There are plenty options for copyright holders to frustrate the operation of pirate sites, but one of the most effective is to attack their domain names.
The strategy has been deployed most famously against The Pirate Bay. Over the past couple of years, the site has lost more than a handful following copyright holder complaints.
While less public, hundreds of smaller sites have suffered the same fate. Sometimes these sites are clear infringers, but in other cases it’s less obvious. In these instances, a simple complaint can also be enough to have a domain name suspended.
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Public Knowledge address this ‘copyright bullying’ problem in a newly published whitepaper. According to the digital rights groups, site owners should pick their domain names carefully, and go for a registry that shields website owners from this type of abuse.
“It turns out that not every top-level domain is created equal when it comes to protecting the domain holder’s rights. Depending on where you register your domain, a rival, troll, or officious regulator who doesn’t like what you’re doing with it could wrongly take it away,” the groups warn.
The whitepaper includes a detailed analysis of the policies of various domain name registries. For each, it lists the home country, under which conditions domain names are removed, and whether the WHOIS details of registrants are protected.
When it comes to “copyright bullies,” the digital rights groups highlight the MPAA’s voluntary agreements with the Radix and Donuts registries. The agreement allows the MPAA to report infringing sites directly to the registry. These can then be removed after a careful review but without a court order.
“Our whitepaper illustrates why remedies for copyright infringement on the Internet should not come from the domain name system, and in particular should not be wielded by commercial actors in an unaccountable process. Organizations such as the MPAA are not known for advancing a balanced approach to copyright enforcement,” the EFF explains.
While EFF and Public Knowledge don’t recommend any TLDs in particular, they do signal some that site owners may want to avoid. The Radix and Donuts domain names are obviously not the best choice, in this regard.
“To avoid having your website taken down by your domain registry in response to a copyright complaint, our whitepaper sets out a number of options, including registering in a domain whose registry requires a court order before it will take down a domain, or at the very least one that doesn’t have a special arrangement with the MPAA or another special interest for the streamlined takedown of domains,” the groups write.
Aside from the information gathered in the whitepaper, The Pirate Bay itself has also proven to be an excellent test case of which domain names are most resistant to copyright holder complaints.
In 2015, the notorious torrent site found out that exotic domain names are not always the best option after losing its .GS, .LA, .VG, .AM, .MN, and .GD TLDs in a matter of months. The good old .ORG is still up and running as of today, however, despite being operated by a United States-based registry.
EFF and Public knowledge’s full whitepaper is available here (pdf).