by Paul Alan Levy
Deepak Gupta has just posted about an excellent decision firmly rejecting both Koch Industries’ trademark and other claims over a satirical press release making fun of the Koch brothers’ funding of climate change denial, as well as Koch’s effort to obtain information identifying the critics. But there is an important consumer issue in the case that has received much less attention than it should — the disgraceful reaction on the part of Bluehost, the company whose services were used to obtain the domain name and host the satirical web site.
Bluehost Truckles to Koch
But Bluehost did not give its customer the benefit of the doubt. It immediately shut down the satiric web site – thus depriving the customer of the ability to post the “reveal” that is crucial to a satire. And it turned over identifying information without any notice or opportunity to object, with its vice-president Dan Ashworth telling an AP reporter that its customers were just common criminals —
"He said the firm deals with this type of thing on a very regular basis, and its policy is to fully comply when served with a legitimate subpoena. He said the information Koch sought has already been delivered.
“'We are not in the business of harboring, you know, felons and crooks. We are not about that. This isn't WikiLeaks,' Ashworth said. 'We comply with the law here.'”
Reminder to Bluehost — "the law" gives your customers the right to object to subpoenas, but your customers depend on you to hold off when you first get a subpoena so that the objection can be heard by a judge!
In fact, District Judge Dale Kimball has not only declared that Bluehost’s customers not “felons or crooks,” he decided they were Americans legitimately exercising their First Amendment rights. Judge Kimball also ruled that Koch’s complaint couldn’t withstand a motion to dismiss. Judge Kimball ordered Koch not to reveal the information about Bluehost's customer that Bluehost should never have revealed in the first place, had it met its obligations to the customer to give him the chance to protect his anonymity.
The Lesson to Be Learned About Bluehost
Those who are thinking of registering a web site to speak out against corporate or political malefactors would do wise to look at the track records of the companies they are considering for domain name registration and hostings. As we have discussed here in the past, some companies are much less reliable than others about standing up to bogus claims.
Regrettably, this is not the first time we have encountered such studied disinterest on the part of Bluehost in protecting the First Amendment rights of its users. Consumers should beware Bluehost.