil Code, which only refers to tangibles, and domains are not such things, and further, due to the closed list of property rights in intangibles (the so-called numerus clasus of IP rights – the principle that the system of estates allows only a limited number of property rights available in a legal system), there are no regulations in the Polish law, which suggests that the effect of registering Internet domain names is, to acquire by the subscriber, the right to use and dispose of the domain. The agreement between the subscriber and the Internet domain registrar is a contract to provide telecommunications services within the meaning of Article 1(1) of the Polish Act of 16 July 2000 on Telecommunications Law – TLA – (in Polish: Prawo telekomunikacyjne), published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No 171, item 1800 with subsequent amendments. The subscriber may transfer his or her claims (contractual claims against the registrar) to another entity, if it comes with the assumption of debt from subscriber fees.

I realize that this differs significantly from the US law. Easpecially if you read Kremen v. Cohen, 335 F.3d 1035, (9th Cir. 2003).

The parties do not dispute that domain names are a kind of property. This proposition appears to be consistent with California’s broad definition of “property.” See Cal. Civ.Code §§ 654 & 655(property includes “all inanimate things which are capable of appropriation or of manual delivery”). The parties disagree, however, whether a domain name like is the kind of intangible property that can support a claim for conversion. At issue is whether such intangible property constitutes a sufficiently definite right and whether such intangible property must also be merged into a document or other writing.

Same opinions were issued in Harrods, Ltd. v. Sixty Internet Domain Names, 302 F.3d 214 (4th Cir. 2002), Caesars World, Inc. v. Caesars-Palace.Com, 112 F. Supp. 2d 502 (E.D. Va. 2000) or In re Larry Koenig & Assoc., 2004 WL 3244582 (Bankr. M.D. La. 2004). But there are also different judgments such as Dorer v. Arel, 60 F. Supp. 2d 558 (E.D. Va. 1999), Zurakov v., Inc., 304 A.D.2d 176, 760 N.Y.S.2d 13 (1st Dep’t 2003), Network Solutions, Inc. v. Umbro International, Inc., 259 Va. 759, 529 S.E.2d 80 (2000) and the latest I know which is Palacio del Mar Homeowners Assn., Inc. v. McMahon, — Cal.Rptr.3d —, 2009 WL 1668294 (Cal. App. 4 Dist. June 16, 2009). The Court ruled that a domain name registration is not property, but merely supplies the intangible contractual right to use a unique domain name for a specified period of time. Does it sound familiar to you?

See also “Polish case law on domain names“.