MPAA and Dutch Anti Peer-to-Peer Group Seize Twenty Nine U.S. Domain Names without Trial

On December 15, 2010, 29 U.S. based BitTorrent tracker and peer-to-peer file sharing sites disappeared in the blink of an eye.  Dutch anti-P2P group “BREIN”, with assistance from the MPAA, set their sights on domain names of 29 United States based BitTorrent sites that allegedly make copyrighted material available to citizens of the Netherlands.  As of July 2010, BREIN had managed to shutter what it called 422 illegal websites, including 384 BitTorrent tracker sites, 29 Cyberlockers, 5 usenet indexers, 6 streaming sites, and an FTP summit site.

BREIN describes their activities as such,

The BREIN foundation is the joint anti-piracy program of authors, artists and producers of music, film and interactive software; A unique bundling of forces of the entire entertainment industry in the fight against Intellectual Property theft.  BREIN is the central contact for government, law enforcement, trade and media in the Netherlands with respect to all issues concerning the unauthorized copying and distribution of entertainment products both offline and online.

BREIN says it also has the names and addresses of the people it claims ran the illegal sites and plans to hold them “personally liable” for copyright infringement.  With regards to the domain seizures, BRIEN director Tim Kuik explained,

“These are sites that routinely anonymous illegal access to someone else’s work.  This year we have made over 600 of these sites inaccessible.  Some seek refuge in a foreign or hosting provider.  These 29 apparently thought that America could go undisturbed. Through cooperation with our foreign colleagues we can makes sites in other countries inaccessible too.”

What may be more disturbing is that a foreign entity can seize a United States domain name without due process of the law.  Surprisingly, the action is not without precedent.  In November 2010, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, seized 82 domain names so far as part of the ongoing “Operation In Our Sites.”  According to the Justice Department, the 82 Web sites seized were accused of trafficking handbags and other counterfeit goods and had moved their sales operations online.  The seizure was announced on the “Cyber Monday” online shopping day and targeted web sites that sold high end items such as Coach purses.   U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, acting on seizure orders issued by federal judges in Washington and nationwide, seized the domain names and shut down the Web sites over the course of a few days. People trying to reach the sites were directed to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement server, which notified them that the domain name had been seized by federal authorities.

Not everyone agrees with these domain name seizures though.  In 2010, web giants such as Google and Wikipedia have protested legislation, introduced by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, that would give U.S. law enforcement more leeway in seizing domain names of Web sites that violate copyright laws.

This new development should add further impetus for the P2P DNS system proposed by Pirate Bay co-founder Peter Sunde in the wake of ICE’s “Operation in Our Sites.”  Sunde has proposed applying peer-to-peer technology, used by BitTorrents, to the DNS system “decentralizing domain resolution from the central authority of ICANN’s policy-making and collection of root servers”.  According to Sunde,

“Having a centralized system that controls our information flow is not acceptable.  By using existing technology for de-centralization together with already having a crew with skilled programmers, communicators, and network specialists, an alternative system is not far away. We’re not going to re-invent the wheel, we’re going to build on existing technology as much as possible.”

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