November 28, 2010

Feds Crack Down On Piracy Websites

The U.S. government is shutting down websites that are suspected of copyright infringement or selling counterfeit goods as Congress debates a bill that would allow feds to have more authority to do so.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has seized over 70 websites in recent days.  The agency, which is within the Homeland Security Department, posted a notice saying that the domain name has been seized by ICE through court-ordered warrants.  

An ICE spokeswoman told the Journal that the agency executed court-ordered seizure warrants against a number of domain names.

"As this is an ongoing investigation, there are no additional details available at this time," she said.

Online publications first reported the seizures, which began on Thursday when ICE agents raided facilities operated by a hip hop file-sharing site called RapGodFathers.  

Some of the siteowners have complained that their domain names were seized without any notice or warning.

The seizures come as Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) vows to block an online copyright enforcement bill that was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

The bill would allow the Justice Department to seek expedited court orders blacklisting websites that are suspected of piracy.

Supports say that the bill would help put an end to websites that steal intellectual property, which is estimated to cost the U.S. economy over $100 billion each year.

"The Internet serves as the glue of international commerce in today's global economy. But it's also been turned into a tool for online thieves to sell counterfeit and pirated goods, making hundreds of millions of dollars off of stolen American intellectual property," Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said in a written statement.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the committee, said if "rogue websites" existed in the physical world, the store would be shuttered immediately and the proprietors would be arrested.

"We cannot excuse the behavior because it happens online and the owners operate overseas," he said in a written statement. "The Internet needs to be free "“ not lawless."

However, Wyden says that the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, or COICA, is excessive.

"Deploying this statue to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb, when what you need is a precision-guided missile," he said during a hearing on digital trade. "If you don't think this thing through carefully, the collateral damage would be American innovation, American jobs, and a secure Internet."

His opposition dooms the bill in this Congress and would force the next Congress convening in January to start from scratch.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based digital rights group, says that the bill's collateral damage would be "enormous."  The group said that if the bill passed a few years ago, YouTube might not exist today.

"There are already laws and procedures in place for taking down sites that violate the law," the group said in a statement on its website. "This act would allow the attorney general to censor sites even when no court has found they have infringed copyright or any other law."


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