US Federal court sanctions ICE seizures of domain names

A Federal court has decided that seizing a domain name if it is suspected to belong to pirate sites is a totally okay thing to do. Back in February of this year, US customs agents seized two domain names Rojadirecta.com and Rojadirecta.org.  The owner of those sites, Puerto 80, put together a lawsuit and demanded that the domains be returned to them.  Just yesterday a US district court in Manhattan denied Puerto 80’s request.

US Federal court sanctions ICE seizures of domain names

The court documents indicate that Rojadirecta.com/org was being used to publish links that would lead site users to illegal broadcasts of sporting events and other pay-per-view shows.  That kind of activity is a copyright infringement.  Puerto 80’s argument is that the seizure of the domain names will cause them financial hardship. The other argument from the site owners is that it violates the First Amendment rights of users who posted comments on the forums.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, pointed out that there wasn’t obvious financial hardship because new domain names were already purchased in other countries which means Puerto 80 was back in business. Additionally it was determined that returning the domain names to Puerto 80 would allow them to continue infringing on copyright law.

Judge Paul Crotty, from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, agreed with ICE that Puerto 80 did not show hardship in their arguments.  The judge is choosing to wait to rule on whether or not returning the domain names allows Puerto 80 to keep violating copyright law. Crotty is going to wait to rule on that issue until next month when Puerto 80 makes arguments to get the case dismissed.

How all of this plays out will be interesting to track, but from the looks of it, Crotty does believe that Rojadirecta was being used for pirating live television.  CNET discussed that in court documents Crotty wrote, “The main purpose of the Rojadirecta Web sites…is to catalog links to the copyrighted athletic events.  Any argument to the contrary is clearly disingenuous.” What this case really indicates is that this court believes that the US can seize domain names to their heart’s content, as long as they can link them to piracy in some small way. That seems like a broad and dangerous power to emblazen upon Government agencies.