Customs officials seize domain names selling counterfeit goods

In tandem with Cyber Monday, U.S. customs officials on Monday announced the seizure of 132 domain names selling counterfeit merchandise, ranging from DVDs to NFL jerseys to Adobe software.

John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told reporters about concerns that counterfeiters are becoming “increasingly sophisticated” both in the look of their websites and in the quality of the goods themselves. That hasmade it more difficult for consumers to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s fake.

“With an increase in online shopping comes an increase in online predators,” Morton said.

Among the domain names seized was a site selling DVDs of “100 Years of Disney,” even though the studio, as Morton noted, was founded 89 years ago. Others seized include such names as chapdvdwholesale.com, dvdhood.com, dvdboxsetwholesale.com, dvdsetshop.com and tvdvdset.com, as well as obamasell.com.

“You name it, it is being counterfeited at this point,” Morton said. “It is a huge, huge problem.”

This marks the third year that ICE has timed domain name seizures to Cyber Monday, with coordination from the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center set up at the Dept. of Homeland Security. This year, ICE officials teamed with authorities in Belgium, the U.K., Denmark, France, Romania and the European Police Office to seize the sites.

In the U.S., the crackdown, part of an ongoing effort called Operation in Our Sites, seized 101 websites and resulted in one arrest, ICE officials said. An additional 31 domain names were seized in Europe, including addresses under .eu and .be. The focus was on sites selling pirated trademarked goods as opposed to those trafficking in streaming movies and file sharing, Morton said.

Visitors to the sites will now see a message notifying them of the seizure, as well as a warning about willful copyright infringement.

ICE officials also went after PayPal accounts used by the sites, targeting amounts in excess of $175,000. After rights holders helped identify the sites and ICE officials made undercover purchases, investigators obtained seizure orders from magistrate judges, according to ICE.

Operation in Our Sites has seized 1,630 domain names since the effort was launched in June 2010.

Of the domain names seized before the latest Cyber Monday push, 684 have been forfeited to the U.S. government. Those who have an interest in seized sites can challenge the notice of seizure in court and can petition for additional time to contest a forfeiture. A spokesman for ICE said many sites have yet to be forfeited because of the lengthy legal process.

The ICE seizures have been criticized by some digital rights orgs for not allowing a clear way for owners to contest the government action before the sites are seized. The most prominent example is that of hip-hop blog Dajaz1.com, seized in 2010. After its owner complained that labels had leaked some of the songs to him before their release, ICE dropped its effort to forfeit the site, allowing it to go active again.

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