5,000 Domains Seized Based On Sealed Court Filing; Confused Domain Owners Have No Idea Why
from the that-seems-problematic dept
In the past, we’d been fairly worried about governments seizing website domains with little or no notice, but it’s perhaps equally, if not more, troubling when it’s done by private individuals and companies. This was one of our concerns with the original version of SOPA, which included a “private right of action.” But, even though SOPA never became law (and the private right of action was dropped fairly early on), it appears that some courts are still allowing this to happen. Just a couple of months ago, we wrote about a troubling ruling in an Oregon district court that let a Filipino entertainment company seize a bunch of domains, in a process that was done under seal. In the past, we’ve seen other brands, like Chanel do the same thing. Louis Vuitton has also tried seizing domains.
The latest such example seems especially troubling because no one has any idea what’s fully happening, but it appears to involve Chan Luu, a jewelry and clothing retailer. The Internet Commerce Association notes that approximately 5,000 domains appear to have been seized, handed over to a private “receiver” who is now trying to sell those domains — for no clear reason. One of the victims, Michael Berkens, who lost some of his domains, has explained what little details he’s been able to find out:
Overnight I received a notice that several domain names I owned were transferred by a sealed court from Verisign without notice and of course without the court order.
The domain names just were transferred by Verisign to another domain and are now listed for sale at another marketplace.
Another domainer sent me an identical notice he received overnight on domain names he owned.
The Domain names are now all owned by COURT APPOINTED RECEIVER ? ROBERT OLEA and have been moved to Uniregisty as the registrar and are now listed for sale at domainnamesales.com
The only information that Berkens received was the following email:
Please be advised that Verisign has changed the registrar of record for certain domain names pursuant to a ***SEALED*** court order.
The domain names identified below were affected by this action.
Alexander the Great, LLC
If you have any questions relating to these actions, please contact:
David J. Steele
Partner, Christie, Parker & Hale LLP
Adj. Professor of Law, Loyola School
18101 Von Karman Ave, Suite 1950
Irvine, CA 92612-0163
office: +1 (949) 476-0757
direct: +1 (949) 823-3232
fax: +1 (949) 476-8640
Thank you very much,
The Verisign Transfer Dispute Team??
Others have tracked down that it has something to do with this case, but with the details under seal, it’s all a bit of a mess. Here’s Phil Corwin from the Internet Commerce Association:
The only other available facts that we are presently aware of are that a copy of the ?Clerk?s Certification Of A Judgment To be Registered In Another District? issued by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in the case of Chan Luu Inc. v. Online Growth, LLC et al is available at the Justia website, and the order was registered in the Florida Middle District Court. The other defendants in the case are ?Grant Shellhammer et al?. There was a considerable time lag in this proceeding, with the original judgment entered in California on May 23rd, the certification dated September 8th, and the domain transfers occurring around October 2nd. The damages granted to plaintiff are $200,000 plus interest, court costs and attorney fees; we note that there is a strong possibility that the domains transferred in this case may have an aggregate market value far in excess of that total judgment, and that is likewise disturbing. The California court document covers domains that are identical or confusingly similar to Plaintiff?s CHAN LUU mark ? but we?re not sure if the domain cited by Mike in his article, RETRACTIT.COM, or any of the other transferred domains fit in that category. Chan Luu is a retailer of jewelry, accessories, and ready-to-wear clothing based in Los Angeles, and so far as can be discerned makes no commercial use of the term ?retractit?, so it is unclear why that domain was covered by the court order.
This is problematic on many, many levels — and is exactly why we’ve been so concerned about any process that allows for domain seizures without any sense of due process. In this case, with all the details under seal and the domain owners having their websites simply ripped away from them with no explanation at all, it should raise serious questions about why courts are allowing this to occur. To take domain names away from people who aren’t even parties to a lawsuit, based on a sealed document, and then to immediately put them up for resale seems sketchy beyond belief.