On February 18, 2010, RU-Center, Russia’s largest domain name registrar and web-hosting provider, pulled the plug on the Torrents.ru domain name, suspending it with immediate effect and leaving 4 million users and 1 million torrents homeless.
A representative from RU-Center confirmed that the domain was blocked on the orders of the Investigative Division of the regional prosecutor’s office in Chertanovo district, Moscow, but at that time could not disclose the reasons.
Subsequently it was revealed that the seizing of the domain was due to violation of Article 146 of the Criminal Code – “Illegal use of objects of copyright or related rights, as well as acquisition, storage, transportation of counterfeit copies of works or phonograms for sale, committed on a large scale”.
Although Torrents.ru operated a ‘notice and take down’ procedure whereby copyright owners can have torrents removed “no questions asked”, the complaint specifically mentioned software developed by 1C and AutoDesk. Both companies have since denied initiating proceedings against the site but rumors persist that they were somehow involved.
After so easily losing their domain in the .RU zone, the operators of Torrents.ru weren’t about to take any chances by registering a new domain with the same authority. Within hours the site had relocated to a new domain at rutracker.org, apparently registered from the Bahamas.
Understandably the Torrents.ru domain seizure has caused quite a stir in Russia. Even though the law allows a month for a dispute to be rectified, RU-Center acted immediately and without being ordered to do so by a court, prompting theories of back-room deals under the influence of US interests. The operators of rutracker.org say that they are prepared to go to court over the case and will complain to ICANN.
“It was absolutely illegal,” said the owner of Torrents.ru in a recent interview. “We will appeal against it, but in this case it’s not the most important thing. The precedent is created. If you are an owner of domain name in .ru zone, you should know that it can be suspended at any moment by the order of an investigator.”
Following the domain closure a petition was set up addressed to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin, asking them to investigate the authorities who are said to have overstepped the limits of their powers. It currently has more than 15,300 signatures.
Other less conventional responses to the seizure have also been underway, with the Russian Pirate Party reporting that the websites of 1C and online cinema EKinoT have been subjected to DDoS attacks. In January, EKinoT said it would work with the Ministry of Culture to ‘blacklist’ sites which compete illegally with its business – Torrents.ru was one of the sites mentioned along with sharereactor.ru, intv.ru, binmovie.ru and epidem.ru.