February 3, 2011
Federal agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have seized hundreds more website domain names in what has been described as a piracy crackdown.
The agency announced Thursday that it had taken control of the domain names of 307 websites as part of “Operation Fake Sweep”. Most of the websites in question were said to be illegally selling and distributing counterfeit sporting merchandise.
Sixteen of the websites had been set up to stream live NFL games as well as Sunday’s Super Bowl. Agents are said to have arrested a Michigan man, Yonjo Quiroa, who allegedly operated nine of the streaming sites. He has been charged with criminal copyright infringement.
Anyone logging onto the websites now sees a seizure message that “notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and educates them that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime.” ICE director John Morton explained in a statement.
Morton added that most of the websites are based in China.
“While most people are focusing on whether the Patriots or Giants will win on Sunday, we at ICE have our sights on a different type of victory: defeating the international counterfeiting rings that illegally profit off of this event,” the statement continues.
“Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it’s the law.”
The Crackdown is part of a larger law enforcement initiative called “Operation In Our Sites,” which has seen a total of 669 domain names seized since its inception June 2010.
While many of the websites that have been seized are indeed infringing copyright law, several legitimate websites have been seized by the government under the program.
Dozens of websites were shut down merely for linking to copyrighted material, despite the fact that such material isn’t even hosted on the web site itself, a process the Electronic Frontier Foundation has criticized as, “Blunt instruments that cause unacceptable collateral damage to free speech rights.”
In one case, the Department of Homeland Security seized a popular music blog and shut down the web site for over a year on charges it now admits were completely false.
Last month, the FBI shut down one of the most popular file sharing sites, MegaUpload.com, for alleged copyright infringement, despite the fact that the site is legitimately used by thousands of people all over the world to transfer and store files.
Shortly after the seizure of MegaUpload, it was revealed that the creators of the site had plans to effectively revolutionize the music industry by generating direct sales and ensuring artists received 90% of their earnings on songs that they sold.
It is no secret that the music and film industry has been engaged in aggressively lobbying the government to crack down on piracy and re-write copyright laws to make them much broader in scope.
The precedent being set by this activity is that the government can seize and shut down any website it says is violating copyright, even if the site is legitimately used by customers, or merely if the site links through to a violating source.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.net, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.