As one of the leading CDN and DDoS protection services, Cloudflare is used by millions of websites across the globe.
This includes thousands of “pirate” sites which rely on the U.S. based company to keep server loads down.
In addition, Cloudflare has the added benefit that it can ‘obfuscate’ the hosting providers of these sites, offering an extra layer of anonymity.
This is an issue academic book publisher Elsevier has dealt with first hand. Last year the company filed a complaint against Sci-Hub, Libgen and Bookfi, but thus far the operators of the latter two sites remain unknown.
Since both sites used Cloudflare in the past, Elsevier tried to obtain information through the “trusted notifier” program. However, the CDN provider replied that it could not share this information for sites that are no longer active on its network.
This left Elsevier no other option than to take the matter to court. In a request filed last month, the publisher explained that a court-ordered discovery subpoena is the only option to move the case forward and identify the defendants.
In a recent order, federal Judge Robert W. Sweet agrees with that assessment.
“There is good cause to believe that absent identifying information concerning the operators of libgen.org and bookfi.org, Elsevier will be unable to advance its claims against those operators,” Judge Sweet writes.
The court has seen enough evidence to conclude that the two websites are engaging in copyright-infringing activities and concludes that a subpoena is warranted.
“Elsevier has made a substantial evidentiary showing that Defendants, through the websites libgen.org and bookfi.org, have engaged in conduct which violates Elsevier’s exclusive rights under [U.S. copyright law],” the order notes.
This means that Cloudflare will have to hand over any and all information they have that may identify these former customers.
While Cloudflare is left with no other option than to cooperate, it’s unclear to what degree they can help.
Since neither Libgen nor Bookfi are currently using Cloudflare’s services, it remains to be seen whether the company still has the site’s old IP-addresses and other identifiable information on file.
Even if the operators are identified, it’s unlikely that they will agree to future U.S. court orders, as they are likely living abroad.
After losing their previous domain names through the lawsuit, the Libgen and Bookfi websites continued to serve ‘pirated’ papers and books. Even today, they remain available through their new homes at golibgen.io and bookfi.net.