A United States Federal judge has given a seal of approval to the summary seizure of foreign websites.
Rojadirecta may or may not have been a pirate website; that was not the issue that was decided upon on Thursday. The issue before the court was whether Puerto 80, the Spanish-based owner of the Rojadirecta.com and org websites, would be getting their property (the domain names) returned -- and therefore whether the seizure of a website violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
On Thursday, about two months after Puerto 80's official petition, District Court Judge Paul Crotty ruled that no such violation had occurred, and that the company had seen 'no substantial economic hardship' from the loss of its main Internet sites -- a key element in the return of seized property. Fundamentally, the judge's opinion was that visitors could simply 'go somewhere else'.
‘Operation in Our Sites’, a campaign by ICE (United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement) led to the seizure of 208 domain names for intellectual property violations -- in the case of Rojadirecta, for streaming video of sporting events.
Puerto 80's sites also offered, among other things, a social networking function for their 865,000 registered users to discuss sports and sports-related topics. Puerto 80 had already gone to court in Spain, where the Spanish court ruled that Puerto 80 was a legitimate company operating within the law. However, ICE used the increasingly popular argument that the United States government enforcers have a right to pursue the interests of US-based private industry anywhere they choose, regardless of international agreements or jurisdictional borders.
The status of the ".com" top-level domain may be an issue; the court may consider the US-based Verisign and ICANN, private corporations that operate and manage .com registration, as the 'physical address' of all .coms for such purposes. Obviously, any number of companies with .com addresses are located in countries other than the US, but should this ruling become the norm, any company with an IP address accessible from the US can apparently be legally treated as fair game for US-based proceedings -- although perhaps not for US-based due process.
The ruling contradicts two earlier Supreme Court rulings on First Amendment rights, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who had filed an amicus brief in support of the appeal, and did not even take into account procedural transgressions. "As if misapplying the relevant substantive First Amendment analysis wasn’t bad enough," wrote the EFF, "the court failed to even address the fatal procedural First Amendment flaws inherent in the seizure process: namely, that a mere finding of ‘probable cause’ does not and cannot justify a prior restraint. How the court believes that the seizure satisfies the First Amendment in this regard is a mystery,”
James Lee Phillips is a Senior Writer & Research Analyst for IBG.com. With offices in Dallas, Las Vegas, and New York, & London, IBG is quickly becoming the leading expert in Internet Marketing, Local Search, SEO, Website Development and Reputation Management. More information can be found at www.ibg.com. Dan The Money Man Frishberg is an expert on investing, online stock trading worldwide and specializes in diversified portfolios.