ICE Domain Seizures Relied on Twisted Evidence and MPAA Say So


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Jiminy Christmas! Don't know much about the law or the Internet or the facts? That's okay cause neither does Homeland Security in some cases, but that didn't stop ICE from seizing over 80 domains. Think to make your view more credible by linking to the source article? You better watch out, cause depending on the content of that article, that might be a crime. Oh yes, this should scare us all, because evidence is not needed, just the say-so of a corporate cash cow from the copyright cartel.

Since Thanksgiving weekend, the facts have been vague as to why Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department seized and shut down 82 domain names during "Operation In Our Sites II." Not all of these domains contained counterfeit products. Weeks passed without owners being told why their sites were seized. But now, thanks to the released partial affidavit and seizure warrant, it's clear that the decision to seize these domains was almost exclusively dependant on what the MPAA said were the facts.


The paperwork claims that even so much as linking to blogs or news about file sharing is equal to evidence of copyright infringement. Four of the seized domains involved hiphop related music blogs, but part of the infringement "evidence" included songs that the labels sent specifically to those blogs to promote.

Techdirt's Mike Masnick wrote, "It looks like the four blog/forum sites (RapGodFathers, OnSmash, Dajaz1 and RMX4U) and Torrent-Finder were all lumped together into a single warrant and affidavit. The affidavit was written by a Special Agent with ICE, named Andrew Reynolds, who indicates in the affidavit that he only recently graduated from college (he notes that he's only been on the job for one year, but before that he was a "student trainee with the group"). Much of the affidavit relies heavily on the MPAA. This fits with what ICE assistant deputy director Erik Barnett said soon after the seizures, admitting that they basically just took what sites Hollywood said were a problem and seized them."

Oh, so the MPAA said so? Well it must be true. Not...or so confirmed a government accountability study which concluded the MPAA's harmful economic effects of piracy stats were untrue.

Techdirt continued:

In other words, the "support" that Agent Reynolds provides for why Torrent-Finder's domain should be seized is that he claims that Torrent-Finder's admin linked directly to infringing material. But that's not true. Instead, the admin was simply pointing to a bunch of different news stories. Even worse, some of those news stories highlight why the claims of the MPAA, which Agent Reynolds relies upon, are simply made up -- such as TorrentFreak's story about comic artist Steve Lieber (which was actually based on a Techdirt story about how Steve Lieber embraced the so-called "pirates" and ended up making a lot more money -- we later interviewed Steve about his experiences). The CNET article is all about the COICA law -- which is about the legality of seizures like this one. How is that evidence of probable cause?

Even going beyond the fact that Agent Reynolds can't seem to figure out that a search engine is different than a torrent tracker or a torrent hosting site, he also seems to think that linking to blog posts like the ones we write here is probable cause for criminal behavior. Holy crap! That's just downright scary.

Torrent Finder and OnSmash have hired attorneys to fight the ICE allegations. Torrent Finder's attorney said his client's website is simply a search engine. It neither provides any torrent, nor does it encourage downloading copyrighted works. There seems to be enough mistakes in the affidavit to appeal the seizure.

I would have linked to more of TorrentFreak's articles, but hey -- it might be criminal behavior that could harm this domain!

This story, "ICE Domain Seizures Relied on Twisted Evidence and MPAA Say So" was originally published by Computerworld.

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