As part of an international operation, Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3) seized 33,654 domain names distributing counterfeit and pirated items online. This takes the total to more than one million that have been seized in the past 12 months. Continue reading Over 33,000 Domain Names Seized Selling Counterfeit Goods in Latest Operation In Our Sites
An operation led by Interpol in conjunction with Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³), the US National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Centre and law enforcement authorities from 27 EU Member States and third parties, seized over 20,520 domain names in an operation that was revealed to coincide with Cyber Monday this week. The domain names were used for websites that were offering counterfeit goods, for example luxury products, sportswear, electronics, pharmaceuticals and online piracy on e-commerce platforms and social networks.
This joint global recurrent operation ‘In Our Sites’ (IOS) was implemented in 2014 and has since increased significantly. The eighth edition in 2017 of this global operation saw a big range of anti-counterfeiting associations and brand owner representatives joined law enforcement authorities participating in this huge worldwide action, to facilitate international cooperation and support the countries involved in this initiative. A total of 7,776 websites have been seized in the previous editions.
This year’s operation IOS VIII has seen a remarkable increase of up to 20,520 seized domain names that were illegally selling counterfeit merchandise online to consumers. This can be explained by the holistic approach which Europol followed with the aim of making the internet a safer place for consumers, by getting even more countries and private-sector partners to participate in this operation and provide referrals.
“This excellent result shows how important and effective cooperation between law enforcement authorities and private-sector partners is, and how vital it is if we are to ultimately make the internet a safer place for consumers,” said Rob Wainwright, Executive Director of Europol. “Through its Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³), Europol will continue to work closely with its partners to strengthen the fight against intellectual property crime online and offline.”
“Targeting copyright-infringing websites that market dangerous counterfeit goods to consumers and engage in other forms of intellectual property theft will continue to be a priority for law enforcement,” said acting IPR Center Director Nick Annan. “Strengthening our collaboration with police authorities around the world and leaders of industry will reinforce the crackdown on IP crimes, and demonstrate that there is no safe haven for criminals committing these illicit activities.”
Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) continued to join efforts in 2017 by successfully supporting many high-priority investigations related to online crimes, providing training related to online investigations, and organising a conference on Innovative Strategies for Effective Enforcement in Antwerp, Belgium, on 19-20 September 2017.
One of the participants in the IOS, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arrested two Mexican nationals earlier this year for allegedly operating a counterfeit airbag business out of their residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dina Gonzalez-Marquez and Emilio Gonzalez-Marquez were charged with conspiring to traffic in counterfeit goods and two counts of trafficking in counterfeit goods. The two Mexican nationals facilitated the listing and selling of counterfeit airbag modules and airbag covers through their online website airbagsplace.com, and conducted in person sales of the counterfeit goods.
As part of HSI’s enforcement actions the website domain name was seized and the merchant account used to facilitate the illegal activity was shut down. If convicted on the charges in the indictment, Dina Gonzalez-Marquez and Emilio Gonzalez-Marquez each face a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $2 million.
The easy access to the internet has made fighting counterfeiting and piracy a worldwide challenge. Counterfeiters’ ability to remain anonymous and operate thousands of web domains brings significant challenges for both the private sector and law enforcement efforts directed at taking down rogue websites and tracking down the individuals behind them. Furthermore, it has become increasingly easy to become a victim of counterfeiting. Mindful of this, Europol’s IPC³ has produced a new awareness video for consumers about the risks of ordering counterfeit medicines online. This phenomenon knows no limits – in the best-case scenario, fake medicines leave patients with no ill effects but also with no cure and in many other cases, they could even be life threatening.
Europol also wants to help consumers identify illicit websites selling counterfeit goods. For more information about the risks of buying counterfeits and other means used by counterfeiters, such as fake social media accounts and fake apps, visit Europol's dedicated web page.
Over 4,500 domain names hosting websites selling counterfeit products to consumers online have been seized by law enforcement authorities in a joint global operation. Operation In Our Sites VII tackled copyright-infringing websites and third-party marketplace listings selling luxury goods, sportswear, spare parts, electronics, pharmaceuticals, toiletries and other fake products.There were roughly 15,000 illegal websites seized and 48,000 erroneous ecommerce links removed over the past year as part of the operation.Law enforcement authorities from 27 countries, anti-counterfeiting associations and brand owner representatives participated in this huge action, which was coordinated and facilitated by Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition, the US National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and Interpol.”This year’s operation IOS VII has seen a significant increase in the number of seized domain names compared to last year. This excellent result shows how effective cooperation between law enforcement authorities and private sector partners is vital to ultimately make the internet a safer place for consumers. Through its Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³), Europol will continue to work closely with its partners to strengthen the fight against intellectual property crime online and offline,” says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.”The tremendous collaborative efforts between law enforcement and industry prove the internet is not a safe haven for counterfeiters preying on consumers,” said the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center Director Bruce Foucart. “Our investigators are committed to bringing online pirates to justice by seizing websites, working with global police authorities and strengthening relationships with industry partners.”Fighting the trade of counterfeit products online is a challenging and difficult task for law enforcement. To strengthen the fight against counterfeiting and piracy online and offline, Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) joined forces to launch the Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC) in July 2016. With its increased operational capabilities, the IPC has successfully supported many high-priority investigations related to online intellectual property infringements such as Operation Student and Operation Fake.
In its third operation in 12 months, Europol working with European and US law enforcement agencies has seized hundreds of domain names linked to the sale of counterfeit goods online.The latest operation saw Europol and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), together with 25 law enforcement agencies from 19 countries, seize 292 domain names. The latest announcement brings the total to 1,170 domain names seized in the three operations.The 292 domain names seized are part of project ‘In Our Sites (IOS) Transatlantic V’. The operation was coordinated by Europol for its partners (Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom) and the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, DC, for the United States.Since August, Europol and the IPR Center (NIPRCC) have received leads from trademark holders regarding the infringing websites, which were then circulated to law enforcement authorities in the participating countries.The domain names seized are now in the custody of the governments involved in these operations. Visitors typing those domain names into their web browsers will find either a banner that notifies them of the seizure and educates them about the crime of wilful copyright infringement, or the visitors will not be able to access the website anymore. The most popular counterfeit products concerned include the traditional luxury goods but also sportswear, electronics, pharmaceuticals and pirated goods like movies and music.”The infringements of intellectual property rights is a growing problem in our economies and for millions of producers and consumers. Europol is committed to working with its international partners to crack down on the criminal networks responsible for this illegal activity,” says Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.While seizing the websites is only one way of disrupting and hindering the criminals behind the sale of counterfeits on the Internet, law enforcement authorities also now focus increasingly on the ‘follow-the-money’ approach, in line with the EU Action Plan on the enforcement of intellectual property rights.Project IOS is a sustained law enforcement initiative that began to protect consumers by targeting the sale of counterfeit merchandise on the Internet. The 292 domain names seized under Operation IOS V brings the total number of IOS domain names seized to 1829 since the IOS project began in November 2012.”Working with our international partners on operations like this shows the true global impact of IP crime,” said NIPRCC Acting Director Bruce Foucart. “Counterfeiters take advantage of the holiday season and sell cheap fakes to unsuspecting consumers everywhere. Consumers need to protect themselves, their families, and their personal financial information from the criminal networks operating these bogus sites.”Counterfeit products being sold online not only rip off the consumer and provide shoddy products, but also put their personal financial information at risk. Consumers are encouraged to report counterfeit products and websites selling them, but also encouraged to raise awareness with others because counterfeiting crimes result in many victims. In addition, the crimes can cause revenue and tax losses, unemployment, environmental, health and safety issues for humans and animals, human exploitation and child labour.
Another 706 domain names selling counterfeit merchandise was seized in an operation with eleven international law enforcement bodies, led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).The 706 domain names seized were set up to dupe consumers into unknowingly buying counterfeit goods as part of the holiday shopping season. The operations were coordinated by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, D.C.An iteration of Operation In Our Sites, Project Cyber Monday IV resulted in the seizure of 297 domain names from undercover operations conducted by HSI offices around the country. This is the fourth year that the IPR Center has targeted websites selling counterfeit products online in conjunction with Cyber Monday. Due to the global nature of Internet crime, the IPR Center partnered with Europol who, through its member countries, seized 393 foreign-based TLDs as part of Project Transatlantic III. Additionally, Hong Kong Customs coordinated the seizure of 16 foreign-based TLDs hosted in Hong Kong, enlisting the assistance of the web-hosting companies to suspend the service of related websites.”Working with our international partners on operations like this shows the true global impact of IP crime,” said ICE Acting Director John Sandweg. “Counterfeiters take advantage of the holiday season and sell cheap fakes to unsuspecting consumers everywhere. Consumers need to protect themselves, their families, and their personal financial information from the criminal networks operating these bogus sites.”During the weeks leading up to the end of the year, the market is flooded with counterfeit products being sold at stores, on street corners, and online, according to law enforcement officials, not only ripping off the consumer with shoddy products, but also putting their personal financial information at risk. The most popular counterfeit products seized each year include headphones, sports jerseys, personal care products, shoes, toys, luxury goods, cell phones and electronic accessories, according to the IPR Center.”This operation is another good example of how transatlantic law enforcement cooperation works. It sends a signal to criminals that they should not feel safe anywhere,” said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol. “Unfortunately the economic downturn has meant that disposable income has gone down, which may tempt more people to buy products for prices that are too good to be true. Consumers should realise that, by buying these products, they risk supporting organised crime.”During the last few weeks, the IPR Center and its international partners received leads from trademark holders regarding the infringing websites. Those leads were disseminated to HSI offices in Denver, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and Salt Lake City as well as the Belgium Economic Inspection, Belgium Customs, Denmark Police, Hungarian Customs, French Gendarmerie, French Customs, Romanian Police, Spanish Guardia Civil, City of London Police, and Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.The domain names seized are now in the custody of the governments involved in these operations. Visitors typing those domain names into their Web browsers will now find a banner that notifies them of the seizure and educates them about the federal crime of wilful copyright infringement.During this operation, federal law enforcement officers made undercover purchases of a host of products including professional sports jerseys and equipment, DVD sets and a variety of clothing, jewellery and luxury goods from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products. Upon confirmation by the trademark or copyright holders that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, law enforcement officers obtained seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold these goods.Operation In Our Sites is a sustained law enforcement initiative that began more than three years ago to protect consumers by targeting the sale of counterfeit merchandise on the Internet. The 297 domain names seized under Project Cyber Monday IV bring the total number of In Our Sites domain names seized to 2,550 since the operation began in June 2010. In that time, the seizure banner has received more than 122 million individual views.U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the District of Utah, Western District of Texas, Southern District of Texas, Northern District of Texas, and the District of Colorado issued the warrants for U.S. seizures. Significant assistance was provided by the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.The HSI-led IPR Center is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21-member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety and the U.S. economy.
US authorities announced they have seized 313 domain names, arrested 23 individuals and seized more than $13.6 million in fake NFL merchandise during ‘Operation Red Zone’ which commenced on 1 September 2012.Authorities targeted warehouses, stores, flea markets, online vendors and street vendors selling counterfeit game-related sportswear and tickets throughout the United States.Fake jerseys, ball caps, T-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs are among the counterfeit merchandise and clothing confiscated by teams of special agents and officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Postal Inspection Service and state and local police departments around the country – all in partnership with the NFL and other major sports leagues.”The Super Bowl is one of the nation’s most exciting events. Organised criminals are preying on that excitement, ripping consumers off with counterfeit merchandise and stealing from the American businesses who have worked hard to build a trusted brand,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton. “The sale of counterfeit jerseys and other sports items undermines the legitimate economy, takes jobs away from Americans and fuels crime overseas. No good comes of counterfeiting American products – whether NFL jerseys, airbags, or pharmaceuticals – and we must go after the criminals behind it.”Furthering HSI’s efforts to combat the international counterfeiting supply chain and piracy online, special agents seized a total of 313 websites identified to be selling counterfeit merchandise.The domain name seizures during Operation Red Zone are the next iteration of Operation In Our Sites, a long term law enforcement initiative targeting counterfeiting and piracy on the internet. The 313 domains and their websites have been seized by law enforcement, and are now in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to these websites will find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and informs them that wilful copyright infringement is a federal crime. Since the launch of Operation In Our Sites in June 2010, the ICE HSI-led Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Center has seized a total of 2,061 domain names.HSI has continued to work closely with payment processor PayPal to identify bank accounts being used to facilitate the transfer of money to these illegal operations. To date, PayPal and HSI have identified and seized more than $66,000 in assets in these accounts.”PayPal and eBay Inc. pride ourselves in going above and beyond in the fight against the illegal online trafficking of counterfeit goods by partnering with law enforcement and rights owners globally, and as part of providing safe and trusted payments and commerce platforms,” said Tod Cohen, eBay’s vice president and deputy general counsel of government relations.Operation Red Zone will continue this weekend at the Super Bowl, throughout the New Orleans-area and around the nation.The operation was spearheaded by the IPR Center in coordination with the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and five U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, including the District of Maryland, District of New Jersey, District of Colorado, Eastern District of Louisiana and the District of Utah.”In collaboration with the NFL and our (Department of Homeland Security) partners, we are providing critical support in the effort to protect consumers from counterfeit goods,” said Robert C. Gomez, director of field operations in Atlanta and New Orleans for CBP. “The enforcement of intellectual property rights is a national agency priority, and our CBP officers and import specialists are actively working to intercept these products. Counterfeit merchandise hurts our economy and, in many cases, presents safety issues. It is a potential source of funding illegal activities that present a threat to our national security.”
European and US law enforcement agencies have taken action against domain names involved in the selling of counterfeit goods, seizing 133 domains, arresting one person in the US and seizing $175,000.The 133 domain names seized are part of Project Cyber Monday, an iteration of Operation In Our Sites, which is coordinated by the US law enforcement bodies.The latest operation targeted websites that duped consumers into unknowingly buying counterfeit goods as part of the holiday shopping season. The operation was coordinated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, D.C. for the US and the European Police Office (Europol) in Europe.In addition to seizing domain names with a top-level domain (TLD) controlled by US registries, the IPR Center partnered with Europol to execute coordinated seizures of mostly European-based TLDs such as .be, .eu, .dk, .fr, .ro, and .uk. This effort is titled Project Transatlantic.During this operation, federal US law enforcement officers made undercover purchases of a host of products including professional sports jerseys, DVD sets, cologne, and a variety of clothing, jewellery and luxury goods from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products. If the copyright holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold the goods were obtained from federal magistrate judges.”This operation is a great example of the tremendous cooperation between ICE and our international partners at the IPR Center,” says ICE Director John Morton. “That partnership enables us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world. This is not an American problem, it is a global one and it is a fight we must win.”The IPR Center and Europol received leads from various trademark holders regarding the infringing websites. Those leads were disseminated to ten investigating HSI field offices in Baltimore, Denver, El Paso, Houston, Newark, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Paul, Buffalo, and Ventura (Ca) and to the investigating Europol member countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom.”Europol became member of the Intellectual Property Right Coordination Center (IPR Center) this year and I am glad to be able to announce these operational successes. IPR theft is not a harmless or victimless crime. It can cause serious health and safety risks and it undermines our economy,” says Mr Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol.The domain names are now in the custody of the respective governments of the participating countries. Visitors typing those domain names into their web browsers will now find a banner that notifies them of the seizure and educates them about the federal crime of willful copyright infringement.In addition to the domain name seizures, Cyber Monday 3 identified PayPal accounts utilised by the infringing websites. Proceeds received through the identified PayPal accounts are currently being targeted for seizure by the investigating HSI field offices.”We couldn’t be more pleased with the opportunity to work closely with HSI to shut down criminals targeting our customers and our brand just as the holiday season takes off,” said Tod Cohen, Government Relations for eBay Inc. “PayPal and eBay Inc. pride ourselves in going above and beyond in the fight against the illegal online trafficking of counterfeit goods by partnering with law enforcement and rights owners globally, and we hope that this is fair warning to criminals that the internet is not a safe place to try and sell fake goods.”Operation In Our Sites (IOS) is a sustained law enforcement initiative by the ICE that began more than two years ago to protect consumers by targeting the sale of counterfeit merchandise on the internet. The 101 domain names by ICE seized under Project Cyber Monday 3 bring the total number of IOS domain names seized to 1,630 since the operation began in June 2010. Since that time, the seizure banner has received more than 110 million individual views.Of the 1,529 previous domain names seized, 684 have now been forfeited to the U.S. government. The federal forfeiture process affords individuals who have an interest in seized domain names a period of time after a “Notice of Seizure” to file a petition with a federal court and additional time after a “Notice of Forfeiture” to contest the forfeiture. If no petitions or claims are filed, the domain names become the property of the U.S. government. Additionally, a public service announcement, launched in April 2011, is linked from the seizure banner on each of the 684 forfeited websites.The banner and video educate the public about the criminal consequences of trafficking in counterfeit goods and the economic impact that crime has on the U.S. and global economies.U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Districts of Maryland, Colorado, New Jersey, Southern District of California, Central District of California, Western District of New York and the Western District of Texas issued the warrants for the seizures. Significant assistance was provided by the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.
With The Pirate Bay now using a .SE domain name in an attempt to avoid US authorities seizing control of its domain, the Swedish registry .se has put out a statement explaining the situation for the file sharing sites current preferred domain name.Back in February The Pirate Bay switched from using a .ORG domain to .SE following US government agencies seizing a number of .COM domains that were being used for selling counterfeit goods and other activities. Operation In Our Sites has been operated by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center). Through the operation, the US government had seized 769 domain names as of July 2012.The statement from .se is below:Will .SE shut down thepiratebay.se?When the Supreme Court of Sweden decided in February not to examine the court of appeal’s ruling in the protracted trial against The Pirate Bay (TPB), the file-sharing site was relocated from .org to .se. .SE has not been issued a formal court order to take action based on the ruling. However, we receive many questions about how we would react if the situation were to come to a head, which I would now like to address.So far, .SE has not taken any actions following the ruling against TPB since we do not consider ourselves obligated to do so based on the contents of the ruling. Nor is it possible to answer hypothetical questions regarding how we would respond if we were to receive a formal order. Our actions would largely be determined by the contents of the order and the issuing party. Accordingly, we will assess the situation on a case-by-case basis if such an order is issued.
Generally speaking, what actions can .SE take against a domain name registrant?We always have the right to take action based on a ruling against us pertaining to a specific domain name. Under Item 6 of our user agreement, we also have the right to deactivate and deregister a domain in the event that the domain itself or the manner in which it is used constitutes an obvious infraction against Swedish law. This provision is formulated in such a way as to enable us to take action in obvious cases – for example, in the distribution of child pornography or agitation against a national or ethnic group.However, this is a right not an obligation, and such action would only be taken after a decision is made by .SE’s Board of Directors. Such a decision has never before been made.We believe that the judicial authorities should determine whether or not it is appropriate to take action against a particular domain name registrant. Unless we have been ordered to do so, there is a risk that we could call the validity of the legal process into question by taking action before a ruling is passed.However, on a couple of occasions, we have deactivated a domain when suspicions of identity theft were raised and the domain in question had been used for what is known as phishing.What actions could the court order us to take?Naturally, we cannot know for certain, but a few possibilities are that the court could order the domain name to be deregistered, the name server to be removed or the domain name to be forfeited (seized) or placed on .SE’s block list.
Three ways to block a domainTPB is currently blocked in several countries. However, the methods used to block a domain are all relatively easy to circumvent and thus essentially ineffective. Three main methods exist. To illustrate these methods, we have chosen to compare them with various ways of breaking into a shoe store located in a shopping mall.1. Block the IP addressThis method is used, for example, by the Chinese state to limit its citizens’ access to websites deemed to be objectionable by the regime. The IP addresses of these sites are compiled in a list and no traffic is permitted to access them. However, it is relatively easy for the owner of the website to move it to another IP address, thereby circumventing the block.Users can also bypass a blocked IP address using an anonymity service, such as Tor, but this requires a relatively high level of technical ability.Blocking an IP address can be compared to blocking the entrance to a shoe store. While a determined customer would undoubtedly be able to enter through an emergency exit at the back of the store, most would assume the store was closed and shop elsewhere.2. Block or shut down the domain nameIt is possible to block a domain name by contacting either .SE, which can deregister the domain name, or the name server operator – usually a web hosting company – which is responsible for keeping track of the IP address or addresses associated with the domain name. However, the domain may still be accessible through the address.Removing a domain name can be compared to taking down the signs hanging outside the shoe store. Although this would make it more difficult for customers to find the store, it would still be there and any customers who were able to find it would be able to continue buying shoes there.3. Seize the serverWhen the Swedish police cracked down on web hosting company PRQ, PRQ’s servers were seized. However, it did not take long before The Pirate Bay was up and running again, since the contents of the servers had been copied in several other locations.In the physical world, this can be compared to closing the shoe store and confiscating the shoes, but the parallels end there. Since it is not possible to make back-up copies of physical products, such as shoes, it would be much more difficult for the storekeeper to resume operations.
The domain is not the problemWe believe the problem in this type of situation is not the domain, but rather its contents. The domain name itself is not an accomplice in act of copyright infringement and if thepiratebay.se, for example, were to be shut down, the site would almost certainly reopen under another top-level domain.
Abstract: In the summer of 2010, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division of the Department of Homeland Security began “Operation In Our Sites,” an enforcement sweep targeted towards websites allegedly dealing in counterfeit goods and copyright-infringing files. The operation targeted the websites by proceeding in rem against their respective domain names. For websites targeted for copyright infringement, ICE Agents used recently-expanded copyright forfeiture remedies passed under the 2008 PRO-IP Act, providing no adversarial hearing prior to the websites being removed, and only a probable cause standard of proof.This Paper examines three specific harms resulting from Operation In Our Sites, and three ways in which the enforcement sweep could be changed to better balance the interests of intellectual property enforcement and free expression. By removing content from the Internet before being fully adjudicated as infringing, the civil forfeiture remedy works a prior restraint of speech. To avoid this, this Paper urges Congress and the courts to institute the same procedural First Amendment protections in place in the area of obscenity to copyright infringement. Secondly, the alleged infringement here appears to be conducted by third parties posting material on the websites. By keeping website owners out of the dispute process, this remedy disrupts the cooperative spirit sought to be instilled by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s inclusion of statutory safe-harbors for online service providers. To reinstate this cooperative spirit, agents should be required to attempt in personam contact against the website owners before proceeding against the websites in rem. Finally, by targeting website domain names instead of actual content servers, Operation In Our Sites has not effectively disrupted the activities of the targeted websites. In fact, many websites have grown in popularity since this enforcement sweep began. Due to the dubious efficacy of targeting domain names, this remedy should be reserved for situations where there exists some other extrinsic reason to believe that the enforcement tactic will work.To download and read this paper by Andrew Sellars in full, go to:
On August 30th three members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano raising questions about the legality and methodology of the Operations In Our Sites domain seizure program jointly launched by those Cabinet Departments in November 2010. The letter (available at lofgren.house.gov/images/Letter_to_AG_Holder_083012.pdf ) was signed by Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), and Jared Polis (D-CO), all of whom were leaders in opposing the SOPA domain suspension bill that crashed and burned in the House early this year.
Their bipartisan message about the need for adequate due process and transparency Â is one with which ICA wholeheartedly agrees, regardless of the process used for domain seizure or suspension and whether the allegations against a website involve violations of copyright or trademark law:
Our concern centers on your Departmentâs methods, and the process given, when seizing the domain names of websites whose actions and contents are presumed to be lawful, protected speech. Without conceding whether your Department has the legal authority to seize these domains under these circumstances, it needs to be given meaningful due process that comports with the U.S. Constitution and U.S. law. To do otherwise risk unjustly suppressing lawful free speech and devastating legitimate businesses that rely on the seized websites. Complaints from several websites, in addition to press accounts, indicate that In Our Sites has resulted in the seizure of domains without sufficient due process and transparency, based on links and content that appear to have been lawfully provided to the sites. (Emphasis added)
The letter cites the shuttering of the Dajaz1 website, which was suspended for more than one year until it was ultimately determined that there was a lack of probable cause for the seizure. The letter also contends that ICE prevented the website operator from obtaining judicial review by arranging for secret, ex parte extensions while copyright holders, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), were granted additional time to review website content. The letter also alleges that similar procedural problems have arisen in other seizure cases, and that âthe effect of these problems is to severely limit the ability of website owners to challenge the legality and merits of the domain name seizuresâ.
The letter concludes by posing seven separate questions regarding various aspects of the In Our Sites program — including the targeting methodologies, due diligence regarding fair use and DMCA safe harbors, and avenues available to website operators wishing to restore operations. We hope the Departments respond to those questions expeditiously and forthrightly, as the free speech and economic freedom issues raised by widespread U.S. website seizures are important matters for all Netizens.
This article by Philip Corwin from the Internet Commerce Association was sourced with permission from: