The US authorities return confiscated domain name to an “illegal” music blog without explanation
The US government has returned a domain name to its owner more than a year after it was wrongly seized by accusing the owner of criminal activity – despite never offering any evidence to support the claim.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) handling of the investigation has been heavily criticised by those who viewed the seizure as illegal. It is also being viewed as evidence that the implementation of anti-piracy measures could be dangerous, such as Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP in the US, and the intellectual property laws being considered in Europe.
Hip-hop blog Dajaz1.com was one of 82 websites the US government deemed to be engaging in the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit goods and copyrighted music. The owners denied any wrongdoing and it emerged that many artists leaked their music to the site in order to promote their albums. Kanye West and Diddy (aka P Diddy and Puff Daddy) regularly tweeted links to the site for these purposes.
When the owners attempted to regain custody of the domain name, they were thwarted by ICE. The organisation is expected to begin the forfeiture process within a 90-day period from receiving the request for the domain’s return – this did no happen. If no request had been made, the site would automatically be forfeited.
The department repeatedly told lawyers for Dajaz1 that it had received extensions, but refused to supply any evidence of a court order as it said they were filed under seal. Nor would it notify the owners of any future extensions. Dajaz1 was never charged, the government did not file for the forfeiture process, and the domain was eventually handed back.
This has led to accusations that not only was there no evidence to justify the initial seizure but the authorities acted illegally and failed to follow due process.
“This is really quite incredible, considering the rush with which it seized these domain names, claiming the urgency in stopping a crime in progress,” said Mike Masnick of TechDirt, “This was flat out censorship for no reason, for an entire year by the US government.
“Not only that, but the government made sure, at every step of the way, that the other party was not heard. That’s horrifying,” he continued. “They want to expand the ability to impose incontestable censorship through Protect IP and SOPA? This screw up should lead us in other directions.”
Protect IP (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) would allow the US government to obtain court orders which would require ISPs and online payment processors to stop supporting sites with pirated contents, while search engines could be sued for displaying links to them in their results pages.
SOPA is a piece of legislation that would allow one company to request action to be taken against another. It has the power to prevent certain services from being provided to alleged pirate sites, but little proof would be required as SOPA does not give any guidance on checking the validity of takedown requests.
Indeed, even anti-piracy group the Business Software Alliance (BSA), which represents the likes of Intel, Apple and Microsoft oppose the legislation, while it has been described as “an act which would break the Internet“.