Representing the major Hollywood studios, the Motion Picture Association (MPA) regularly patrols the Internet for sites that host or link to pirated movies.
In recent months the group has approached several site owners requesting them to take down their sites, or face legal action.
One way to identify the owners of said sites is through domain WHOIS information, which is publicly available. However, this becomes problematic when site owners use so-called domain privacy services, which hide their personal details from the public. At least, that’s what’s assumed.
As it turns out, not all of these services are as private as one might think. The operator of a linking site learned this the hard way when ‘Domains by Proxy‘ shared his personal details with the MPA.
The domain privacy service, which is owned by GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons, handed over his personal details without a subpoena, or any form of due process.
“We have received a possible legal complaint regarding your domain name xxx.com,” Domains By Proxy informed the site owner.
“Since we were provided with proof the complainant owns a potentially applicable copyright, we have disclosed your identity for the limited purpose of this complaint so that the complainant can communicate directly with you to seek resolution.”
The site owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, was shocked when he received the message. He says his website doesn’t host any copyrighted material and assumed that Domains by Proxy would at least notify him before sharing any personal details.
Soon after the email from Domains by Proxy arrived, the Motion Picture Association reached out to the domain owner, using the name and email address provided by the domain privacy service.
“This Notice requires you to immediately take effective measures to end and prevent further copyright infringement. All opportunities provided by the Website to download, stream or otherwise obtain access to the Entertainment Content should be disabled permanently,” the movie industry group wrote.
“If you fail to take the immediately required action to end and prevent further copyright infringements the MPA and the MPA Members expressly reserve the right to pursue all remedies available,” MPA added.
Needless to say, the domain owner does not agree with Domains by Proxy’s action. He says that the MPA obtained his personal details without providing actual proof. In addition, he doesn’t understand why his personal details had to be handed over, as all emails directed to the email listed in the WHOIS are forwarded to him anyway.
“Domain by Proxy automatically adds firstname.lastname@example.org, so any organization can contact the domain owners directly. There is no need to ask personal details from the WHOIS service without any proof of copyright infringements,” the domain owner tells TF.
“Other web services, such as LeaseWeb, don’t give details directly to MPA but force you to disable the service instead. Domains by Proxy should do the same I think,” he adds.
As it turns out, Domains by Proxy is judge and jury here, while due process is completely absent. That’s not really an ideal policy for a company that trades on people’s privacy rights.