Registrar: A "Registrar" (or "Domain Name Registrar") is an organization that has control over the granting of domains within certain TLDs (top level domains, like the generic .com/.org/.net or country-specific .ca/.us/.mx etc).
In order to register a domain name, it is necessary to go through a registrar. The registrar's job is to create the domain name that has been requested by the customer (if it has not already been created by someone else), by passing on the registration information and the creation order to the registry of the TLD of the domain.
From that point on, the domain name's management (change of nameservers, whois information, or status) is carried out via the registrar.
As an example: If Mr. Smith wanted to register somedomain.com, he would first need to contact a registrar. Next, he would provide his contact information to the registrar and place his order. The registrar would then pass on the order request and whois details to Verisign (the registry for .com and .net domains). The domain would then be created and activated.
Registrars and Spam
Registrars are only the administrative guardians of domain names, and do not contribute to the domain's use.
Do Registrars Spam?
Registrars do not have any direct involvement or control over the content of a website or e-mail address that is made accessible via a domain name registered with them. This is because a registrar only manages the administrative aspects of domains, such as the name and telephone number of the registrant and contents.
Therefore, if you see in the whois data of a domain linked to spam, that the domain is registered at 'registrar X', it would be a mistake to accuse the registrar of being the spammer.
Do Registrars Act Against Spam?
Fighting spam and domain name abuse is a delicate subject for registrars, because as mentioned above, they are engaged only in the administrative management of domains, and do not have any direct control or involvement over how a domain is used.
Consequently, registrars will often reply to complaints of spam by saying that (below is an example from DSTR):
Response (Mark S) - 01/13/2007 10:58 AM Hello ******, we received your complaint concerning Spam you may have received or Invalid Whois information. Please submit this complaint through our complaint database. For ease of use to you, here is the link where you can directly report spam, whois violations, and/or fraudulent or illegal websites that registered with us. Please note that we cannot take action against domains not registered with us.
While such a reply is discouraging, it simply reflects the current policy of the registrar towards spam, not how it (collectively as a company, or the employee replying to your complaint) may personally feel about the issue.
It is thus possible to put pressure on registrars to get them to change their policy towards spam, by pointing out that by not taking action against domains that are being used for known criminal activity, they are in fact making a decision to provide support to the spammer and thus the crimes committed via that domain and person. Such crimes may range from pharmacy scams, to credit card fraud, to child pornography.
In order for a registrar to act against spam, it must therefore have in place a sales contract in which its customers must agree to not use the domains for illicit activities. The contract must also state that if the domain is used for such activity, the registrar can suspend it at will, with or without notice.
Even if that is not included in a contract, it is common in countries' laws for any business or person who assists a criminal to be liable for charges ranging from consorting with a criminal, aiding and abetting a crime, conspiracy to commit a crime etc. Once a registrar is aware that there is reason to believe that they have a contract to provide services to a criminal, they are legally bound to terminate both the contract and the service. If they fail to act, they may face the legal consequences according to the laws of their country or state.
Registrars and Complaints
Different registrars will respond differently to complaints, depending on their sales policy, accreditation, and personal stand.
In all cases, if the whois information of a domain is invalid or based on a stolen identity, an ICANN-accredited registrar must act to suspend the domain, or be in violation of its sales contract with the registry of the domain's TLD.
If a registrar supports spamming activity, or has a current policy that does not allow it to act upon spam complaints, it will reply with a letter saying "we are not the host, and can therefore not act". In such cases, you should reply to the letter, stating the fact that the registrar is supporting criminal activity, and up the pressure on the registrar to change its policy.
Pro-spam registrars are easy to spot as they occur frequently when looking up the whois information of a spammed domain, and are slow or unwilling to deal with complaints.