ArtsWatch: Seized Site Sues ICE

Government seizure of rogue websites' domain names faces its first test in court
June 20, 2011 -- 6:08 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On June 13 the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was sued in the Southern District of New York's U.S. District Court over the seized domain names Rojadirecta.com and Rojadirecta.org. ICE announced the seizure of the domains in February as part of its Operation In Our Sites enforcement actions against rogue websites, redirecting 10 sports-oriented sites to ICE's antipiracy message shortly before this year's Super Bowl. Puerto 80 — the owner of the Spain-based sports domains — promptly reached out to U.S. law enforcement officials but negotiations reached a standstill on May 26. Puerto 80's lawsuit contests the court order ICE issued it on First Amendment grounds and by denying that the definitions of direct copyright infringement, contributory infringement, or vicarious liability apply to their business. Rojadirecta is still in business, using other domain names, and remains one of Spain's most popular sports sites.

Advertising agency parent company GroupM announced on June 8 that all its future contracts with online publishers and ad networks will include an antipiracy blacklist of infringement-friendly websites, prohibiting clients' digital ads from being placed on those sites. The list was launched with 2,000 domains, and GroupM's content-producing clients are invited to help keep it up to date. Rob Norman, CEO of GroupM Interaction and GroupM North America, said, "We're serious about combating piracy and protecting our clients' intellectual property as forcefully as we possibly can.... Pirate sites are known to 'domain hop,' so we need to keep on top of the latest list of identified offenders as best as we possibly can in order to enforce this new policy to its fullest effect." Norman's company bio describes him as overseeing "the activities of the world's largest buyer of online media with an estimated $4 billion in 2008 billings." The MPAA blog commented, "File this under Three Cheers for Doing the Right Thing."

Meanwhile, in China news:

  • On June 13 MPAA Chairman/CEO Christopher Dodd delivered a keynote speech at the Shanghai International Film Festival, taking a best-face-forward approach in his public remarks and reserving references to piracy or market access for private meetings expected to be held subsequently. Dodd said, "In the last 10 years, we have seen growth and development that allows me to say here this morning that the Chinese film industry has fully matured. So too has the relationship between the American film industry and Chinese filmmakers, Chinese audiences and even the Chinese government."
  • On June 14 Warner Bros. Entertainment and cable distributor You On Demand announced what has been described as the first-ever cable video on demand deal between Hollywood and China. Pricing is expected to be competitive with pirate DVDs to encourage the legitimate market. Discussions with cable providers are still in the early stages but the deal's goals are to reach 3 million households this summer and 200 million households eventually.
  • Separately, on June 8 a press release was distributed describing a first meeting of the Alliance of the Digital Music Industry in Beijing, bringing together 25 major players representing music companies, websites and Internet service providers. Additional information has yet to surface, but the press release read, "Under the endorsement of government department heads, the establishment of [ADMI] marks the start of the development of industry self-regulation in the online music business." The member organizations signed a declaration identifying a constructive emphasis on social responsibility and the promotion of legal use of copyright-protected music.

A Nevada U.S. District Court judge ruled on June 14 against copyright infringement law firm Righthaven and copyright-owning newspaper publisher Stephens Media, leaving the original defendant — the blog Democratic Underground — likely to go after them for attorneys' fees. Actually, many Righthaven defendants might soon be going after the law firm to collect attorneys' fees in what constitutes a major win for Electronic Frontier Foundation's legal representation. Evidentiary discovery revealed that the basis of Stephens Media's relationship with Righthaven was an effort to transfer only the right to sue for infringement without transferring any underlying copyright ownership — but the court found that only the copyright owner is entitled to sue for infringement and so dismissed the original case. Additionally, Righthaven had not disclosed Stephens Media's 50 percent financial interest in the outcome of the litigation, a failure that the judge described as "factually brazen" and that could also unravel approximately 200 other infringement cases filed by Righthaven.

On June 8 hundreds of police in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain raided more than 20 premises and detained 13 suspects in a crackdown on Germany's popular infringing website Kino.to. The domain name was seized and the investigation is ongoing.

Malaysia's The Star newspaper reported on June 10 that local regulator the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission is seeking to compel Internet service providers in that country to block 10 websites it identified as infringing copyrighted material. A leaked copy of the agency's letter to ISPs said, "Compliance with the law is not to be construed as censorship."

On June 22 the Senate Judiciary Committee will host an oversight hearing on intellectual property law enforcement. Scheduled witnesses include Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel and representatives of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice, FBI, and ICE.

 

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