Does Congress Even Realize That The Courts Appear To Think That SOPA Is Already In Force?
from the does-that-change-the-debate dept
Venkat Balasubramani and Eric Goldman (who are also posting occasionally on Techdirt these days) are doing an amazing job uncovering a series of lawsuits that suggest many courts are already issuing widespread and questionable injunctions against third party service providers when intellectual property holders come to them demanding vengeance. We’ve already covered the True Religion case and the Chanel case. It seems worth noting that both True Religion and Chanel have come out in favor of censoring the internet, having sent a letter cheering on both domain seizures by ICE and earlier versions of SOPA and PIPA. And it looks like they figured why wait for the law to change, when they could just convince courts to give them those remedies already.
The link above highlights yet another such case, this time involving Philip Morris. The pattern in all three cases is quite similar. Company claims website is offering infringing works and sues. Court — without hearing from the site owners (and usually not making any effort to see if the sites are all owned by the same owner) — issues massive injunctions against third party service providers to take down or otherwise block those sites. As Venkat summarizes, the Philip Morris restraining order includes:
- Defendants are enjoined from using any Philip Morris marks, in websites, domain name extensions, links to other websites, search engine databases.
- The domain name registrars are directed to transfer the domain name certificates to plaintiff (for deposit with the court).
- The registrars are directed to transfer the domain names to GoDaddy, who will “hold the registrations for the . . . domain names in trust . . . during the pendency of [the] action.”
- GoDaddy shall also update the DNS data so it points to a copy of the complaint, summons, and court documents.
- Finally, Western Union is directed to “divert” transfers made by US consumers to three named individuals
All without hearing from the other side. Seem excessive? It sure does. Venkat notes how extraordinary these remedies are. Think about it for a second: based solely on the declaration of a Philip Morris employee, the court is ordering the full transfer not just of websites, but of any funds being sent to a website. That’s insane and a clear violation of any reasonable due process.
At the same link, Eric Goldman notes that the sudden appearance of three of these cases suggests that there are probably many more in the system. And he points out that this information certainly seems like it should be relevant to those currently debating these bills in Congress. Do they even realize that the remedies they’re describing are already being used by courts?
Separately, he notes the ridiculousness of such extreme punishment when only one side is heard:
From my perspective, the three cases demonstrate the problems with ex parte judicial oversight. Only hearing one side of the story isn’t enough to trigger the kind of draconian remedies the courts are granting. In particular, in this case, interdicting money being sent via Western Union is quite troubling. Basically, the court says that money being sent by customers who may have done nothing wrong goes into a holding tank–the customers don’t get their money back now (and maybe never?) even if the transaction didn’t consummate. It seems like rejecting the money transfers, rather than interdicting the money, would have a lot fairer to the buyers caught in the middle. But they aren’t in court to defend their interests, and no one else is speaking up on their behalf, so the rightsowner can make a pure cash grab from potentially innocent buyers. That kind of result wouldn’t happen with real due process.
He wonders if there’s a way to fix these kinds of abuses of process. In fact, I would suggest that the House Judiciary Committee (and the Senate) would be much better served dealing with the problem of such one-sided extreme court rulings, rather than encouraging more of that with SOPA and PIPA.