Operation in Our Sites Paperwork Shows Perils of Linking To Movies

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While Operation in Our Sites 2 and the grabbing of more than 80 domain names in November 2010 generated the most headlines, part 1 of the Operation in June clearly set the precedent for this type of action. Now some paperwork for the domain forfeiture of TVShack and others has appeared online which seems to send a clear message - linking to infringing material is enough to cost a site its domain.

iceThe U.S. Government’s Operation in Our Sites 2 certainly caused shockwaves in November with the seizing of more than 80 domains which it claimed were involved in copyright infringing activities. Within that batch of domains were a handful linked to file-sharing, including several rap and hiphop music related sites and the Torrent-Finder meta-search engine.

This was the second phase of the Government’s plan to take control of domain names. Operation in Our Sites 1 took place some 5 months earlier in June 2010 and saw the seizure of seven domains including TVShack.net, Movies-Links.TV, FilesPump.com, Now-Movies.com, PlanetMoviez.com, ThePirateCity.org and ZML.com.

Not much has been heard about these seizures since, but thanks to the eagle-eyed CopyHype we now have some of the documentation associated with the operation.

As can be seen from the document embedded below, on December 9th last year the Government filed a complaint for civil forfeiture in the Southern District of New York against the seven domains listed above. The initial seizing of a domain is the first step in the forfeiture process.

The U.S. is no stranger to seizing domains said to be involved in illegal activity, as can be seen from this case in 2008 where four URLs were used to sell pirate software and 141 others were linked to illegal gambling. When used in connection with a crime or even civil offense, domains appear to be treated like any other asset in these cases, i.e fair game for seizure and forfeiture.

As pointed out by Techdirt, the domain owners actually have 60 days to apply to have their domains back. The chances of them doing that are slim to non-existent.

As demonstrated in the case of the Torrent-Finder seizure in Operation in Our Sites 2, its quite surprising to see how non-technical the investigation into these 7 original sites appears to have been and how easy it was for them to lose their domains.

According to the forfeiture filing, ICE agents clicked various hyperlinks on, for example, TVShack, which enabled them to view movies stored on several other sites. The MPAA then confirmed that the movies in question were still airing in theaters and therefore illegal copies and that was it – enough evidence had been collated to warrant seizing its domain.

If clicking a link and finding material on the end of it that the MPAA says is copyright infringing is enough to seal a site’s fate, then ICE are going to be very, very busy this year if they carry on with this strategy. All the signs suggest that they will.

While some site owners might be prepared to fight back in order to get their domains returned in the future, chances are most won’t want to break cover and may prefer to relocate instead. TVShack tried that with a move from .net to .cc, and promptly lost that domain too, but having advance notice will allow other sites to prepare just that little bit better.

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