The U.S. governmentâ€™s crackdown on file sharing and counterfeiting has taken a new and disturbing turn.
Yesterday, we reported that the Department of Homeland Securityâ€™s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office had seized Torrent-Finder.com, a site that linked to other sites that hosted and shared torrent files of copyrighted material. The news itself was not too unusual; what struck us as out of order was that the site had been shut down without the owner being notified and without a court conviction or, to our knowledge, any other legal proceedings.
At the time, we knew that several other websites had also been seized; however, today, we are hearing reports that as many as 77 different websites have been seized and shut down, all without any notification or warning to the owners.
As the owner of Torrent-Finder.com said, the sites were seized â€świthout any previous complaint or notice from any courtâ€¦ While I was contacting GoDaddy I noticed the DNS had changed. Godaddy had no idea what was going on and until now they do not understand the situation, and they say it was totally from ICANN.â€ť
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seizing sites directly from ICANN because of complaints filed against them; the agency is not doing so under the auspices of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) or a more recently introduced, so-called â€ścensorshipâ€ť bill, the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, or COICA, which was created specifically to address the issue of piracy.
While both of these acts have serious issues that many free-web advocates find disturbing, the implementation of either law might be better than no law at all.
Rather than using DMCA or COICA, the DHS has, as one spokesperson told The New York Times, â€śexecuted court-ordered seizure warrants against a number of domain names.â€ť
So far, TorrentFreak is counting 77 domains seized. These URLs indicate that sites were used to peddle counterfeit goods as well as illegally shared media files.
What we canâ€™t debate is that the government has a right to enforce its own laws. If copyrights are being infringed upon and goods are being counterfeited, the government does have the authority to put a stop to those activities.
But when legislators have taken great pains to construct and pass laws that create procedures for dealing with these exact issues, it does seem a bit off that none of those procedures were used.
For example, COICA would create a blacklist of censored URLs. If infringement of copyright or the trafficking of counterfeited goods is central to the operation of the website, the attorney general can ask a court to place that website on the blacklist.
The DHS is bypassing typical laws and procedures to quickly stamp out file-sharing and counterfeiting â€” perhaps in time to thwart knock-off holiday shopping, we could speculate. We might also speculate that the reason for the rush job has something to do with the impending passage of COICA, which would create a longer process for closing these sites.
Speculations aside, this great haste is as confusing as it is perturbing; it doesnâ€™t sit well with the traditionally American sense of due process.
What do you make of these seizures? Do you think Homeland Security is right to close these sites, specifically in this manner? Let us know your opinions in the comments.