Feds Back To Seizing Websites Over Claims Of Copyright Infringement (Techdirt)
Thursday August 23rd, 2012
While we've written plenty about the US Justice Department and US Homeland Security (via ICE) seizing various websites on questionable legal authority by claiming they were tools used for criminal copyright infringement, a series of pretty massive screwups seemed to have them, at least temporarily, shying away from such seizures around copyright claims. Huge errors like seizing Dajaz1 for over a year and then having to admit they had no evidence and give it back seemed to at least make them a little less cowboyish about the websites they chose to shut down and censor.
But, of course, this is the federal government we're talking about, and they sure loved the ability to shut down speech without any sort of adversarial hearing or, you know, due process. So you just knew it wouldn't last. The latest is that the feds have seized three more domains (applanet.net, appbucket.net and snappzmarket.com), claiming that they were "engaged in the illegal distribution of copies of copyrighted Android cell phone apps." Indeed, a quick look at the internet archive certainly suggests that these sites advertised that you could get "paid" apps for free if you joined. But does that warrant a criminal investigation and seizure? Perhaps there are more details, but given the sketchy details of earlier seizures, I'd wonder.
But, more to the point, if these sites were really engaged in such things, why wouldn't a civil copyright infringement lawsuit suffice? Why should the government get involved, when it involves completely pulling down a website with no warning, no adversarial hearing and no due process for those accused?
The Justice Department seems to indicate that this sort of thing is now a "top priority," because (apparently) they have way too much free time on their hands:
“Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works – including popular apps – is a top priority of the Criminal Division,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “Software apps have become an increasingly essential part of our nation’s economy and creative culture, and the Criminal Division is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the creators of these apps and other forms of intellectual property from those who seek to steal it.” One other tidbit of interest. Unlike the previous seizure disasters, this one appears not to have been led by ICE, but directly by the Justice Department (via the FBI). The announcement doesn't name this as a part of "Operation in our Sites" which seems to be a term specific to ICE's controversial program. Either way, they're still certainly using the eagle-heavy "seized" graphic they love to throw around, so, of course, we'd be remiss if we did not remind folks that they can purchase their very own "seized tee," to show what you think of the government's efforts.
“Criminal copyright laws apply to apps for cell phones and tablets, just as they do to other software, music and writings. These laws protect and encourage the hard work and ingenuity of software developers entering this growing and important part of our economy. We will continue to seize and shut down websites that market pirated apps, and to pursue those responsible for criminal charges if appropriate,” said U.S. Attorney Yates.
“The theft of intellectual property, particularly within the cyber arena, is a growing problem and one that cannot be ignored by the U.S government’s law enforcement community. These thefts cost companies millions of dollars and can even inhibit the development and implementation of new ideas and applications. The FBI, in working with its various corporate and government partners, is not only committed to combating such thefts but is well poised to coordinate with the many jurisdictions that are impacted by such activities,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Lamkin.