Federal Court Sanctions Domain-name Seizures

A federal court has signed off on the seizure of domain names belonging to suspected piracy websites by U.S. law enforcement.

Puerto 80, the owners of domain names Rojadirecta.com and Rojadirecta.org, was denied a request for the return of domain names seized in February by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in a Manhattan district court. Through this denial, the reigning judge has set a precedent for the future of anti-piracy enforcement.

According to court documents, Rojadirecta was being used to publish links that led users to illegal web broadcasts of live sporting events and pay-per-view shows, which is a copyright violation. While the managers of the domain names stated that seizure of the domain names would cause financial hardship and violate the first amendment rights of readers and commenters, the ICE stated that Puerto 80 is already back in business after acquiring new domain names from other countries, and that returning the names would allow for the continuation copyright violations.

This is the crux of the argument of critics of domain-name seizures, who say that the practice could be used as a form of censorship, and that the government could simply close down any site it wanted by citing copyright violations.

Judge Paul Crotty, from the U.S. District court for the Southern District of New York, agreed that Puerto 80 has not sufficiently proven hardship due to the domain name seizures, and that Rojadirecta was clearly being used to pirate live sports broadcasts.

"The main purpose of the Rojadirecta Web sites...is to catalog links to the copyrighted athletic events," Crotty wrote. "Any argument to the contrary is clearly disingenuous."

Crotty will, however, wait to make a ruling on the government's assertion that return of the names would allow for continuation of copyright law until after Puerto 80 makes its oral arguments that the case be dismissed.