Starting in 2010, US authorities have used domain name seizures as a standard tool to take down websites that are deemed to facilitate copyright infringement.
Despite fierce criticism from the public, legal experts and civil liberties groups, taking control of domain names is now one of the measures included in the pending Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), legislation designed to give copyright holders more tools to protect their rights against foreign sites.
Opposition to SOPA has been swelling in recent days, and today the European Parliament adds its voice by heavily criticizing the domain seizures that are part of it.
A resolution on the EU-US Summit that will be held later this month stresses “the need to protect the integrity of the global internet and freedom of communication by refraining from unilateral measures to revoke IP addresses or domain names.”
If SOPA does indeed become law the US would be able to shut down domains worldwide, as long as they are somehow managed by US companies. This includes the popular .com, .org and .net domains, and thus has the potential to affect many large websites belonging to companies in EU member states.
This can lead to problematic situations.
During one of the seizure rounds earlier this year, US authorities took the domain name Rojadirecta, which belongs to the Spanish company Puerto 80. The site in question had been declared legal in Spain by two courts, but it only took a simple warrant for ICE to take it offline.
Puerto 80 is currently involved in a legal battle in the US to get their domain back, and has reportedly suffered significant losses in traffic and revenue from their streaming portal.
This notice appears on seized sites.
If SOPA passes and these seizures become common practice, thousands of companies will face the threat of losing their domains.
The RIAA and MPAA for example pointed out that they consider the Russian social networking site VKontakte and the Chinese media portal Xunlei as potential targets. These two companies employ hundreds, if not thousands of people, and both are even considering going public on the American stock exchange.
By adopting a resolution against domains seizures the European Parliament recognizes the dangerous precedent the pending SOPA legislation would set, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if more foreign criticism follows.
No country should have the ability to simply take over international domain names, and surely the US would feel the same if this plan was put in motion by a foreign country. Or as some 60 press freedom and human rights advocate groups put it in their letter to the US representatives:
“This is as unacceptable to the international community as it would be if a foreign country were to impose similar measures on the United States.”