Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ICE takes down 77 Internet domains without warning

According to Mashablecom,  Friday the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  division of the Department of Homeland Security seized approximately 77 domains for copyright infringement. The seizures were made without any warning and without going through the hosting ISP's.

CBSnews.com reports a Torrent of Gov't Seizures in Online Piracy War, and tells us that ICE is taking down domains that host pirated movies and music in a move to combat piracy. They are supposedly getting court orders based on complaints received.

The reports also tell you that not everyone agrees with this move. I know I don't. It's not that I condone piracy. I disagree with the current copyright law for several reasons. One reason is that it makes it illegal for me to exercise my fair use right to make a backup copy of a movie, software, ebook, etc. It's wrong to rip a movie and put make copies for my friends or put it online for anyone to copy. But making a single copy for personal backup is allowable according to the fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law.

The big problem with ICE taking down infringing domains is that entire domains are being taken down without warning - possibly without recourse - regardless of whether or not the entire domain is involved or even aware of the alleged infringements. What information was used to determine the domains should be taken down? What kind of checking was done to verify infringement took place?

The U.S. (and other) government(s) have the right and duty to enforce their laws. Sharing copyrighted movies without permission of the copyright holder is immoral and illegal. So taking down sites who exist to make it easy to share illegal copies is proper. But doing so in a manner that takes down that are not involved in illegal activity is not. It is very likely that there were legitimate sites taken down by this action. Possibly even legitimate businesses. That is not just wrong, it's irresponsible.

The government has a responsibility to enforce it's laws, but it also has a responsibility to enforce them in a fashion that causes the least pain and suffering possible to the law abiding citizens. The very nature of file sharing sites makes it possible for cease and desist letters to be sent and/or investigation into the suspect domain to determine exactly which sites are guilty to be done without risking the case. Taking down entire domains without considering that a domain can contain many different totally unrelated sites could result in more harm than the illegal file sharing.

The government has a responsibility to enforce the laws, but please don't trample on law abiding citizens to do it.