Court Action Against Fake Chanel Websites Is Problematic

Chanel has seized the domain names of more than 600 websites that sell counterfeit products thanks to a series of unprecedented court orders. Search engines and social networks have also been ordered to “de-index” the infringing sites. Someone needs to tell the judge that the SOPA hasn’t passed yet.

The luxury goods purveyor has filed a joint lawsuit in Nevada against hundreds of sites that it claims are selling fake products. The initial injunction forced about 400 domains to be transferred to GoDaddy — why GoDaddy? — and the registries changed to reflect Chanel’s ownership. What’s more Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bing, Yahoo and Google were told to stop listing the sites.

With the original decision in the can, Chanel can now use it to add additional defendants to the suit and to seize their domains as well. That’s exactly what has happened. On November 14, 228 more sites were added to Chanel’s suit. None of them could even respond until the complaints had been approved by the court.

The actions specifically target sites with domain names that suggest they sell fake products. You’re familiar with the type: After ordering goods from the website, investigators determine that they are counterfeit and the order for the domain name transfer and de-indexing comes down.

As Venekat Balasubramani points out on Eric Goldman’s blog the decisions are problematic. It’s not clear that a court can order a domain registry changed or how it can force Google to de-list a site. There’s no law authorising these methods of remediation and neither GoDaddy nor Google et al are named in the complaint. Furthermore, these are injunctions, which means that the individual lawsuits haven’t been resolved. That the a company is ordered to STOP is one thing — to transfer their property to Chanel is entirely another.

While there’s no denying the legitimacy of complaints against companies which hock fake Chanel wares, judges need to be very careful that they don’t make far-reaching and unprecedented decisions. Interestingly it’s provisions allowing courts to order domain de-listing and registry changes that has a lot of people all riled up about the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act. The public and our representatives in government are still fiercely debating these issues. If companies can simply rely on courts to invent the rules for how to deal with these problems, why are we arguing about SOPA at all? The parties at fault happen to be clear in the Chanel case, but it’s not always going to be that cut and dry. [Eric Goldman’s Blog via Ars Technica ]

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