Courts shut down 82 sites for alleged copyright violations

Two U.S. government agencies have obtained seizure orders from courts across the nation for the domain names of 82 Web sites accused of selling products that infringe copyright law, including music, movies and handbags.

The seizure orders, from courts in eight states and Washington D.C., have allowed the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to shut down sites including Torrent-finder.com, DVDscollection.com, Sunglasses-mall.com, and NFLjerseysupply.com, officials from the agencies said Monday.

News reports of multiple site closures surfaced in the last few days, but officials with the two agencies talked about the actions during a press conference Monday.

"With today's seizures, we are disrupting the sale of thousands of counterfeit items," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. "We are cutting off funds to those looking to profit from the sale of illegal goods and exploit the ingenuity of others. And, as the holiday shopping season gets underway, we are also reminding consumers to exercise caution when looking for deals and discounts online. To put it simply: If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is."

Sites targeted by the two agencies displayed a notice on their home pages saying that ICE had seized the domain names. "Willful copyright infringement is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution," the notices read. "Intentionally and knowingly trafficking in counterfeit goods is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to ten years in federal prison, a $2,000,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution."

Some commentators questioned the seizure of Torrent-finder.com, a search engine for BitTorrent files that didn't host any files itself. Another version of the site remained online at Torrent-finder.info Monday morning.

ICE "went way beyond its mandate to seize a whole bunch of domain names," wrote Mike Masnick, founder of the TechDirt blog. "Many of the operators of the domain names seized in this round state they hadn't received any notification of complaints, let alone demands to be taken down."

The seizure of search engines is "ridiculous," Masnick added. "For anyone who actually understands how the internet works (i.e., clearly not Homeland Security) this is a massively troubling move, suggesting that if Homeland Security doesn't like how your search engine works, it can simply seize your domain and put up a really scary looking graphic, claiming it has taken over your website," he wrote.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised the action by the DOJ and ICE. The seizures targeted "rogue websites," said Leahy, who has sponsored legislation this year that would make it easier for the DOJ to shut down infringing websites.

"The innovative use of the tools currently available to law enforcement to seize these domain names is similar to the remedy that would be specifically authorized under the bipartisan Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act for websites that are registered in the United States," Leahy said in a statement. "We can no longer sit on the sidelines while American intellectual property is stolen and sold online using our own infrastructure. This costs American jobs, hurts our economy, and puts consumers at risk."

Also cheering the seizures was Mitch Bainwol chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.

"Federal law enforcement authorities have now hung a 'closed for business' sign on some of the most notorious music websites that were havens for copyright theft," he said in a statement. "No anti-piracy initiative is a silver bullet, but targeted government enforcement against the worst of the worst rogue sites sends a strong message that illegally trafficking in creative works carries real consequences and won't be tolerated."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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