On Friday November 25, 2011, the Department of Justice (DOJ) working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized 130 domains operated by alleged counterfeiters. The seizures seem to be a continuation of last year’s “Operation In Our Sites v. 2.0” an initiative designed to crack down on online piracy and counterfeiting by seizing the domain names under which they operate. In last year’s seizures over 82 domains were seized.
The seizure seems to have been timed to anticipate “Cybermonday,” the follow-up to “Black Friday” when consumers are encourage to shop on-line. The domains seized include clothing resellers such as 100jerseys.com, purse and bag resellers such as Louisvuiton-bags-forcheap.com, shoe resellers such as Reeboksite.com and even an auto software cite autocd.com. Attempts to log into to the sites results in a message which states:
Such seizures have been criticized in the past by consumer advocates as excessive and violations of first amendment rights. At least one senator has expressed his displeasure with these tactics in the past. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote to ICE and stated:
In contrast to ordinary copyright litigation, the domain name seizure process does not appear to give targeted websites an opportunity to defend themselves before sanctions are imposed. As you know, there is an active and contentious legal debate about when a website may be held liable for infringing activities by its users. I worry that domain name seizures could function as a means for end-running the normal legal process in order to target websites that may prevail in full court. The new enforcement approach used by Operation In Our Sites is alarmingly unprecedented in the breadth of its potential reach…
For the Administration’s efforts to be seen as legitimate, it should be able to defend its use of the forfeiture laws by prosecuting operators of domain names and provide a means to ensure due process. If the federal government is going to take property and risk stifling speech, it must be able to defend those actions not only behind closed doors but also in a court of law.
The Senator’s letter also focused on the scant evidence and investigation required to obtain the seizure warrants and how they resulted in wrongful seizure in at least one case.
Aside from their legality, the effectiveness of such seizures has also been questioned. Also, popular web browser Firefox has a plug-in which allows users to find the website despite the domain seizure. Nevertheless, for the average consumer who is not technically sophisticated, the domain seizures provide an effective means for sending a message against the purchase of counterfeit goods. No press release has been issued by ICE regarding the new seizures.