By David Kravets
Federal authorities said Thursday they had seized and shuttered 307 domains, 16 allegedly engaged in unauthorized live sports streaming and the remainder accused of selling fake professional sports merchandise, including National Football League paraphernalia.
The seizure, the biggest to date under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement crackdown known asOperation in Our Sites (.pdf), brings to more than 650 domains shuttered since the program began in June 2010. The latest seizures, which quietly began in October, were announced days ahead of Super Sunday, when the New England Patriots play the New York Giants in the NFL Super Bowl, one of the world’s most popular sporting events.
“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,” said ICE Director Morton. “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 sites allegedly sold fake jerseys, caps, shirts, jackets and other paraphernalia. The government said it had also seized $4.8 million worth of fake NFL goods, up from $3.72 million the same time a year ago.
Federal authorities are taking .com, .org. and .net domains under the same civil-seizure law the government invokes to seize brick-and-mortar drug houses, bank accounts and other property tied to alleged illegal activity. The feds are able to seize the domains because Verisign, which controls the .net and .com names, and the Public Interest Registry, which runs .org, are U.S.-based organizations. Under civil forfeiture laws, the person losing the property has to prove that the items were not used to commit crimes.
The program come under intense scrutiny in December, when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) asked the government why it kept a hip-hop music site’s domain for a year without affording its New York-based owner a chance to challenge the seizure of dajaz1. Another site, Rojadirecta, a Spanish sports-streaming site, is contesting its seizure last year, saying it is innocent of infringement and only provided links to streaming sites to which it has no affiliation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement leaves behind a message to online visitors that a site has been seized. Those messages have received more 77 million page views, the government said.
The government said Thursday that a Michigan man, Yonjo Quiroa, 28, was arrested and charged with a single count of criminal copyright infringement for operating nine sites that streamed sporting eventswithout authorization.
A list of the seized sites is here. (.pdf)