Brand owners are howling for new laws to help them crush “rogue” websites. But why? New powers don’t seem necessary when courts are already forcing Internet companies to delete websites from the Internet.
The latest example involves Louis Vuitton. This week the luxury handbag maker asked a Florida court to take action against hundreds of websites with names like “louiszvuitton.com” and “knockofflouisvuittonhandbags.com.”
The case is significant because Louis Vuitton did not simply ask for an order restraining the websites from using its trademark. It also wants to zap them from the Internet altogether by forcing registrars like Go Daddy to unplug them and for search engines to deny their existence.
In this case, Louis Vuitton appears to be borrowing from a playback that Chanel has been successfully executing in Nevada since last fall. In that state, a federal judge has repeatedly granted injunctions that force Go Daddy and Google to participate in the enforcement actions. Here’s an example from an order handed down earlier this month (the language is technical but it’s easy enough to make out the general drift) :
The Registrars and the top-level domain (TLD) Registries for the Group VIII Subject Domain Names, upon receipt of this Preliminary Injunction shall … change or assist in changing, the Registrar of record … GoDaddy.com, Inc. shall hold and/or continue to hold access to the Group VIII Subject Domain Names in trust for the Court during .. this action. Godaddy.com shall.. modify the Domain Name System ..
Plaintiff may enter .. the Group VIII Domain Names into Google’s Webmaster Tools and cancel any redirection to the domains.
In its Florida complaint, Louis Vuitton is asking the court for similar orders.
The significance of this is that the luxury brands are taking actions similar to those proposed in the Stop Online Piracy Act, a piece of legislatin that went down in flames earlier this year. SOPA was so unpopular because it would have required tech companies to meddle with the technical integrity of the Internet.
With their injunction requests, Chanel and Louis Vuitton have discovered an end run that will let them do the same thing.
The issue here is not that these websites should be allowed to sell fake merchandise — the issue is that courts are giving brand owners private powers that may not be sanctioned by law. Meanwhile, the federal government is also using questionable tactics.
The FBI, for instance, has been seizing websites on the basis of anti-drug laws and then playing Hollywood propaganda messages on them. None of this is appears to be authorized under federal criminal law.
To learn more about the Chanel seizures, see trademark lawyer Venkat Balasubramani’s explanation on TechDirt. You can also see the hundreds of domain names in question below:
Louis Vuittion Complaint
(Image by Laschon Maximilian)