U.S. Court Grants Order to Wipe Pirate Sites from the Internet

A U.S. federal court in Oregon has granted a broad injunction against several streaming sites that offer pirated content. Among other things, the copyright holder may order hosting companies to shut down the sites' servers, ask registrars to take away domain names, and have all search results removed from Google and other search engines.

stop-blockedThe entertainment industries often complain that they have virtually no means to target pirate sites, especially those run from overseas.

This grim outlook isn’t shared by the operators of ABS-CBN, the largest media and entertainment company in the Philippines, who filed a lawsuit against several unauthorized streaming sites at a District Court in Oregon.

The company’s complaint alleges a mixture of trademark and copyright infringement against a dozen websites including Pinoystreaming.com, Pinoytvko.biz and Pinoy-tube.com. The sites in question are operated by different people, some of whom have no apparent connection to the United States.

To stop the sites from operating as quickly as possible the media company requested a temporary restraining order. This was done under seal without the knowledge of the defendants, as ABS-CBN feared that they would otherwise switch domain names and continue operating as usual.

“Absent a temporary restraining order, Defendants will be able to completely erase the status quo by transferring the benefits of their prior illegal activities to new websites,” the company argued.

In short, ABS-CBN requested power to take the sites offline before the owners knew that they were getting sued, and without a chance to defend themselves. While that may seem a lot to ask, Judge Anna Brown granted the request.

Earlier this month the Judge signed the temporary restraining order which bars the operators from running their sites. In addition, it allows the media company to order hosting companies to take down the servers, domain registrars to seize the domain names, and search engines to remove all results linking to the sites.

“Upon Plaintiffs’ request, those with actual notice of the injunction, including any Internet search engines, Web hosts, domain-name registrars, and domain name registries or their administrators, shall cease facilitating access to any or all domain names and websites…,” the order reads.

The court also ordered the domain name registrars to point the domains to a copy of the complaint, so the website owners would know why their sites had been wiped from the Internet. Further, to prevent the defendants from passing on Google traffic to a new domain, ABS-CBN was granted permission to access the Google Webmaster Tools of the defendants.

“Plaintiffs may enter the Subject Domain Names into Google’s Webmaster Tools and cancel any redirection of the domains that have been entered there by Defendants which redirect traffic to a new domain name or website and thereby evade the provisions of this Order,” the order reads.

The above is just part of the injunction which effectively shuts down the sites in question. All websites in the suit are now redirected to a copy of the complaint. Also, several domains are no longer present in Google’s search results.

The preliminary injunction is unique in its kind, both due to its broadness and the fact that it happened without due process. This has several experts worried, including EFF’s Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry.

“It’s very worrisome that a court would issue a rapid and broad order affecting speech based on allegations, without careful consideration and an opportunity for the targets to defend themselves,” McSherry tells TorrentFreak.

In addition to the restraining order, Judge Brown also granted ABS-CBN’s request to freeze all financial assets of the defendants until further notice. The defendants were given the option to appeal both orders after they were issued, but it’s unknown whether they have done so.

This is not the first ex-parte injunction to be handed down against alleged pirate sites this month. The same happened in the Expendables 3 case, although this order wasn’t nearly as broad as the one against the Filipino streaming sites.

Whether it’s the start of a new trend has yet to be seen, but considering the broad measures judges are willing to sign off, things could get messy.

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