This week the Internet found itself part of a new reality in which website domains can be suspended by registrars based on the accusations of a third party and with no due process. One of the sites affected was ExtraTorrent, one of the world’s largest torrent indexes. Its operators now inform TorrentFreak that following the suspension of their .com domain they will take legal action if necessary in order to have it returned.
Yesterday it became apparent that the newly-founded Intellectual Property Crime Unit of the City of London Police had deepened its campaign against some of the world’s largest torrent sites.
The unit has been in operation for some time, but until this week the only immediate signs of its existence were the threatening letters sent out to sites a few months ago. Now the unit is sending letters to domain registrars asking them to suspend the domains of sites that the police – and their Hollywood and music industry partners – say are copyright-infringing criminal organizations.
“Say” is the key word here. There appears to be no court orders and no due process, something that was condemned yesterday by EasyDNS, a registrar approached by the police to suspend the domain of meta-search engine TorrentPond. The Canada-based company refused to do so and published the letter from the police instead.
For half a dozen sites it was already too late. ExtraTorrent, SumoTorrent, MisterTorrent and MP3 sites emp3world.com, full-albums.net and maxalbums.com, all had action taken against their domains this week. However, at least one will be fighting back.
At the start of 2013 ExtraTorrent was the 5th largest torrent site in the world so the fact that the police decided to target the site is significant. Its owners are annoyed to say the least, particularly with PDR Ltd (Public Domain Registry), the registrar that suspended ExtraTorrent’s .com domain and also those belonging to the previously mentioned MP3 sites.
“After contacting PDR [after the suspension] they kept giving us funny replies but finally gave us a copy of the PDF file sent by the London Police,” ExtraTorrent told TorrentFreak.
“This was even more funny than the rest of the communications we had with PDR Ltd because it turned out that the suspension was solely and willfully under the discretion of the registrar and with no legal basis.”
ExtraTorrent says that they view the police correspondence, which suggested ways in which a website could be in breach of the registrar’s own ToS, as “guidance” to PDR Ltd on how to suspend a website domain in the absence of any due process.
“PDR Ltd didn’t even think of spending more time on understanding the content of the email sent by London Police. Basically they just got scared and did what was asked of them even with no legal implications indicated by the sender. The police were dictating to registrars what to do and how to do it their way,” ExtraTorrent explains.
ExtraTorrent remains operational at ExtraTorrent.cc but the site believes that it should fight back in order to regain control over its .com domain.
“We are going to fight this action legally if needed,” the site concludes.
After the news of the suspensions spread yesterday much of the criticism transcended the issues of copyright infringement or whether or not any of the sites had committed any offenses as claimed by the police. The general consensus among critics is that if sites are indeed guilty of a crime then it should be a court’s responsibility to order action to be taken.
TorrentFreak spoke with City of London Police yesterday and asked if it was normal to take this kind of action without court orders. We were informed that more information would be made available in the coming weeks.
It goes without saying that domain names and domain name servers are a crucial part of what makes the Internet tick. Little surprise then that there are concerns when copyright holders with police backing decide to meddle with them without the expected formalities.
As pointed out by EasyDNS, first they came for the file-sharing websites….