Court Effectively Pretends SOPA Already Exists; Orders Domains Seized, De-Linked From Search

from the wow dept

As a whole bunch of folks have sent in a District Court judge in Nevada issued some rather stunning orders lately concerning websites that luxury brands company Chanel has argued "advertise, promote, offer for sale or sell" possibly counterfeit Chanel goods. The order is basically a more expansive private version of SOPA, in which the judge has let Chanel directly "seize" about 600 domains, as well as issued restraining orders and injunctions, including orders to Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter to "de-index and/or remove [the domain names] from any search results pages." Venkat Balasubramani covers the other wide-reaching aspects as well:
  • an injunction against the defendants prohibiting them from using any Chanel marks or selling any Chanel products;
  • an injunction against the top-level domain name registry, directing it to change the registrar of record for the domain names to GoDaddy (!);
  • an injunction telling GoDaddy to change the DNS data for the domain names so the domain names resolve to a site where a copy of the case documents are hosted (servingnotice.com/sdv/index.html);
  • authorization for Chanel to enter the domain names into "Google's Webmaster Tools" and cancel any redirection of the domain names;
Venkat also points out how crazy this whole thing is:

First, I did not get a clear sense that this is an enforcement action against a single defendant. If there's no credible allegation of a conspiracy or an arrangement between whomever is behind these domain names, it strikes me as problematic for Chanel to file a placeholder lawsuit and then add or remove defendants at its convenience.

Second, it was not entirely clear why the lawsuit was in Nevada. The domain names are not registered to a registrar that is based in Nevada, and there's no clear basis for in rem jurisdiction. It's possible that plaintiff picked this jurisdiction as a matter of convenience, but there's no apparent relationship between the alleged counterfeiting activities and the State of Nevada.

Then there's the matter that some of the court's relief is directed at a variety of entities that are not parties to the dispute (including the registrars, the registry, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.). I'm not sure how this court can direct a registry to change a domain name's registrar of record or Google to de-list a site, but the court does so anyway. This is probably the most problematic aspect of the court's orders. [Interesting that GoDaddy was chosen as the registrar that the domain names would be transferred to.]

Finally, there's no clear basis to authorize a transfer of a defendant's property pending resolution of a lawsuit to the plaintiff. (See Bosh v. Zavala.) I don't see this as particularly problematic in this case because Chanel is not looking to liquidate the domain names, but it certainly raises due process red flags, given that this is all done with minimal (or no) notice to defendants.

There are all sorts of issues with these rulings that appear to go way, way beyond what the law allows (even if SOPA were passed). And the fact that this includes sites that might only "promote" possibly counterfeit Chanel products? It sounds like many of the sites are entirely clear that they're offering replicas, meaning no likelihood of confusion being at issue. Furthermore, some of the order appears to also bar even the "promoting" of legitimate Chanel products. How is that reasonable?

Beyond that, the broad disappearing of these websites, ordering search engines and social networks to totally block their existence, despite the lack of an adversarial hearing, or any allowance for those search engines or social networks to have a say, seems immensely troubling. Why even bother with SOPA at all, when judges feel they can just order broad censorship based on one side's claims? These rulings are quite worrisome. One really surprising bit is that the judge, Kent Dawson, was one of the judges who smacked down Righthaven, so he at least understands how companies can abuse IP rights. It's surprising that he'd issue such a broad reaching order like this.

Furthermore, as Ars Technica points out, the judge doesn't even bother to look at the jurisdictional questions, and seems to order the global disappearance of sites outside the US, without any clear mandate to do so:
Missing from the ruling is any discussion of the Internet's global nature; the judge shows no awareness that the domains in question might not even be registered in this country, for instance, and his ban on search engine and social media indexing apparently extends to the entire world. (And, when applied to US-based companies like Twitter, apparently compels them to censor the links globally rather than only when accessed by people in the US.) Indeed, a cursory search through the list of offending domains turns up poshmoda.ws, a site registered in Germany. The German registrar has not yet complied with the US court order, though most other domain names on the list are .com or .net names and have been seized.
Who knows if anyone will even step up to appeal such broadly rulings (probably not), but they set a very scary precedent.

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  1. identicon
    Maxwell, 1 Dec 2011 @ 9:30am

    "Chanel" Sellers

    Why dont those sites offer the bags with 'personalized' plates? Hmm, I wonder what'll be the most requested? In their policy (if those sites even have one) can state that some requests cannot be fulfilled.

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