In a move timed to disrupt illegal retail activity on “cyber Monday,” the government has executed seizure orders against 82 domain names of websites selling counterfeit goods or enabling illegal file-sharing, the DOJ announced today. But some of the websites whose URLs were seized last week have already migrated to new web addresses, and are back up and running.
The seizures were part of Operation In Our Sites v. 2.0, in which law enforcement agents made undercover purchases from the websites. If the goods were determined to be counterfeit, warrants were delivered to the registries that control the top-level domains, and traffic to the web addresses was then rerouted to another server, displaying a government message. Operation in Our Sites v. 1.0 was announced in June, and targeted sites selling pirated first-run movies. But the latest URL raid hit a wider range of websites. Among them were websites selling and facilitating the sharing of movies, music and software, as well as others selling sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel and sunglasses. (Last week, the website Torrent Freak compiled a partial list of the seized URLs.)
If you visit the seized URLs you find the following message:
“By seizing these domain names, we have disrupted the sale of thousands of counterfeit items, while also cutting off funds to those willing to exploit the ingenuity of others for their own personal gain,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
But as Tech Crunch reports, several of the affected websites have simply moved on to a new URL, and are using social media to spread the word about their new digs. Torrent-Finder.com, a BitTorrent search engine, for instance, is now Torrent-Finder.info, and the hip-hop site rapgodfathers.com is now rapgodfathers.info. 2009Jerseys.com is now 2009Jerseys.net. Tech Crunch points out that top-level domains controlled by Verisign — like .com and .net — place site owners in a legal relationship with the U.S., while other top-level domains exist outside U.S. jurisdiction, and would be more protected from these kinds of seizures.
In an interview with TPM, ICE Assistant Deputy Director Erik Barnett said that while the websites might pop back up, the timing of the raid did damage.
“This particular operation was timed around ‘cyber Monday,’ what’s said to be the busiest operation of the year,” Barnett said. “These sites have spent months, years, building up traffic and cache to their name… they’re not doing any business today.”
Barnett also noted that of the websites raided back in June, only 2 resumed operations, and one, which changed its URL from tvshack.net to tvshack.cc, was seized again in this latest raid. “We’re going to stay at this,” he said.
Barnett told TPM that there is an “ongoing criminal investigation,” but that no charges have yet been filed in relation to the raided websites.
In a statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) applauded the raid. “The Obama administration’s commitment to aggressively protect American intellectual property is commendable,” Leahy said. “We can no longer sit on the sidelines while American intellectual property is stolen and sold online using our own infrastructure.”
In September, along with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Leahy introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which received unanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee. In his statement today, Leahy said tools used to execute the seizures are “similar to the remedy” that the act would authorize.
One counter argument advanced by Torrent Freak is that BitTorrent search engines are difficult to accuse of copyright infringement. BitTorrent, a decentralized way of file-sharing, has posed a problem for authorities, and Torrent Freak says sites that search for the files should not be responsible for their legality.
When a site has no tracker, carries no torrents, lists no copyright works unless someone searches for them and responds just like Google, accusing it of infringement becomes somewhat of a minefield - unless you’re ICE Homeland Security Investigations that is.
“My Web site does not even host any torrents or direct-link to them,” Torrent Finder’s operator Waleed A. GadElKareem told The New York Times in an e-mail. “I am sure something is wrong!”
Barnett told TPM that while the government is not targeting search engines, “there are individuals that will operate certain sites and be actively engaged in copyright violation” no matter how they classify themselves.
Operation in Our Sites is being spearheaded by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), led by ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com