The U.S. government is sick of online piracy and counterfeiting. That much is clear. Last week, I wrote about Sen. Patrick Leahy's Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote of 19-0. Before that, the Congressional Anti-Piracy Caucus released its annual watchlist of websites offering unfettered access to counterfeit or pirated material.
Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized control of approximately 70 domains last week pursuant to warrants. The sites, many of which are outside the U.S., offer counterfeit goods. The move resembles criminal proceedings in which law enforcement seize the assets of suspected criminals after presenting evidence of the criminal activity.
According to Los Angeles attorney Chris Castle, businesses support the "criminal approach" to these situations because the civil proceedings of which copyright holders usually take advantage (Digital Millennium Copyright Act take-down notices, for example) are no longer effective. "It's time to stop playing games," he told the WSJ.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned that ICE seized the domains without prior notice to the domain owners. And though San Francisco attorney Peter Harvey agrees that seizure without notice could raise due process concerns, he also notes there are valid justifications for doing so. Affected domains could notify users of alternate sites at which pirated material could be found for instance.
In a statement, ICE Director John Morton said:
The sale of counterfeit U.S. brands on the Internet steals the creative work of others, costs our economy jobs and revenue and can threaten the health and safety of American consumers.The protection of intellectual property is a top priority for Homeland Security Investigations and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.