As congressional lawmakers debate a sweeping anti-piracy bill, a United States judge has ordered Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft to remove links to Websites selling counterfeit goods from their systems.
A federal judge in Nevada ruled in favor of luxury brand Chanel and allowed the company to seize more than 600 domain names it has identified as belonging to groups selling counterfeit Chanel items over the past few months. In the most recent order, issued Nov. 14, Judge Kent Dawson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada also ordered that search engines and social media Websites must "de-index" those domain names and remove them from search results. The judge specifically requested that Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bing, Yahoo and Google remove the links.
"I'm sympathetic to the 'whack-a-mole' problem rights owners face, but this relief is just extraordinarily broad and is on shaky procedural grounds," Venkat Balasubramani, a lawyer focusing on media, technology and the Internet for Focal, a Seattle-based law firm, wrote on the Technology & Marketing Law blog Nov. 28.
Under the seizure order, the registrars who manage these domains are required to transfer them to domain registrar GoDaddy, who would point all the sites to a page that would notify users that the domain had been seized and was no longer accessible.
The judge had also ordered companies that were not named in the lawsuit, such as the original domain registrars, GoDaddy, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and Microsoft, to comply with the ruling and remove all links from their sites, which is "problematic," according to Balasubramani.
"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," he wrote.
The Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement took similar action over the Thanksgiving weekend when authorities seized more than 130 domains selling counterfeit apparel and software as part of "Operation in Our Sites." The seized sites were redirected to a page with a banner notifying visitors of the federal action and that copyright infringement was a federal crime.
The judge's ruling had several elements in common with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) currently under consideration in the House of Representatives.