(MintPress)—The U.S. government believes it scored a major touchdown in the fight against online piracy this week, shuttering over 300 websites, and prompting cries of foul from critics who say the move is just another example of how governments are tackling civil liberties. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the Web addresses for 307 websites […]
(MintPress)—The U.S. government believes it scored a major touchdown in the fight against online piracy this week, shuttering over 300 websites, and prompting cries of foul from critics who say the move is just another example of how governments are tackling civil liberties.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the Web addresses for 307 websites that allegedly stream live pirated sports telecasts and sell counterfeit merchandise.
The announcement was made Thursday at a National Football League press conference, just days ahead of Super Bowl XLVI, which pits the New York Giants against New England Patriots.
Erik Limmer of Geekosystems, “ This has actually been going on for a while now, but today marks the largest seizure to date: 307 sites in total, 16 of which were allegedly doing the streaming thing, the rest allegedly handling the unauthorized merchandise part.” Also seized were 42,692 items of faux Super Bowl-related memorabilia as well as other counterfeit items worth a value estimated upwards of $4.8 million.
Yonjo Quiroa, 28, of Comstock Park, Mich., was arrested as part of the sweep, on charges of criminal copyright infringement. Authorities say he allegedly operated websites that illegally streamed live sporting event telecasts and pay-per-view events over the Internet, authorities said.
Critics of the move are also pointing out that the seizure was conducted under U.S. civil law, rather than criminal law, which according to one news report in Tecca
“means the affected parties need to prove that the internet domains were not engaging in illegal activity to get them back — an ugly mirror image of the country’s usual “innocent until proven guilty” right.
Many of the domains were not being operated by U.S. groups. Because they used U.S. domain suffixes .net, .com, and .org, however, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was empowered to act.” This ideology seems to fly in the face of the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra, a bedrock of the U.S. legal system.
ICE Director Morton said in a statement, “While most people are focusing on whether the Patriots or Giants will win on Sunday, we at ICE have our sights on a different type of victory: defeating the international counterfeiting rings that illegally profit off of this event, the NFL, its players and sports fans. In sports, players must abide by rules of the game, and in life, individuals must follow the laws of the land. Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it’s the law.”
The crackdown was part of an effort launched last October, called “Operation Fake Sweep” which was coordinated with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations team.
While the websites do not host pirated sporting content themselves, authorities said they provide links to other websites where people would be able to illegally download or live stream the sporting event on their computers.
Free speech advocate Michael Oksa pointed out,
“I am 100% for shutting down piracy, but…I wonder what would happen if I put up a website that said “Watch the Super Bowl for FREE” and then told people how to hook up an antenna? That’s a serious question. Would the omnimpotent government know the difference? Would they take the time to find out? Or would they shut down my site without question and without warning? In fact, I wonder if the six words I put in quotes, in a post on a forum, would be enough for them to come after me.”
While many agree that piracy isn’t a good thing – recent regulatory efforts to curb it on the world wide web, such as online piracy bills SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, have been widely protested by those who worry that efforts to quash illegal activites could open the door for a wide variety of censorship practices, civil rights abuses and the stifling of free speech. In the wake of protests by sites such as Wikipedia and Google, many legislators in the U.S. abandoned their sponsorship of SOPA and PIPA, despite support from the entertainment and pharmaceutical industries and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
An opinion piece in the L.A. Times on Friday point out, “ The NFL welcomed ICE’s crackdown, but let’s be honest — taking down 16 streaming sites won’t stop the big game from being pirated. To its credit, the league took a far more important step on that front late last year: it agreed to let NBC, the broadcaster with the rights to Sunday’s game, transmit it online as well. It’s the first time the Super Bowl will be available legally online, after more than a decade of it being available illegally. As college students would tell you, the best way to combat pirated video online is to make the programming available legally on attractive terms. Hulu, for instance, has made it unnecessary to download bootlegged TV shows through BitTorrent.” This is the first year that the Super Bowl is being streamed live, after NBC announced it’s “exclusive” deal to partner with NFL and Verizon’s NFL mobile to stream the game on the IOS4 or Android mobile device. The L.A.
Many groups are decrying the crackdown as a violation of free speech on the Web, arguing that “domains are being seized with nothing more than the rubber stamp of a magistrate, without any prior notice or adversarial process, leaving the authors of the sites with the burden of having to prove their innocence,” according to technology writer John P. Mello, Jr. in a report on PC World today.