Feds shut down rogue websites

As part of a continued effort to crack down on copyright infringement, the government has seized the Web addresses of 82 websites that offered a range of counterfeit goods and pirated content.

The operation, which was a coordinated effort between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, took place in advance of Cyber Monday, one of the busiest online shopping days of the year.

Of the websites that were shut down, 77 of them sold counterfeit goods that were produced and shipped from China, while five sites offered illicit music, movies and TV shows. A large banner that says ICE has seized the domain name, or Web address, has been placed across the seized websites.

The seized websites include CoachOutletFactory.com, USABurburryScarf.com and TheLouisVuittonOutlet.com, which were attempting to sell counterfeit luxury brands. A number of file-sharing websites were also shut down, such as Torrent-Finder.com and RapGodFathers.com.

“Anyone attempting to access those websites will no longer be able to make a purchase,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during a press conference Monday morning. “Although today’s progress is an important step forward, we cannot be satisfied and we must not be complacent.”

During the holiday weekend, the Web was swirling with news of of ICE shutting down the domain names of several file-sharing sites. Owners of the affected sites reported that they hadn’t received any warning before their sites were taken down.

The seizure of the 82 rogue sites is the second part of an earlier initiative conducted in June, Operation in Our Sites, which took down nine sites that offered pirated movies. As part of the second operation announced today, undercover agents purchased a range of goods from the sites –sports jerseys, designer handbags and boxed DVD sets—and verified with the rights holder that the goods were indeed counterfeit.

Although the sites are no longer active, ICE Director John Morton warned there’s a long road ahead in going after rogue sites.

“Will these sites reappear under a different domain name? Yes, they will—but we are not going away,” Morton said during the press conference. “This is a long fight, but we at ICE and the Department of Justice are committed.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents a range of businesses that have seen their bottom lines dented by copyright infringement, commended ICE and the Department of Justice on its effort.

“With the official announcement coming on Cyber Monday, this second phase of ‘Operation In Our Sites’ could not have been more timely,” said Steve Tepp, senior director of Internet Counterfeiting and Piracy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center. “The websites that were seized profited off the hard work of America’s innovative and creative industries and the thousands of Americans that they employ.”

On Capitol Hill, a bill that targets rogue websites passed unanimously through the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month. To combat sites that offer pirated content, the bill lets the government take down Web addresses of sites that violate copyright infringement laws. A court must verify that a site has indeed infringed on copyrighted material before any action is taken, however.

“The innovative use of the tools currently available to law enforcement to seize these domain names is similar to the remedy that would be specifically authorized under the bipartisan Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act for websites that are registered in the United States,” said Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of the bill, in a statement. “We can no longer sit on the sidelines while American intellectual property is stolen and sold online using our own infrastructure.”

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