Yesterday, several sports streaming sites had their domain names seized by the Department of Justice and Homeland Security’s ICE unit.
Leading up to the Super Bowl this weekend, a total of 307 domain names were seized, 16 of which provided access to online streams of popular sporting events.
Commenting on the actions, ICE Director John Morton was quick to declare victory, but perhaps this came a little too soon. Firstrow, one of the largest sites which had several of its domains taken over by the US government, is not planning to give up the ‘battle’ anytime soon.
Quickly after its firstrow.tv, firstrowsports.tv, firstrowsports.net and firstrowsports.com domains were seized, the service was operating as normal under a new domain – Firstrowsports.eu. Talking to TorrentFreak, one of the owners said that the US has stepped out of line by simply taking away their property.
“The US has prided itself on their ‘innocent before proven guilty’ mantra, yet is clearly hypocritical when it comes to this,” the Firstrow co-owner told us. “Numerous times the US has seized domains, before the defendants have been proven guilty in a court of law.”
“What is the point of trying to approve SOPA and PIPA if they do the same without these laws,” he questioned, referring to the pending US bills that would make it even easier to seize allegedly infringing domains.
The response of Firstrow stands in sharp contrast with that of ICE Director John Morton yesterday.
“In sports, players must abide by rules of the game, and in life, individuals must follow the laws of the land. Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it’s the law,” Morton said.
This comment forms the base of the dispute. What is the law of the land? The people who operate Firstrow don’t live in the US, and neither are their servers located there. In fact, Firstrow says that their site is perfectly legal where they are based, so they will continue business as usual.
“Since we don’t live in a third-world country here, the courts decide if something is illegal not the entertainment industry lobbies. We will continue until a court decides that the site is illegal, but for now we’ve seen three court decisions on this matter that say it is not.”
Firstrow’s co-owner is referring to the court cases in Spain, where sites that merely link to copyrighted works have been declared legal. Rojadirecta, a site very similar to Firstrow, won in Spanish courts twice.
In the US, however, things work differently. Two operators of streaming sites have already been arrested and await criminal trials. And if the domains are linked to foreigners, the US believes it has the authority to take them over if they are deemed to infringe copyrights.
This stance has raised eyebrows among foreign governments. A few months ago the European Parliament adopted a resolution which criticized US domain name seizures. According to the resolution these measures need to be countered as they endanger “the integrity of the global internet and freedom of communication.”
Yesterday’s actions show that the US authorities are not impressed by the international critique, just as Firstrow refuses to change course after yet another domain seizure. Firstrow says ICE is wasting its time and continues to provide access to sports fans all across the world, who are otherwise unable to see their beloved games.
“ICE must have a lot of spare time if they can waste it on these domain seizures,” Firstrow’s co-owner says. “They should invest time in the real important stuff , instead of chasing people who have no other option than to watch a sports game for free.”