Authorities order seizure of 82 web domain names

From sportswear and handbags to pics and music, the feds have initiated a massive crackdown on websites charged with selling counterfeited and pirated goods, including illegal downloads and copies of DVDs, music and software.

Appearing at a press conference on Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that federal courts had ordered the seizure of 82 Web domain names, part of a coordinated effort by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Operation in Our Sites II,” as the effort is being called, also targeted other counterfeit goods such as sports equipment, shoes, handbags and sunglasses, and was timed to be announced on what is known as “Cyber Monday,” traditionally the busiest online shopping day of the year.

“With today’s seizures, we are disrupting the sale of thousands of counterfeit items,” Holder said. “We are cutting off funds to those looking to profit from the sale of illegal goods and exploit the ingenuity of others.”

Those now trying to visit the websites are greeted by a banner notifying them that the site’s domain name has been seized by federal authorities.

In Los Angeles, authorities issued seizure warrants that disabled the sites torrent-finder.com, RapGodFathers.com, RMX4U.com, dajaz1.com and onsmash.com. According to customs enforcement officials, the sites accounted for more than 185,000 daily page views and one, torrent-finder.com, was ranked among the 5,000 most popular websites in the country, offering access to such recently released movies as “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” “Red” and “The Social Network.”

In the case of RapGodFathers.com, authorities also seized the site’s server and all of its digital content.

In their latest sweep, federal agents sought seizure orders from courts after making undercover purchases from a variety of the online sites, and worked with nine different U.S. attorney’s offices to implement the crackdown.

The operation was a broader enforcement effort than a first effort unveiled in June, when authorities seized nine domain names of sites offering pirated copies of first-run movies.

The methods deployed by the DOJ and ICE in the operation are similar to those sought in a new anti-piracy bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee chairman who introduced the legislation, said in a statement that the “innovative use of the tools currently available to law enforcement to seize these domain names is similar to the remedy that would be specifically authorized” under the bill, called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act.

But critics of the bill are citing the crackdown to point out that the government already has powers to seize domain names. Patrick Ruffini, an organizer for a coalition opposing the bill, told the D.C. paper The Hill that it shows that the need for “sweeping new powers to seize domain names are difficult to square with the reality that the government appears to have exercised this same authority.”

The seizures, however, were met with praise from industry groups.

Howard Gantman, a spokesman for the Motion Picture Assn. of America, said that the pending legislation would provide authorities with additional tools to fight piracy, as it would provide methods for cutting off the sites’ sources of income, like online payment systems and advertising bureaus. It also would make it easier to obtain court orders if a site simply migrates to a new domain name.

Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, said that “this initiative demonstrates that federal prosecutors can deploy the government’s legal tools with careful and calibrated discretion. Just as in the physical world, prosecutors and courts know how to assess evidence and distinguish between legitimate businesses and those that flout the law.

“To those who may question this initiative — who seemingly prefer chaos on the Internet to the rule of law — I urge you to come forward with viable and effective mechanisms to contain the theft that is not only wrong, but devastating to America’s artists and creative industries. The answer simply can’t be ‘do nothing.’ “

Among the domain names also seized were boxedtvseries.com, dvdsetcollection.com, nibdvd.com, dvdcollects.com, dvdcollectionsale.com, getdvdset.com, boxset4less.com, dvdsuperdeal.com, cartoon77.com, boxsetseries.com and dvdprostore.com.

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