Factual Background Edit
Plaintiff, Register.com (Register), is one of over fifty companies serving as registrars for the issuance of domain names on the World Wide Web. As a registrar, Register issues domain names to persons and entities preparing to establish web sites on the internet. Web sites are identified and accessed by reference to their domain names.
Register was appointed a registrar|registrar of domain names by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a private, non-profit public benefit corporation which was established by agencies of the U.S. government to administer the Internet domain name system. To become a registrar of domain names, Register was required to enter into a standard form agreement with ICANN, designated as the ICANN Registrar Accreditation Agreement (“ICANN Agreement”).
Applicants to register a domain name submit to the registrar contact information, including at a minimum, the applicant's name, postal address, telephone number, and e-mail address. The ICANN Agreement, referring to this registrant contact information under the rubric "WHOIS information," requires the registrar to preserve it, update it daily, and provide for free public access to it through the internet as well as through an independent access port, called port 43.
The ICANN Agreement requires that the registrar "not impose terms and conditions" on the use made by others of its WHOIS data "except as permitted by ICANN-adopted policy." In specifying what restrictions may be imposed, the ICANN Agreement requires the registrar to permit use of its WHOIS data "for any lawful purposes except to: . . . support the transmission of mass unsolicited, commercial advertising or solicitations via email (spam); [and other listed purposes not relevant to this appeal]."
Another section of the ICANN Agreement provides as follows:
|“||No Third-Party Beneficiaries: This Agreement shall not be construed to create any obligation by either ICANN or Registrar to any non-party to this Agreement . . . . Third parties could nonetheless seek enforcement of a registrar's obligations set forth in the ICANN Agreement by resort to a grievance process under ICANN's auspices.||”|
In compliance with the ICANN Agreement, Register updated the WHOIS information on a daily basis and established Internet and port 43 service, which allowed free public query of its WHOIS information. An entity making a WHOIS query through Register's Internet site or port 43 would receive a reply furnishing the requested WHOIS information, captioned by a legend devised by Register, which stated,
|“||By submitting a WHOIS query, you agree that you will use this data only for lawful purposes and that under no circumstances will you use this data to . . . support the transmission of mass unsolicited, commercial advertising or solicitation via email.||”|
The terms of that legend tracked the ICANN Agreement in specifying the restrictions Register imposed on the use of its WHOIS data. Subsequently, as explained below, Register amended the terms of this legend to impose more stringent restrictions on the use of the information gathered through such queries.
In addition to performing the function of a registrar of domain names, Register also engages in the business of selling web-related services to entities that maintain web sites. These services cover various aspects of web site development. In order to solicit business for the services it offers, Register sends out marketing communications. Among the entities it solicits for the sale of such services are entities whose domain names it registered. However, during the registration process, Register offers registrants the opportunity to elect whether or not they will receive marketing communications from it.
Defendant, Verio, against whom the preliminary injunction was issued, is engaged in the business of selling a variety of web site design, development and operation services. In the sale of such services, Verio competes with Register's web site development business. To facilitate its pursuit of customers, Verio undertook to obtain daily updates of the WHOIS information relating to newly registered domain names. To achieve this, Verio devised an automated software program, or robot, which each day would submit multiple successive WHOIS queries through the port 43 accesses of various registrars. Upon acquiring the WHOIS information of new registrants, Verio would send them marketing solicitations by email, telemarketing and direct mail. To the extent that Verio's solicitations were sent by email, the practice was inconsistent with the terms of the restrictive legend Register attached to its responses to Verio's queries.
At first, Verio's solicitations addressed to Register's registrants made explicit reference to their recent registration through Register. This led some of the recipients of Verio's solicitations to believe the solicitation was initiated by Register and was sent in violation of the registrant's election not to receive solicitations from Register. Register began to receive complaints from registrants. Register in turn complained to Verio and demanded that Verio cease and desist from this form of marketing. Register asserted that Verio was harming Register's goodwill, and that by soliciting via email, was violating the terms to which it had agreed on submitting its queries for WHOIS information. Verio responded to the effect that it had stopped mentioning Register in its solicitation message.
In the meantime, Register changed the restrictive legend it attached to its responses to WHOIS queries. While previously the legend authorized Register to prohibit use of the WHOIS information for mass solicitations "via email," its new legend undertook to bar mass solicitation "via direct mail, electronic mail, or by telephone." The ICANN Agreement required Register to permit use of the WHOIS data "for any lawful purpose except to . . . support the transmission of mass unsolicited solicitations via email (spam)." Thus, by undertaking to prohibit Verio from using the WHOIS information for solicitations "via direct mail . . . or by telephone," Register was acting in apparent violation of this term of its ICANN Agreement.
Register wrote to Verio demanding that it cease using WHOIS information derived from Register not only for email marketing, but also for marketing by direct mail and telephone. Verio ceased using the information in email marketing, but refused to stop marketing by direct mail and telephone.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
Register brought suit and moved for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. Register asserted, among other claims, that Verio was (a) causing confusion among customers, who were led to believe Verio was affiliated with Register; (b) accessing Register's computers without authorization, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. §1030; and, (c) trespassing on Register's chattels in a manner likely to harm Register's computer systems by the use of Verio's automated robot software programs. Ultimately, Register sought an injunction barring Verio from using automated software processes to access and collect the registrant contact information contained in its WHOIS database and from using any of that information, however accessed, for mass marketing purposes.
The trial court entered a preliminary injunction. The injunction barred Verio from the following activities:
|“|| Using or causing to be used the "Register.com" mark or the "first step on the web" mark or any other designation similar thereto, on or in connection with the advertising, marketing, or promotion of Verio and/or any of Verio's services;
Representing, or committing any act which is calculated to or is likely to cause third parties to believe that Verio and/or Verio's services are sponsored by, or have the endorsement or approval of Register.com;
Accessing Register.com's computers and computer networks in any manner, including, but not limited to, by software programs performing multiple, automated, successive queries, provided that nothing in this Order shall prohibit Verio from accessing Register.com's WHOIS database in accordance with the terms and conditions thereof; and
Using any data currently in Verio's possession, custody or control, that using its best efforts, Verio can identify as having been obtained from Register.com's computers and computer networks to enable the transmission of unsolicited commercial electronic mail, telephone calls, or direct mail to the individuals listed in said data, provided that nothing in this Order shall prohibit Verio from (i) communicating with any of its existing customers, (ii) responding to communications received from any Register.com customer initially contacted before August 4, 2000, or (iii) communicating with any Register.com customer whose contact information is obtained by Verio from any source other than Register.com's computers and computer networks.