ICE Freezes Numerous Torrent Sites

CYBERSPACE—Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) isn't waiting for COICA to become law. The division of The Department of Homeland Security yesterday seized upwards of 70 torrent sites in "ongoing investigations" targeting online piracy.

COICA is the  acronym for the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bill, which was introduced by. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), would provide federal law enforcement with new powers and mechanisms with which to shut down or emasculate websites that are "dedicated to infringing activities."

Yesterday's coordinated take-downs, supported by court-ordered seizure warrants, according to ICE spokesperson Cori W. Bassett, appear to be a preemptive attack that will, if nothing else, provide real world examples of the need for COICA, a controversial piece of legislation that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has already promised to block, at least during the lame duck session of Congress.

According to TorrentFreak, the ICE seizure of mostly music and counterfeit goods sites seemed somewhat unfocused in its targeting and consistency.

"While complex, it’s still possible for U.S. authorities and copyright groups to point at a fully-fledged BitTorrent site with a tracker and say 'that’s an infringing site.' When one looks at a site which hosts torrents but operates no tracker, the finger pointing becomes quite a bit more difficult," commented the site. "When a site has no tracker, carries no torrents, lists no copyright works unless someone searches for them and responds just like Google, accusing it of infringement becomes somewhat of a minefield—unless you’re ICE Homeland Security Investigations that is."

TorrentFreak also quoted the owner of Torrent-Finder as saying, “My domain has been seized without any previous complaint or notice from any court!”

Despite these complaints, the multi-faceted assault on torrents around the globe continues with an increasing ferocity of purpose. In addition to the ICE seizures and the looming COICA, yesterday also brought news of the upheld conviction by a Swedish court of the four Pirate Bay principals, who received shortened jail time but increased monetary fines. And of course, end users who use torrent sites to illegally share adult content are now being increasingly targeted in a series of high profile John Doe lawsuits similar to ones brought by Hollywood studios for movies such as The Hurt Locker. The adult industry has also seen its share of tube site lawsuits over the years, not least the recently settled copyright infringement case brought by Pink Visual against the Manwin suite of adult tube sites. That settment included an agreement by Manwin to begin a regime of digital fingerprinting through the FSC’s Anti-Piracy Action Program (APAP).

It all goes to underscore the utter seriousness of the war on piracy, which is really a fight over the future (and soul) of the internet. While copyright holders say that their rights are paramount and imperative if a sustainable entertainment industry is to survive, organizations such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation argue that the interests of already powerful entertainment corporations cannot be used to destroy the openness that makes the internet such a powerful force for innovation and freedom of expression. These arguments are nothing new, of course; it's just the stakes that seem to be greater than ever.

According to an update on Torrent Freak Friday, the following sites were seized by ICE: