In late November, the news that 82 domains had been seized by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was making headlines across the Internet. In particular, the seizure of the BitTorrent meta-search engine Torrent-Finder was seen as a particularly controversial move.
The site, which doesn’t host or link to any infringing content, disappeared from the Internet for allegedly infringing copyrights. It was the oddball in a list of dozens of sites that were selling counterfeit goods including fake watches and sports clothing.
Up until that day the owner of Torrent-Finder had never run into legal issues when operating his site, which he founded more than half a decade ago. Waleed – who runs the site from his home country of Egypt – always felt he was running a perfectly legal operation and openly registered the domain in his own name.
Needless to say it came as a shock to him that his domain had been taken over by the U.S. authorities last month, a decision he is now determined to fight fiercely. Waleed has hired a lawyer to assist him in this process, and the first steps have been set into motion to hopefully regain control over the domain.
TorrentFreak got in touch with David Snead, the lawyer who represents Torrent-Finder, to ask him about this peculiar case.
“At base, what ICE did is legal, if, in torrent-finder.com’s case, a stretch of the law, which is likely what they intended,” Snead told TorrentFreak.
“There is a civil forfeiture law that has been used for many years by the U.S. to enforce its customs laws, and it has been widely, and legally, used to seize items that infringe copyrights. The classic case would be for customs to seize counterfeit DVDs sold at a flea market.”
“In this case, we believe that ICE’s activities are based on a provision of the statute that allows seizure of items that are facilitating infringement. Because the DNS resided in the U.S., ICE was likely within the law in seizing the DNS, even though the owner of the domain name is not in the U.S. It’s important to note that the site itself wasn’t seized, only the domain name,” Snead added.
The Torrent-Finder homepage
It has to be added that Snead and everyone else are still mostly in the dark about the exact reason why the Torrent-Finder domain was seized. “We really don’t know what happened here. So the legal analysis is based on ICE’s past activity enforcing U.S. customs laws,” the lawyer told TorrentFreak.
Thus far, ICE has been contacted with a request for more details about the seizure order that was filed under seal. But, despite promises that more information would be provided before last Friday, both Snead and Torrent-Finder are still waiting to receive a copy of the order.
In the coming days (or weeks) we hope to find out more about the allegations against the BitTorrent search engine, which will enable Waleed and his lawyer to determine what steps to take next. In the meantime Torrent-Finder is still available under their backup domain, Torrent-Finder.info.
As far as we are aware, the owner of Torrent-Finder is the only person protesting the seizure of his domain. Waleed sincerely believes that his site isn’t breaking any laws and hopes that the United States legal system will side with him in the end. .
“I am sure I will win the case. Any internet user who used Torrent Finder before and understands how it works will know that I am not doing anything different than any other search engine. Besides, the silence of the ICE and keeping the investigation ‘under seal’ can only mean that they have done something wrong,” Waleed told TorrentFreak.