Government Seizes 82 Domains of Sites Selling Counterfeit Goods

PC Mag
The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have seized the domain names of 82 commercial Web sites that are accused of selling and distributing counterfeit goods and copyrighted material.

The crackdown was part of an effort known as “Operation In Our Sites v. 2.0.” It targeted Web sites that trafficked in fake sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel and sunglasses as well as illegal copies of copyrighted DVD boxed sets, music, and software, the agencies said Monday.

“By seizing these domain names, we have disrupted the sale of thousands of counterfeit items, while also cutting off funds to those willing to exploit the ingenuity of others for their own personal gain,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “Intellectual property crimes are not victimless. The theft of ideas and the sale of counterfeit goods threaten economic opportunities and financial stability, suppress innovation and destroy jobs.”

“The sale of counterfeit U.S. brands on the Internet steals the creative work of others, costs our economy jobs and revenue and can threaten the health and safety of American consumers,” said John Morton, director of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

To catch these people, government officials made undercover purchases from sites suspected of selling fake goods. If the items were confirmed to be counterfeit, the U.S. would obtain a seizure order for the domain from U.S. magistrate judges. Users trying to reach these sites will now be greeted with a banner notifying them of the seizure (above).

The first phase of “Operation In Our Sites” – announced in June 2010 – led to the seizure of nine domains of Web sites offering pirated copies of recently released movies.

In a speech announcing the latest seizures, Holder warned consumers that “if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) applauded the move. “These ‘worst of the worst’ rogue Web sites, which cloak themselves in respectability yet traffic in counterfeit and stolen goods, victimize not only the buyers of these products, but the more than 2.4 million hardworking Americans whose livelihoods depend on a healthy motion picture and television industry,” Bob Pisano, president and interim CEO of the MPAA, said in a statement. “We thank the Department of Justice and ICE for their continuing efforts in addressing this serious problem.”

News of the domain seizures were first reported this weekend, when blogs like TorrentFreak noticed that visiting certain sites, such as produced the government warning. ICE did not have any additional information about the seizures at that time, however.

Interestingly, Congress is now considering a bill that would allow the U.S. government to seize domains with infringing content and require ISPs to cut off connections with the offending sites. The measure – known the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) – passed the Senate Judiciary Committee during the recent lame-duck session, but will have to be taken up again when the new Congress returns in January.

At this point, it appears to have the full support of the committee, though some Republican members have said they want to revise it further before taking it to the floor. Some tech groups and other Internet stakeholders, however, are not as enthusiastic about the bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the crackdown and pushed for the passage of COICA. “These latest actions to combat online counterfeiting and digital theft are a significant step forward to crack down on the criminal networks that operate these rogue sites,” the Chamber wrote in a blog post. Legislation like COICA “is needed to provide enhanced legal tools to shut down these Web sites whether they are located in the U.S. or overseas.”

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