Customers of the failing domain name company Registerfly.com have sued the company, along with its accreditor and overseer ICANN, claiming thousands of people have lost or stand to lose their livelihoods due to their negligence.
The unsealing of the two-week-old lawsuit yesterday reveals that when ICANN terminated Registerfly’s accreditation to sell domain names earlier this month it did so just one day after it found out it was being sued.
The attorney leading this putative class action, E. Clarke Dummit, does not think this is a coincidence. ICANN told us that it was, in fact, a coincidence.
The suit was filed March 13 under seal, so Registerfly was not notified of its existence until it was unsealed yesterday. ICANN was notified March 15, however. It terminated Registerfly’s accreditation a day later.
Dummit told us that his friend and plaintiff client, Anne Martinez, was afraid of reprisals from Registerfly’s controversial chief executive Kevin Medina, should he learn about the lawsuit.
We hope Medina will not do something stupid when he finds out about the lawsuit, Dummit said, explaining the decision to file under seal.
Even though he had acted vindictively in the past, the judge didn’t think there should be a court order without Medina having his day in court, he said.
Medina and his ex-boyfriend and business partner John Naruszewicz got involved in an ugly lawsuit for control of the company last month. It involved allegations of fraud and embezzlement and saw control of the company briefly transfer to Naruszewicz and then back to Medina.
Regardless of which party, if either, was in the right, the attempted coup exacerbated a customer service nightmare that had been escalating for well over a year. People claims their domains have been allowed to expire, even if they pay for renewals.
Thousands of people are still believed to be at risk of losing their domains, and thus whatever services they run at those domains.
Plaintiff Martinez, according to Dummit, has 15 to 20 domain names registered, one of which is the primary source of support for her and her children. That site, GoCertify.com, is registered with Registerfly.
GoCertify.com is set to expire this month yet she has been prevented from transferring it due to the fraudulent conduct of the Defendants, the complaint alleges.
According to Dummit, this domain had its ownership details changed to those belonging to Registerfly, under a service known as Protectfly, without her consent. This is designed to be a privacy service.
She never asked for Protectfly, she never paid for it, she doesn’t want it, Dummit said. They substituted their name as the registrant.
At the time of writing, a Whois query shows that GoCertify.com is registered to Registerfly’s address in Boonton, New Jersey. The email contact is listed as a registerfly.com support address.
Martinez’s suit alleges everything from fraud, deception, racketeering and negligence as it relates to Registerfly. The registrar eNom, a Registerfly partner and part of Demand Media Inc, is named as a defendant on some of these counts. ICANN is also named.
ICANN haven’t done their job, Dummit said. They’ve known about the problems at Registerfly for a year. They keep having meetings, they keep saying please do better… if ICANN had enforced the rules last July we wouldn’t be in this position today.
That ICANN has been aware of an unusually high level of customer complaints about Registerfly since January 2006 is a matter of record. The organization, whose contractual powers are limited to granting and revoking the accreditation needed for a company to act as a domain registrar, chose not to exercise that power until two weeks ago.
But it has now terminated Registerfly’s accreditation. The 15-day notice period it had to give expires this weekend. After that, Registerfly is technically not a registrar, but it’s still possible the company may try to appeal this decision in arbitration or the courts.
What happens to the domain names registered under Registerfly management is what is important to its customers at the moment. ICANN has received customer data about many domains, and has placed a registry-level lock on all of them to prevent deletion, but there are still many Protectfly-enabled domains for which it has no idea who the rightful owners are.
ICANN is currently meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, where registrar accreditation is a hot topic. ICANN president Paul Twomey is pushing for reform that could grant ICANN more disciplinary powers and could tighten up controls on the transfer of accreditations through acquisition.
In the class action suit, a preliminary injunction hearing against Registerfly is scheduled for April 11. Registerfly has yet to reply to the complaint.
California-based ICANN claimed earlier this month that the North Carolina District Court has no jurisdiction over the contracts in question.
Dummit said that he’s had expressions of interest from dozens of potential class members in the last 48 hours, but believes the affected class is thousands-strong.