Both parties in the Domainz defamation case should soon receive letters from the Internet Society (Isocnz) council urging them to explore "alternative dispute resolution".
The controversial defamation suit was brought by Domainz CEO Patrick O'Brien over allegedly defamatory comments made by Isocnz member and Manawatu Internet director Alan Brown on the Isocnz members' mailing list. Isocnz is the sole shareholder in Domainz.
Isocnz chair and Domainz board member Peter Dengate Thrush has hitherto defended both the decision to sue and the subsequent revision of the statement of claim which sought $145,000 in punitive damages from Brown.
But yesterday he was writing to both the plaintiff and defendant "inviting them to consider alternative dispute resolution. It's a decision both of them have to take."
The council moved to embrace alternative dispute resolution as a more appropriate avenue than court action at a meeting on March 31.
"The council went further than just recommending ADR to see if a solution can be found to the current dispute, by determining to work with the broader internet community to put in place an Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism to resolve such disputes in the future," says Dengate Thrush.
But the delay in officially informing Brown has run him close to the Monday April 17 deadline by which he is required to file a statement of defence in the case. In the interim, he has said that he is considering a countersuit based on the damage he says the lawsuit has already done to his reputation and business. Brown also says he will seek discovery of a wide range of materials in his defence, including archives of the Isocnz council mailing list and Domainz' and O'Brien's financial records.
Dengate Thrush says discussion on the motion took place in committee and he is unwilling to "breach the confidence of the committee" by discussing which councillors backed the new avenue and says the minutes will show which councillors voted in favour of the motion. Because Isocnz executive director Sue Leader has been off work sick, the latest minutes have yet to be posted on the Isocnz site. Those currently archived there are password-protected and available only to Isocnz members.
At the same meeting, the council also resolved to hold meetings in Auckland today and Wellington on Monday "to gain feedback on alternative models for registering domain names on the Internet". A working party led by Victoria University professor John Hine will investigate the alternatives.
The establishment of the so-called "Hine commission" comes as many aspects of the forthcoming new Domainz Shared Registration System continue to attract criticism. The country's three largest ISPs have expressed concern over technical and commercial aspects of the new system and arch-enemies Xtra and Clear Net are understood to have considered teaming up to seek an injunction against it. At the same time, there has been a lobby from within Isocnz membership for a model that relegates Domainz to a less commercial role.
Hine says "the question being asked is how do we deal with a natural monopoly such as .nz and at the same time fulfil the objects of the society which include the competitive provision of Internet access, services and facilities in an open and uncapturable environment."
But the working party's report on the most desirable structure will not be delivered to the council until June. In the meantime the new Domainz system will launch on the week of May 5.
Dengate Thrush defends the decision not to hold the introduction of the new system until the Hine report is in. He says the process of installing the new system began in April last year.
He says the question of whether the system can be turned around if the working party finds a different model would be better "depends on the extent of any changes required. If a dramatically different solution was eventually recommended by the committee and accepted by the council and then a decision was made to implement it, one can imagine that another process would have to be undergone like the last one. And that may take a considerable amount of time.
"Our advice is that we should not leave the current system at Waikato University for that period. Waikato doesn't want to do it, their contract has been extended several times and they want to get out of it. It's costing us money to keep it extended there and we've had advice from Waikato that leads us to believe it would not be sound to leave it there for any considerable period."
IDGNet understands that a technical advisory group - comprising Joe Abley, Andy Linton and Arron Scott - appointed by Domainz last year expressed reservations about the new Domainz system, but at least one subsequently resigned, feeling that the advice had not been heeded.
A Website for the working party has been established at: