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Overseas website owners could face extradition to US over piracy: ICE

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency says .net or .com suffixes make prosecution of copyright infringers living in any country legitimate in US

By CBR Staff Writer

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) in the US would close down overseas websites or target them for prosecution if they infringe anti-piracy or copyright laws of the US, according to a report by the Guardian.

The agency’s assistant deputy director Erik Barnett told the Guardian that overseas websites with .com or .net domain suffixes are legitimate targets for prosecution in the US as such websites have Internet company Verisign, which is based in Virginia, as the official registry operator.

This means that website owners across the world, including the UK, could face extradition to the US on piracy charges even if their business is not considered illegal in their home country. ICE says that it is illegal for sites to provide links to other sites with streaming pirated content.

Barnett told the Guardian, "By definition, almost all copyright infringement and trademark violation is transnational. There’s very little purely domestic intellectual property theft."

So far, the agency has seized around 125 websites which offered unlicensed film, TV and sport content, Barnett said. The list includes TVShack.net, a website run by 23-year-old British student Richard O’Dwyer, who is facing extradition to the US.

He said, "Without wishing to get into the particulars of any case, the general goal of law enforcement is to arrest and prosecute individuals who are committing crimes. That is our goal, our mission. The idea is to try to prosecute."

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Barnett added, "The jurisdiction we have over these sites right now really is the use of the domain name registry system in the United States. That’s the key."

In April, the UK High Court approved the crackdown on online privacy by rejecting an appeal against the 2010 Digital Rights Act brought by British Internet service providers (ISPs) BT and TalkTalk.

The appeal had argued that the legislation breached Internet users’ privacy, and would be ineffective.

Justice Kenneth Parker dismissed the ISPs’ claims, saying, "from the point of view of both copyright owner and subscriber, the DEA [Digital Economy Act] represents a more efficient, focused and fair system than the current arrangements."

"The DEA proceeds on the premise, first, that a significant number of infringers do not at the moment fully appreciate that what they are doing seriously infringes the legal and moral rights of others and that, although individual behaviour of this kind may seem trivial and excusable, the general effect may well be very damaging to the creative industries, a notorious example of what is sometimes called the tyranny of small decisions that have ruinous economic consequences," he said.

"Although it is difficult to predict the effect of measures such as those contemplated by the DEA, there are reasons for believing that such measures may well have positive effect."

Last week, Consumer Focus said that it had serious concerns about the proposal by copyright owner trade associations which would see ISPs block access to websites at a network level for all UK users.

The watchdog said, "We do not believe website blocking should be seriously considered as an option if copyright owners have not licensed their content to meet consumer demand through new digital platforms."

"We understand that the Premier League would like to see websites blocked which enable UK consumers to stream football games from other territories. We believe that the first step to address this problem is to assess whether consumers’ evident demand for streaming football games online is met by legal services.

"Consumers’ willingness to, or preference for, watching football games online and on mobile devices will not diminish because access to unlicensed websites is blocked.

As such website blocking does not represent an effective solution."

Even the EU plans to amend intellectual property law across the EU to stop online entertainment piracy.

EU Officials estimate that online piracy has cost the European music, movie, TV and software industries EUR10bn ($14bn). They say that over 185,000 jobs were lost in 2008 due to the same reason.

The New Zealand and Malaysian governments have also recently outlawed unauthorised Internet file-sharing.

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