John Zuccarini’s arrest, for allegedly creating misleading domain names to deceive children and direct them to pornographic Web sites, marks the first to be made under the Truth in Domain Names Act, which took effect in April and prohibits people from creating misleading domain names as a means to deceive children into viewing content that’s harmful to minors, or tricking adults into clicking on obscene Web sites.
The US attorney for the Southern District of New York, James Comey, and the US Postal Inspection Service arrested Zuccarini on charges of creating at least 3,000 misleading domain names, such as dinseyland.com, that would result in Internet users accessing advertising Web sites. These Web sites, some of which were pornographic, would pay Zuccarini a total of as much as $1m (0.64m) a year for bringing viewers to their sites, federal prosecutors said.
Also, once users were at the Web sites, they could not exit the page by clicking on the “close” button at the bottom of the computer screen, prosecutors said. Instead, the “close” button would open up other Web pages — a move known as “mouse trapping.”
Last year, a federal court ordered Zuccarini to stop deluging Internet users with porn and gambling pop-up ads when they mistyped a Web address. And in 2001, the Federal Trade Commission sued Zuccarini on similar charges. The courts ordered him to give back $1.8m in “ill-gotten gains” and prohibited him from participating in Internet advertising affiliate programs.
If convicted of violating the Truth in Domain Names Act, Zuccarini could face up to four years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Despite Zuccarini’s past, Goldman and other Internet law experts say that a conviction under the new act could run into trouble, based on free-speech claims. Doug Isenberg, editor and publisher of GigaLaw.com and an Atlanta attorney who specialises in Internet law, agreed.
“The law itself is a bit unclear about using a misleading domain name,” Isenberg said. “While Zuccarini allegedly engaged in misleading activities, it’s not clear what a misleading domain name is… and a law that is vague is unconstitutional under the First Amendment. I would not be surprised if he challenges the law as vague and, therefore, unconstitutional.”
And anytime a new law is challenged in the courts for the first time, it gives an indication of the breadth or limits of the law itself, Isenberg said.