Copyright With the French government struggling to translate its controversial “three-strikes” law into an effective anti-piracy regime, seizing the web domains of suspected pirates may become the tactic of choice for governments seeking to put a dent in online copyright infringement.
Last week, more than 70 websites were shut down and had their domain names seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) acting under court-issued warrants. Many of the targeted websites are suspected of selling counterfeit clothing and other items but they also included several BitTorrent tracker sites. It was at least the second time this year that law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have moved to seize web sites. In August, ICE and the Department of Justice seized nine sites suspected of trafficking in pirated and counterfeit goods and detained 11 individuals.
The latest seizures came even as efforts in Congress to expand the government’s power to shut down suspect web sites were temporarily blocked. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (S. 3804), introduced in the lame-duck session by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which would make it easier for the Justice Department to obtain court orders to seize sites “dedicated to infringing activities,” was stopped before it could come to the floor for a vote by an administrative hold placed on it by Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR). The bill will now have to be re-introduced in the next Congress, which convenes in January.
The U.S. isn’t the only country considering domain seizures to combat piracy, however. British registrar Nominet, which administers the .uk domain system, acknowledged last week it is convening an “issue group” to study the feasibility and effectiveness of domain seizures under pressure from the British government’s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA).
The issue group “will not give operational advice,” Nominet said in statement. Instead, “it might want to discuss ideas related to the nature of formal requests for suspension, whether safeguards are necessary (an appeals process, for example), and what information and support might be needed from the industry for responsible officers in law enforcement agencies to help them identify when action is appropriate.”