DomainTools hit with injunction over scraping
Seattle / iStockphoto.com/july7th

DomainTools hit with injunction over scraping

A US federal judge has served US data-gathering company DomainTools with a preliminary injunction following allegations by the New Zealand Domain Name Commission that it conducted data scraping in breach of a contractual privacy policy, potentially sparking copycat lawsuits worldwide. 

Seattle’s US District Court issued the injunction following complaints from the New Zealand commission that DomainTools’ methods for access, storage and use of registrant information constituted both a breach of contract and a violation of US consumer and fraud legislation. 

The commission, which regulates the use of the .nz domain, in 2016 updated its terms of use to introduce a privacy option for all .nz domain name holders, after the public raised security concerns. The change has allowed over 20,000 users to prevent their details from appearing in public online registration searches.

DomainTools collects and stores international registrant and domain information from around the world, and uses its databases to sell monitoring and investigative services and products. The commission alleged that DomainTools’ scraping breaches its 2016 privacy policy given that it reveals information of users who believed that they had chosen to withhold it.

The injunction prohibits DomainTools and its employees from accessing the .nz domain register and publishing information which it has historically compiled from it until further notice.

In a press release, the commission said the outcome may spur other countries' domain name systems to fight their own cases should DomainTools be breaching their terms of use.

Judge Lasnik said that DomainTools assessment that this lawsuit may spark litigation worldwide as other registries attempt to protect the privacy of their registrants might be correct.

Counsel for DomainTools argued that it had not agreed to the enforceability of the change in terms of use, and that therefore a breach of contract was not possible. However, the judge decided that there was significant evidence that DomainTools had been aware of the terms of use given that it was a consistent user of the commission’s system.

DomainTools had requested US$3.5 million in damages, due to submissions made to the court by its vice president of research and development that the problem would take “months” to fix and would cause “significant disruption to [DomainTools’] normal operations.

The court ultimately decided to grant DomainTools a nominal bond of US$1,000 – Judge Robert Lasnik reasoned that this comparatively small sum was due to the company’s inability to show a way of estimating their anticipated costs.

Neither DomainTools nor its counsel responded to a request for comment.

The trial is set to take place on 9 September 2019.

Counsel to Domain Name Commission

Perkins Coie

Partner Todd Hinnen in Seattle is assisted by Anna Thompson and Erin Earl

Counsel to DomainTools

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe

Partner Jacob Heath in California is assisted by Robert Uriarte, and Partner Aravind Swaminathan in Seattle is assisted by Melanie Phillips

Documents

  • DomainTools_preliminary_injunction.pdf

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