Domains Seized for Publishing Hyperlinks To Unauthorized Sports Video Streaming

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NEW YORK--Seizure warrants have been executed against 10 domain names that hosted websites containing hyperlinks to sources of allegedly unlawful streaming video of copyrighted live sports telecasts and pay-per-view events, federal prosecutors and customs authorities announced Feb. 2 (United States v. HQ-Streams.com, S.D.N.Y., No. 11 MAG 262, affidavit unsealed 2/2/11).

In an affidavit unsealed Feb. 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent alleged that the 10 websites provided access to illegal telecasts of copyrighted professional football, basketball, hockey, wrestling, and ultimate fighting events.

The seizure of domain names belonging to parties allegedly involved in illegal activity--based on solely on law enforcement assertions and without benefit of a prior hearing on the merits of their claims--has become an increasingly popular government tactic. In November, the government seized 82 domain names associated with websites allegedly involved in counterfeiting (81 PTCJ 139, 12/3/10). Earlier in June, the government obtained seizure orders for the domain names of seizure of seven popular websites accused of criminal copyright infringement for showing films and television shows without permission (80 PTCJ 343, 7/16/10).

Linking Sites Collect Pointers to Pirated Works.

In this case, the government proceeded against domain names associated with popular “linking” sites--websites that provide links to third-party sites where pirated sports and pay-per-view events are hosted. According to the government, linking websites owe their popularity to their ability to allow users to quickly browse content and locate illegal streams that otherwise would be difficult to find.

The sites in the seizure warrant were: atdhe.net, channelsurfing.net, HQ-Streams.com, HQ-Streams.net, firstrow.net, ilemi.com, iilemi.com, iilemii.com, rojadirecta.org, and rojadirecta.com.

Officials said that the government will seek forfeiture of the sites' domain names. Visitors are being redirected to banner indicating that the domain name has been seized by court order in connection with criminal copyright violations.

Streaming Is 'Blow' to Broadcaster, Leagues.

In a statement announcing the action, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said that illegal streaming “deals a financial body blow to the leagues and broadcasters who are forced to pass their losses off to fans by raising prices for tickets and pay-per-view events.”

Bharara added: “With the Super Bowl just days away, the seizures of these infringing websites reaffirm our commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to protect copyrighted material and put the people who steal it out of business.”

ICE Director John T. Morton, in a statement, said that the “swift action” by Homeland Security Investigations special agents and analysts in New York “sends a clear message to Website operators who mistakenly believe it's worth the risk to take copyrighted programming and portray it as their own.”

He called protecting legitimate business interests “a priority” for HSI and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, an interagency and international cooperation body.

“We will continue to aggressively investigate this type of crime with our law enforcement partners,” Morton said.

By John Herzfeld