Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) keep redundant mirror copies of online content on a geographically distributed network of servers. This speeds up Internet users' access to content and make it more resilient against downtime.
CDNs are often a more convenient target for takedown requests than the owners of the websites that the CDN mirrors. A website might be located in a part of the world where it is difficult to take enforcement action against the website owner directly, or the ownership of a website itself might be difficult to establish.
If a CDN stops providing service to a website, that website not only becomes slower to access, but also more vulnerable to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Without a CDN behind it, the website is easier to take down and make unavailable to users, which can effectively silence speech.
Over the past several years, industry groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and PhRMA have begun to target CDNs with requests to cease providing services to websites that are alleged to infringe copyright, trademarks, and patent rights...and have resorted to legal action in an effort to force CDNs to comply.
Examples of Targeting Content Delivery Networks
Record labels have targeted CloudFlare, a major CDN, with broad court orders that would prohibit it from serving websites associated with copyright or trademark infringement. However, U.S. law generally protects Internet intermediaries such as Cloudflare from proactively enforcing content laws against their customers. To date, major CDNs such as Cloudflare have resisted adopting these harsh "voluntary" enforcement measures against websites that use their services.
Cloudflare's termination of service to the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer in August 2017 was the first occasion on which the Content Delivery Network gave in to pressure pressure from third parties to become a vehicle for censorship of a customer website. Status: under observation.