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Seizing domain names without COICA

ICE notice Numerous tech advocacy groups have railed against S 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, for proposing to give the Justice Department the power to seize domain names from sites around the globe that are "dedicated to infringing activities." But the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division demonstrated over the holiday weekend that the feds already have substantial power to confiscate domains from accused infringers, thanks to a 2008 law sponsored by the senator who authored S 3804, Vermont Democrat (and occasional actor) Patrick Leahy.

ICE seized 82 domain names  over the weekend from .com and .net sites around the world, almost all of which sold bootlegged or bogus items. These included designer goods and sportswear in addition to DVDs and CDs. Also on the list, though, was Torrent-Finder, a search engine for files being shared online via the BitTorrent protocol. (An 83rd domain name seized on Monday -- TVshack.cc -- belonged to a site offering links to free movie and TV shows.)

According to Assistant Deputy Director Erik Barnett, ICE timed the seizures to coincide with Cyber Monday as a way to educate the public about infringement and steer shoppers away from illegitimate outlets. The investigation started ...

... with ICE asking the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the Recording Industry Assn. of America and several other trade groups for a list of sites to investigate, Barnett said. The agency narrowed the list to 82, then proceeded to gather enough evidence to seek a court order seizing their domain names.

(Although current law appears to give the feds wide discretion in choosing targets, Barnett said ICE doesn't have the resources to go after run-of-the-mill infringers. Nor does it pursue every site that copyright and trademark owners suggest; Barnett said those requests are vetted by ICE supervisors and U.S. attorneys, then must pass muster with a federal magistrate.)

Under the 2008 law, the Justice Department can obtain a court order seizing a domain name or any other property used "to commit or facilitate"  copyright or trademark infringement. If a federal prosecutor convinces a federal magistrate that there is probable cause to believe the law has been violated, the judge can order the seizure without giving the site owner advance notice. (The procedures  are similar to those for obtaining a federal search warrant.) The owner can try to reclaim the domain name at an administrative hearing later.

The feds served the court's order not on the sites themselves but on VeriSign, the Virginia-based domain-name registry for all .com and .net domains. (VeriSign also acts as the registry for .cc domains.) That's how ICE was able to enforce a U.S. statute against sites based outside this country.

How effective those actions are, though, is an open question. ICE conducted a less sweeping version of the crackdown in June, seizing the domain names of nine popular sites  that allegedly facilitated movie piracy. Two of the sites resurfaced at like-sounding domains; one example was TVShack.com, which reopened as TVShack.cc, only to be targeted again on Monday. Torrent-Finder has made a similar switch, maintaining its online presence as a .info domain. And even those who've lost their domain names can still operate without them, using their numerical Internet Protocol addresses instead of their usual URLs. They'll just be harder to find.

Still, it's worth noting that Leahy's new bill seems to offer a bit more protection for website operators than the 2008 law provides. The person who registered the site would have to be notified before the court could order even a temporary seizure of the domain name. And the bill's enforcement mechanism would be available only against sites "dedicated to infringing activity," not against those that simply facilitate piracy.

Another key difference is that the Leahy bill would offer a way to crack down on sites whose domain-name registrar and registry are outside the U.S. -- by requiring Internet service providers, advertising networks and payment processors not to route traffic, ads or credit-card payments to those domains. Those provisions, though, don't seem to have drawn as much flak as the bill's domain-name seizure section.

Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

-- Jon Healey


Comments () | Archives (8)

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Concerned Internet User

This is another horrible attempt by the US government to stop online piracy. The serious sites are already making plans to have new address, for instance tvshack will be up in less than 48 hours. How effective is this costly and time consuming bureaucratic process (3 to 4 months), if the sites can get up and running in a couple of days under a slightly altered domain name.

Free the Internet!

Mike Mozart

I have JUST posted a thoroughly researched News Report on my Blog that Proves that a Major USA Media Company was involved in the Distribution and Promotion of over 500 million copies of P2P File Sharing Media Piracy Software from their own servers.

LimeWire, Kazaa, Bit-Torrent, Morpheus and Many others, often with accompanying Editorial Content praising AND Demonstrating their copyright infringing abilities! This is just being made public right now. My work is fully documented on the blog. This is Breaking news. My Name should be a live link.


Jon Healey

@Mike -- It's no secret that CBS bought CNet in 2008, and with it obtained Download.com. But the latter is to software distribution what Google is to the Web -- it doesn't host the downloadable files, it merely provides links to the sites that do, such as Sourceforge.net. So it's inaccurate to say that CBS "distributes" p2p software any more than it "distributes" games or PC system utilities.

You might complain that CNet reviews p2p software programs for their functionality and ease of use, which some might consider an endorsement of file-sharing. But the reviews I've read on the site don't promote *illegal* file-sharing. I know, I know, the vast majority of files shared on Gnutella and other p2p networks are unauthorized copies of movies, songs and TV shows. I get it. But the technology is neutral -- even the MPAA has made its peace with the creators of BitTorrent.

I think it would have been bigger news had CBS decided to shutter Download.com or ordered CNet to stop reviewing software that could be put to illegal use. But that's just me.


Sounds like a fun never ending game of whack-a-mole as well a big waste of time. While I applaud their efforts, this does nothing to stop the flow of counterfeit goods or the demand for piracy. These sites will just keep on popping up and there will be new and easier ways to pirate stuff anyway. The only thing scary about this that the US gov now has the power to shut down sites from around the world. Not only is this a huge power to have but think about the international entanglements we could be facing in countries where fakes goods is accepted and sometimes necessary. There was a polls about this early this morning about it, http://my-take.com/poll/should-the-gov-be-allowed-to-seize-domains-to-stop-piracy Pulling down a few sites isn't going to stop piracy and the government shouldn't be doing the dirty work of industries. They should be making their stuff harder to counterfeit.

Mike Mozart

@John Healey

CNET Absolutely HOSTED the software. Look at the Screen Captures. Guaranteed Virus Free downloads from our OWN Servers. Look at the Screen Caps of developer requirements that the material be fully vetted for viruses and functionality by the Cnet Staff BEFORE being offed by CNET.The CNET Download button ON the actual P2P sites homepages offering CNET Guaranteed Virus Free Downloads.

CNET Selling Deluxe Versions of the software. As far as you claim never to see any indication of the CNET staff promoting it's use to infringe copyrights, did you even look at screen caps of comparison tests using ONLY copyrighted materials?

for this blog, Click my posting name. Look at different posts listed on the right side.

Mitchell Young

An illegal 'Prada' bag doesn't crowd our kids' schools, doesn't add to congestion on the freeways, doesn't get WIC or Section 8, doesn't inject itself into gubernatorial campaigns, doesn't *in general* lower the wages of the American working class. I'm not even sure it hurts Prada and its workers-- is there really a big overlap of people who would be spending, what, $1000 for a Prada bag and those buying $50 knockoffs in New York's Chinatown?

ICE should be concentrating on those aspects of its job which help the public weal, rather than serving as an adjunct force for design houses and the RIAA.

Thomas Alex

The Laws need to catch up with technology, sharing is NOT stealing.

Michael Mann

If you do not have the right to share, sharing anything protected (copyright, patent, etc.) is 100% illegal. Long live open source and free to distribute software.



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