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[ih] Some Questions over IPv4 Ownership

On Mon, 2010-10-11 at 16:59 -0400, Ernie Rubi wrote:

> Thanks all for your thoughts/comments,

Wow, I think you struck a nerve here - lots of comments.

Preface everything below with "I am not a lawyer...I'm an engineer"

As Noel said, in the early days, all of the numbers (IP nets, protocol
numbers, ports, etc.) were assigned by Jon, and you had to be a
contractor to get on the net.  I.E., everyone on the net was being in
some way paid to do a project which required net access, which was
provided along with all the necessary trappings like number assignments.
We didn't worry about ownership - whoever our project was funded by was
the owner.

As the net grew, it quickly became interconnected with other
organizations, e.g., in the UK, Norway, Italy, Germany, etc.  There were
also interconnects to some contractors.  Most of these probably had
gov't R&D contracts, but I'm not sure they all did.  There may have been
some MOUs involved there also - think PARC, DECWRL, FACC, etc.  I doubt
all those folks were getting paid by the US government, but there must
have been all sorts of MOUs which detailed the rules.  I'd look into
those to see how "ownership" was handled in the early days - e.g., when
the MOU ended, did the right to use the numbers also end?  Presumably
all of those MOUs are government documents, in a warehouse somewhere...

Somewhere along the line, commercial ISPs popped into being.  I'm not
sure who was first, but my recollection is that this happened as
spinoffs from NSFNet and/or CSNet.  Again, there must have been some
kind of agreements between those commercial entities and a piece of the
government, detailing the rules about ownership.  These first ISPs were
different because they were not research collaborators.  They were in
business simply to make money selling Internet service.  People like
Marty Schoffstall (PSINet) might be a good source.

Or, possibly more likely, nobody really thought about ownership and what
a big deal it might become, which is mostly what happened with domain
names in the beginning.  You just got a block of numbers by lobbying Jon
and then you ran with it.  Kind of like the old days of land grants and
railroads across the continent.  So the legal basis of ownership might
be really difficult to establish.  Good legal research project.

Last point - I think it's not really the specific number that might be
owned, but rather it's the right to use that number on a particular
Internet, which, as was pointed out, is possibly more of a rental than
an ownership.

I said "particular Internet" because I suspect that there are many quite
separate Internets out there.  In the 90s when I was at Oracle I was in
part responsible for Oracle's internal network, which was simply a clone
Internet, using the same equipment and software but the only connection
was an email bridge.  We got a block of numbers (I knew enough to ask
Jon) for our LANs and deployed into over a hundred countries.  We used
our official network numbers - but they were never visible on the public
Internet.  We also used other numbers that we didn't "own" for
convenience - i.e., numbers not assigned to us.  I remember that lots of
our customers did the same thing, as they set up their own corporate

The visible public Internet, large as it is, is only a piece of the
larger Internet, when you include the "dark matter" that isn't visible
from the public space.

So, who owns the number?  Nobody.  Who owns the right to use a
particular number on a particular Internet?  The owner of the particular
Internet.  All you have to do is figure out who that is....


PS - Perhaps I "own" some numbers too?!  Protocol # 15 (XNET) is mine,
and Port # 66 (SQLNet) is also mine.  Can I sell these?  Anybody want to
buy a vintage protocol number, only slightly used?

Hmmm, or perhaps Oracle owns port 66, since I got it assigned when I
worked there.

Hmmm, will there be a "portability" law, that allows you to take "your
number" from one Internet to another?  Or one ISP to another on the same

Lots of good legal fodder here....have fun!