June 27, 2017

Takedown 2.0: The Trouble with Broad TROs Targeting Non-Party Online Intermediaries

On August 14, a federal district court in Oregon issued an ex parte temporary restraining order (TRO) in a civil copyright infringement case, ABS-CBN v. Ashby. The defendants in the case are accused of operating several “pirate websites” that infringe the plaintiffs’ copyrights in broadcast television programs. In addition to ordering the defendants to stop engaging in infringing conduct, the court ordered unspecified “Internet search engines, Web hosts, domain-name registrars, and domain name registries or their administrators [to] cease facilitating access to any or all domain names and websites through which Defendants engage in the [infringement] of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works.” The court ordered the domain name registrars that had originally registered the defendants’ domain names to transfer the registrations for the pendency of the litigation to a new registrar chosen by the plaintiffs. It then ordered the new, as-yet-unidentified registrar to divert traffic from the defendants’ sites to a location displaying legal documents from the case. None of the online intermediaries targeted by the order is a named party in the case, and none was represented in court before the TRO issued.

A little over a week before the Oregon court issued its TRO, a federal district court in California issued a TRO in another “pirate website” case involving sites streaming and distributing pre-release copies of “The Expendables 3.” The California court’s order to stop providing services to the defendants was directed broadly to “persons and entities providing any services to or in connection with the domain names <limetorrents.com>, <billionuploads.com>, <hulkfile.eu>, <played.to>, <swankshare.com> and/or <dotsemper.com> or the websites to which any of those domain names resolve.” In addition to domain name registrars and hosting services, the California court’s order swept in “[a]ll banks, savings and loan associations, payment processors or other financial institutions, payment providers, third party processors and advertising service providers of Defendants.” Again, none of the online intermediaries targeted in the order is a named party in the case and none was represented in court before the TRO issued.

The reach of these orders is breathtaking, particularly in light of the non-party status of the targeted intermediaries. [Read more…]