US official defends domain seizures for copyright violations
The director of U.S. ICE defends the recent seizure of more than 80 domain names of websites accused of copyright infringement.
By Grant Gross
January 18, 2011 — IDG News Service — The November seizures of more than 80 domain names by two U.S. government agencies were justified and necessary to project U.S. copyright holders, said the director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The recent seizures, following the seizure of eight domain names in June, were controversial, but reviewed by judges, ICE director John Morton said Tuesday. In "every single case," federal investigators were able to obtain materials that infringe copyright from the websites that had their domain names seized, Morton said during a speech at the Congressional Internet Caucus' State of the 'Net conference.
"They were all knowingly engaged in the sale of counterfeit goods," Morton said. "We're going to enforce the law. It's that simple."
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ICE, through its seizures, wants to help ensure that the Internet has a "sense of credibility, a sense of safety," Morton added.
ICE and the U.S. Department of Justice announced in late November they had seized the domains of 82 websites after getting permission from magistrate judges. In most cases, the sites were selling counterfeit goods such as sunglasses and sports jerseys, while most of the controversy centered around about five sites focused on music or movies, Morton said.
The operators of Torrent-finder.com, a BitTorrent search engine, and two hip-hop music blogs, have questioned why their domain names were seized. ICE and the DOJ "spent a lot of time" examining the websites, and the agencies did not honor all of the requests to take action that they received from copyright holders, Morton said.
The owners of those sites can challenge the seizures in court, Morton added. The seizures have also started a lively debate about copyright protections in the U.S., and "that's a good thing," he added.
Other speakers at the conference questioned the legality and effectiveness of the seizures and of a bill, the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA), introduced in September by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. COICA, which would expand the DOJ's powers to seize domain names, failed to pass through Congress before November's elections, although supporters have called for Leahy to reintroduce the legislation this year.
It's easy for websites to move to a different domain or for users to find them through alternative domains or through Internet Protocol addresses, said David Sohn, senior policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, an online civil liberties group.