How To Stop Domain Names Being Seized By The US Government

As the United States authorities continue with their domain name seizure policy, file-sharing, streaming and link site operators around the world are looking for ways to mitigate this aggressive action. To this end, an Internet engineer and website operator has put together a guide that might just help site owners avoid a whole heap of inconvenience in the future.

iceThis week, an ever more familiar picture started to emerge, the third such situation in well under a year. US authorities had begun another round of domain name seizures, this time against sites connected with sports streaming.

The domains seized included HQ-streams.com, HQ-streams.net, Atdhe.net, Firstrow.net, Ilemi.com, Iilemi.com, Iilemii.com, Channelsurfing.net, Rojadirecta.net and Rojadirecta.com.

These latest seizures were the final straw for one angry TorrentFreak reader.

“First they came for the Napsters, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Napster. Then they came for the Torrents, and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t use Torrents. Then they came for the file-sharers, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a file-sharer,” the email began.

“And then they came for me and for my sites, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

These words come from SearchFreak, an internet engineer and chief executive of an Internet business that provides services to millions of users. Outraged at the seizing of domains, in particular those connected to the twice-ruled-legal Rojadirecta, he told TorrentFreak that he’d deliberately built on the famous words of Martin Niemöller to inspire people to stand up for themselves on the Internet.

“Niemöller’s reasoning is why I am going to provide a simple list of actions that should serve as a guide for any internet business looking to stay safe in light of ever more harsh copyright measures, born only for the interest of a small group of (mostly) American companies,” SearchFreak explained.

So, without further delay, here they are.

1: Avoid registering domains that are handled by VeriSign or Afilias.

VeriSign operates .com, .net, .cc, .name and .tv while Afilias operates .info, .org, .mobi, .in, .me, .aero and more. If certain SEO or brand related issues are holding you back from avoiding these TLDs, I have my own experience to share to the contrary. Google will not punish your site if you have a .ch or .eu extension.

2: Avoid using a US-based domain registrar.

Do not choose the traditional GoDaddy’s of the USA. Please choose a Spanish, German, Dutch, Romanian or even Chinese registrar for your domains. Recent evidence shows that courts in the US will order companies like GoDaddy to hand over your domains without even notifying you.

3: Avoid hosting your site with US companies.

While you risk losing a domain name, you also risk being taken offline by, for example, an erroneous/competitor-directed or even justified DMCA request sent to your hosting provider. There are many examples where rights holders do more wrong than right, where entire websites are shut down because of a single post or message.

If you care about your Internet business, you understand that even one day offline can cause a ripple effect that can take a month to recover from. Receive a penalty from Google and repeat customers can presume your site is down and shift to a competitor.

4: Avoid incorporating as a US business. No more Delaware.

Even if you are a US citizen, you can safely choose other jurisdictions: register your company in Ireland, in offshore locations, in the Netherlands or in Spain. Just search on Google and you will find many options, especially for internet businesses. Most likely, you will also pay less tax. Google does this too.

5: Adopt a DMCA-like procedure to take down reported content.

Are you running a YouTube-like website, a file cyberlocker, a UGC (user generated content) application of any kind or are you just a service provider for others?

Then create a page on your website where you can accept requests for takedown of content using the guidelines of the DMCA.

In order for the Safe Harbor in US Copyright law to be applied, you should also register an agent with the Copyright Office of the USA. It costs just $105. And come on, even YouPorn has a registered agent! You can do it too.

When you receive a Take Down Notice, as they call it, please act on it. This offers the benefit of a history of respecting the law in its current form, however wrong or right you feel it is. This is important if you actually get into a lawsuit, as you will be able to present good evidence that you have acted within the constraints of the law. That’s what the Liability Limitation Act is for; you might win the lawsuit with a summary judgment by the judge.

6: Legal uses of your product versus possible illegal uses.

When the VCR was invented, the MPAA protested that it would copy them into oblivion. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios that the Betamax VCR had “significant non-infringing uses, and that the plaintiffs were unable to prove otherwise”.

Make sure your products also fit into this description – significant non-infringing uses.

7: Know the law, know the truth

In the US, there is no clear evidence that linking to copyrighted content is illegal. My own analysis of the lawsuits that were directed at this important legal question show that all cases were settled or the defender (the site) lost by default (the owner was not present at the trial).

In the European Union, the case of TV-Links.co.uk in the United Kingdom was won by the owner of the site.

RapidShare has had significant success with copyright lawsuits brought against them by different companies. You will notice that RapidShare has taken care to abide by most of the steps above.

8: Unite, work together

While you are competitors in your respective business niches, remember that innovation and access to knowledge that you deliver is being threatened by organized and powerful companies that are working together.

Learn to do the same. Whenever in doubt, re-read the words of Martin Niemöller.

SearchFreak is an internet engineer who studies IP law. He serves as a chief executive of an Internet business that provides web services to millions each month. He is also offering advice regarding Internet businesses and startups. Time permitting, he will try to help those in need. Email searchfreak11[at]gmail.com.

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