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NSI Faces Seven Filthy Words Suits

Nearly 21 years after the Federal Communications Commission ruled against broadcasting the seven filthy words played in a George Carlin radio monologue, the courts again have been asked to intervene, this time in ruling whether those words can be used in domain names.

Recent lawuits filed in California and New Hampshire target the policy of domain name registrar Network Solutions Inc., which has refused to sell the objectionable domain names it has dubbed the "Network Seven."

On April 22, a California judge issued a temporary injunction that put a freeze on various domains which contained the "filthy" words. The suit was first filed on March 18 in US District Court in Los Angeles by Seven Words LLC. A similiar New Hampshire case is still pending.

Network Solutions said the lawsuits are the first legal challenges it has faced regarding a policy that dates back to 1996. NSI contends it is well within its rights to adhere to the policy.

"...Network Solutions' outside counsel has advised us that the Supreme Court of the United States has held that no corporation can be compelled to engage in publication which that corporation finds to be inappropriate," reads a statement domain registrar-seekers receive when they attempt to registrar a domain containing one of the seven "filthy" words.

"Network Solutions has a right founded in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to refuse to register, and thereby publish, on the Internet registry of domain names words that it deems to be inappropriate," continues the NSI statement.

However, Jay Spillane, of Fox, Siegler & Spillane, representing Seven Words LLC, takes issue with NSI's reasoning.

"Although NSI's automatic rejection notice states that they are a private corporation and therefore free to reject registration of "inappropriate" domain names, they in fact act under the oversight of the National Science Foundation, and in other cases in which they are sued for antitrust violations NSI claims that they are merely carrying out a "clearly articulated government policy," Spillane said.

"We therefore believe that NSI is an arm of the government for purposes of this case and, therefore, subject to the Constitution."

"NSI has twice now asked the judge to refuse to restrain registration of the "seven dirty words" as second-level domains, but the judge has ruled in our favor on each occasion, finding that we have raised serious questions going to the merits," said Spillane.

Other parties keeping a close eye on the cases include The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, also named in the L.A. suit, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU said it disagrees with NSI's policy and may get involved further in the case.