Flash! Homeland Security seizes bit torrent domain names

Flash! Homeland Security seizes bit torrent domain names

“Avast, ye scurvy dogs!  It be off to the brig with ye!”

Actually, even though it was fun to write that line, it’s not what happened.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has a reputation as being the enforcer in illegal alien issues in the USA.  However, they are also (as the C indicates) part of Customs.  Customs has to do with import.

ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security (which integrates over twenty government agencies.

Let me set this up for you, and why it is related to e-books.

BitTorrent is a “protocol” that allows peer to peer sharing.  You can use it to send files and get files.  There isn’t exactly a central server…I could send to you and vice versa.

While there are legal uses for BitTorrent, it has also extensively been used by “pirate” sites to distribute unauthorized copies of movies, TV shows, music…and e-books.

Those sites are often outside the US, and they often are infringing on the legal rights of US entities.  That’s why this is under the jurisdiction of DHS.  If it was all taking place in the US, the FBI (and/or the Federal Trade Commission…and some other authorities) would have taken the lead, most likely.

What the government did, logistically, was pretty clever and simple.  They seized the domain names.  Let’s say that a site was named twobitsisaquartertorrent.com.  Before Friday, you could have gone to that site and been able to download illegal copies of, say, Harry Potter.  ICE took over the domain name, and put their own message on it.  The message basically said that the site had been seized pursuant to a warrant.

I’m not seeing a press release, but here is a

New York Times article

This is certainly not the first time sites have been seized but this story seems to have more of a buzz because of the involvement of DHS.

One of the main questions for people is going to be if the seizure was too broad.  If American sites had links to international sites, they may have been seized…but I haven’t seen the specifics of the warrant.  The warrant means that someone had to submit evidence and a judge had to approve.

Being shutdown is not good, of course, but at this point, I don’t think there is any other punishment.  Pirates haven’t been thrown into the brig, yet, from what I’ve heard.

I’ve also already heard that other sites are up.

If you use these sites, you know how you have been affected.  What if you don’t?

Well, fear of piracy has been one of the reasons some authors and publishers have suggested they haven’t done an e-book version.  I personally think that having a legitimate e-book version available is the best way to combat illegal versions, but it’s hard to get real statistics.

Conceptually, I don’t see a problem with this mission: stop sites enabling illegal activity.  It’s the execution of it that will get careful examination.  What if someone was writing about bittorrent sites, even critically, and linked to them?  Presumably, they would not have been included in a warrant…but we will probably hear stories alleging that sort of thing happened.

What do you think?  Does this strike a blow for artists?  Is this the government doing the work of big corporations?  Is it censorship?  Is it protecting the US from foreign infringement?  Feel free to let me know.

For more on piracy, see this earlier post.

Edited to add: tuxgirl, one of my regular readers, pointed out that speculation that this could be related to the recent wikileaks release of documents.  That’s certainly possible.  I’m not quite sure why ICE would lead that, though. 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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4 Responses to “Flash! Homeland Security seizes bit torrent domain names”

  1. tuxgirl Says:

    There are actually some valid arguments that this could be unrelated to piracy, and instead DHS blocking bittorrent spread of some secret and classified information that was leaked to wikileaks. Part of the reasoning is that the timing lines up exactly with wikileaks being brought down by a DDOS attack and their announcement of an imminent release of recently leaked documents

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, tuxgirl!

      Yes, that’s certainly possible. That’s almost more convoluted, though…if the wikileaks document are on a BitTorrent site and a site is linked to it for unauthorized movie copies…interesting. I’m not quite sure why ICE (which was apparently the leading agency) would be involved with wikileaks…

  2. Jenny Says:

    On the topic of authors who don’t want to make ebook versions. Its stupid, really stupid, because the pirates are going to pirate the books anyways, make their own PDF of the book to send around. It forces people who own the paperback and WANT a digital version to pirate instead of having a legal copy on their kindle. It bothers me to no end. I’d buy the digital ebook versions of the Harry Potter books in a heart beat. Ludites make me so angry!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Jenny!

      Paperbooks can be turned into e-books illegally fairly easily. People can scan them (that is probably the most common), use speech-to-text (like Dragon), and even re-type them. In the poll in the post at the bottom of the post you commented, 44.44% said it was never okay to pirate. However, of those who said it was okay in some circumstances, over half of them chose the reason “If the book was otherwise unavailable in e-book form.” The best way to control the quality of the releases (and to make money, of course) is to authorize an edition, in my opinion. It isn’t a case of having an e-book edition or not…it’s a question of having an e-book edition over which you have some control or not.

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