Domain Seizure Of Websites Sparks First Amendment Violations Concerns

domain seizure lawyer
Yes, the U.S. government seizes domains.

Spain-based Internet company, Puerto 80, is unhappy with the United States Government. Several of Puerto 80’s domains, which stream various sporting events, were seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) on suspicion of copyright violations.

After being found innocent by a Spanish court, Puerto executives asked that their domains be released while awaiting an exploratory hearing to determine if they violated U.S. law. The federal government refused.

Puerto 80: Online Streaming Websites Domain Seizure

What Is Puerto 80?

Puerto 80 is an online conglomerate that runs dozens of websites. Its two main domains – rojadirecta.com and rojadirecta.org – stream sporting events. In addition, the sites feature social-networking capabilities and forums where 865,000 registered users go to discuss sports-related topics.

U.S. Feds To Puerto 80: You’re A Copyright Violator!

U.S. Feds charged Puerto 80 with copyright violation. The company, however, successfully defended themselves in a European court, where the charges were dropped. A lawsuit, however, is still pending in an American court — but it’s yet to be determined if the Feds has enough evidence to continue with the lawsuit.

Puerto 80 Argues “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” In an Attempt To Recover Seized Domains

After being declared legally A-OK in Spain, Puerto 80 sent a letter to the ICE asking for their websites back. Since U.S. law says a person or corporation is innocent until proven guilty, Puerto 80 argued that the ICE’s holding of their sites was illegal.

Judge Says Not Being Able To Watch Soccer Games Is Not A Hardship Worthy of Domain Return

District Court Judge Paul Crotty, however, disagreed with Puerto 80. “Rojadirecta.com has a large internet presence and can simply distribute information about the seizure and its new domain to its customers,” ruled Crotty. He continued, “Although some discussion may take place in the forums, the fact that visitors must now go to other websites to partake in the same discussions is clearly not the kind of substantial hardship that Congress intended to ameliorate in enacting § 983 [the statute that allows for the return of seized property].”

First Amendment Rights Violations?

Consumer watchdog groups, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge and Center For Democracy and Technology submitted an amicus brief in support of Puerto 80. It highlighted arguable First Amendment rights violations. The advocacy groups argued that by taking control of Puerto 80’s websites, the court was essentially cutting off citizens’ access to legal information, like the forums.

The advocates’ letter also questioned whether the initial domain seizure was lawful, since “’probable cause’ cannot justify restraint.”

Case Law Used To Knock Down Feds Domain Seizure of Puerto 80

Schneider v. New Jersey (1939) and Va. State Bd. of Pharmacy v. Va. Citizens Consumer Council, Inc. are two U.S. Supreme Court cases that shaped First Amendment legal precedence. Both verdicts affirmed that free speech cannot be “abridged on the plea that it may be exercised elsewhere” and that there’s “no general principle that freedom of speech may be abridged when the speaker’s listeners could come by his message by some other means.”

Should We Be Concerned With The Government’s Domain Seizure Habit?

Should we be concerned with the veracity with which the U.S. government is seizing domains? Probably. After all, the slope becomes ever more slippery when officials simply take whatever websites they want, regardless of international agreements and foreign laws.

Make Sure You’re In Compliance With Online Copyright Regulations

If you operate an online business with an  international clientele, you’re obligated to comply with a host of federal laws, state statues and international e-commerce and privacy agreements. Shirking just one, could result in your business’ demise.

Kelly / Warner focuses on affiliate marketing law, Internet- and digital-related legislation, mobile law and intellectual property law. We have clients everywhere and know the rules and regulations you need to follow. We’ll protect your interests and advise you how to avoid domain seizure, while not sacrificing your money making abilities.

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