Register.com Charges Verio with Customer Poaching
by Ryan Naraine
A clash between two players in the domain registration marketplace appears headed for litigation as allegations of unfair marketing and poaching unfurl between Register.com and Verio.
Register.com, the Alley-based keeper of top-level domain names, is accusing its Colorado-based competitor of poaching from its free-search "whois" database to steal customers.
When contacted by atNewYork for comment, Register.com's senior vp of marketing and sales, Sascha Mornell, became furious. "This is killing us day by day. What they (Verio) are doing is just wrong and unfair. It is not competitive. Our customers are upset and we plan to do whatever is necessary to put an end to this."
For its part, the cash-strapped Verio sees nothing wrong with raiding Register.com's database to find potential customers. "This is public information. It is normal to use public information to help a marketing strategy. This is no different," a Verio official insisted.
But Register.com is not taking the move lightly. It has fired off two "cease and desist" letters to Verio and threatened to sue if Verio continues to tap into its database to attract new customers.
"Verio's (actions) constitutes, in our opinion, federal trademark infringement and trademark dilution, as well as a violation of state law," Kenneth Plevan, an attorney for Register.com said in a letter to Verio dated May 5. "In addition, we demand that Verio cease accessing register.com's proprietary WHOIS database for the purpose of using the data (to solicit customers)." A similar letter was despatched on July 7, threatening litigation if Verio continued with its marketing ploy.
The "whois" database includes the name, mailing address, telephone number and email address for the owners of domain names. While it is public information, it does include a disclaimer that the information "cannot be used for marketing purposes."
A standard part of the domain name registration is the posting of personal information on individuals or companies which purchase the valuable cyberspace real estate. Anyone can log on to register.com and find out who owns a particular domain name.
"Basically, what Verio is doing is copying the names and telephones from our database and directly calling our customers to sell their service. It is a violation of our customer's privacy," Mornell said.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit group controlling domain name registration process, has instituted a policy against poaching but, like everything else under ICANN's purview, there are loopholes.
ICANN forbids "spamming" as a marketing ploy among competing registrars but its policy is not specific about direct telemarketing. According to Register.com, this allows Verio to "slip through a loophole."
Register.com, which registered almost one million domain names in the first quarter of 2000, said its customers were furious about the direct phone calls from Verio's representatives. The company provided letters to atNewYork.com from irate customers alleging a breach of privacy.
Contacted by atNewYork.com this morning, Verio seemed unconcerned about Register.com's posturing. A spokesperson for Verio said the company will continue to market its business in a practical way and that the database is public information.