Judge OKs private domain seizures, orders search engine filtering

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Chanel, a luxury goods company, has gone after roughly 700 websites thought to be selling counterfeit, Chanel-branded goods. As a result, a federal judge in Nevada has given the company authority to seize domains and has ordered search engines and social networks to immediately remove links pointing to those websites from their indexes.

Performing its own investigation, Chanel has been secretly purchasing its own goods, at least in brand name, from unauthorized vendors. The company has an in-house specialist who determines whether or not the products are authentic. If they are deemed fakes, the web store from which the items were purchased is added to a growing list of counterfeiter websites. Many of the domains do not appear to be related to Chanel in any shape or form, but a judge determined the company has the authority to seize domains used by counterfeiters. Now, without the need for prior notification or due process, Chanel can have the domains of counterfeiters summarily seized.

Self-described Internet and technology lawyer, Venkat Balasubramani, sums up the ruling on the Eric Goldman blog:

The relief granted by the court is extraordinary in its scope, and includes:

  • 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;
  • an order requiring Google, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter to "de-index and/or remove [the domain names] from any search results pages."

In addition to Chanel's new found power, the court also ordered that "all Internet search engines" and "all social networks" are to remove any references to the domains in question. How a court in Nevada can order multi-national companies not involved with the case and not rooted in Nevada to do anything at all may sound mysterious, but the court ordered it nonetheless. Also, why Chanel brought it to the attention of a Nevada court is unclear, since none of the domains, counterfeiters, domain registrars, search or social network companies, and even Chanel itself, are actually based in Nevada. Venkat also points out that specifically choosing GoDaddy for DNS changes is interesting, as a seemingly arbitrary decision.

With all of this in mind, it is hard not bring up the Stop Piracy Online Act (SOPA) again. Balasubramani had this say about SOPA:

An injunction requiring Google to "de-list" sites is one remedy which SOPA expressly makes available, and ordering the registry to transfer domain names to GoDaddy and ordering GoDaddy to update the DNS records is in effect achieving another remedy which SOPA creates. The fight against SOPA may be a red herring in some ways, since IP plaintiffs are fashioning very similar remedies in court irrespective of the legislation. Thus, even if SOPA is defeated, it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory--opponents may win the battle but may not have gained much as a result.

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