In Search of Amoral Registrars: Content Regulation and Domain Name Policy

Abstract: Should domain name registrars have the right to cancel a domain because they don’t like the content of the website it supports? How many registrars’ terms of service contracts give them this right and how many don’t? Should ICANN’s Registrar Accreditation Agreement ensure registrar neutrality, or is competition sufficient to protect users’ rights? This paper makes an empirical and conceptual contribution to the debate over domain name policy and Internet content regulation. We examine the Terms of Service from 74 ICANN contracted parties who operate more than 2,300 domain name registrars to find out how many have “morality” clauses of the sort that knocked the Daily Stormer off the Internet. We find that registrars with morality clauses in their ToS, or an operational equivalent, comprise around 59% of registrars and account for approximately 62% of the domain name market. We go on to analyze and discuss the role of private actors in governing the Internet, seeking to define a clear and principled position regarding content regulation by private actors and the role of ICANN.

Suggested citation: Kuerbis, B., Mehta, I., & Mueller, M. (2017). In Search of Amoral Registrars: Content Regulation and Domain Name Policy. Atlanta, GA: Internet Governance Project, Georgia Institute of Technology.