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Judge orders search giants: Delist Chanel rip-off merchants

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Updated A US court has ordered the de-listing of more than 200 sites selling counterfeit Chanel goods from the search engines of Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and – er – anybody else.

In a wide-ranging ruling, the US district court for Nevada ordered the offending sites be: "De-indexed and/or removed from any search results pages of all internet search engines including, but not limited to, Google, Bing, and Yahoo, and all social media websites including, but not limited to, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter."

You can read the ruling, first reported here, in this doc (warning: PDF).

It's not clear how the court can enforce the order on the parties named, never mind the others covered by "not limited to". Further, it's not clear how the search engines named, and unnamed, are supposed to de-list and de-index.

The only thing potentially going in the favour of the ruling is that Chanel, a litigious operator, could potentially launch further non-compliance actions against any search provider it chooses.

Given the number of providers and the fact the ruling's not clear about how they are supposed to scrub out the 200 plus domains, that could mean endless, open-ended action.

The finding for Chanel doesn't stop sweeping there, however: the court also orders the seizure of the privately owned domain names, which are to be handed over to Chanel and then the court.

The court has ordered the top-level domain registry to transfer the names to GoDaddy and for GoDaddy to change the DNS data so the sites point to the case documents.

It's not clear why GoDaddy, of all providers, was picked.

At the time of writing, The Reg found just a single site had been seized and was pointing to the documents.

Internet and media law specialist Venkat Balasubramani points out here "there's no clear basis to authorize a transfer of a defendant's property pending resolution of a lawsuit to the plaintiff".

The case has not been closed, and the orders are an injunction pending final resolution.

Meanwhile, the site's owners have been instructed to stop using the Chanel trademark or similar, confusing, trademarks in the domain's name extensions, meta tags, website source code, ad links, search engine databases or caches.

When it comes to such cases, the US government is not known for being shy about seizing domains in the name of the law; in April it seized poker sites outside the US. In this particular case, however, a private defendant has convinced a local court that it has the power and authority to seize domains while also blocking internet search.

It is likely that Chanel has picked a US jurisdiction that is sympathetic to its case by going with Nevada. As Balasubramani points out, there's no indication the sites are from the gambling state. It is, however, established practice among US prosecutors and litigants to cherry-pick states with judges, courts and past rulings that suggest they'd win. Balasubramani, while sympathetic to the "whack-a-mole" problem rights-owners face, points out the order is "just extraordinarily broad and is on shaky procedural grounds".

The order has eerie overtones of a national political debate. The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act in the US would give the US government the power to seek a court order requiring ISPs and search engines block consumer access while rights-holders would have the power to demand that payment vendors and ad networks end relationships with infringing sites. ®

This article has been updated to clarify Venkat Balasubramani commented on the Chanel ruling.

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