Blog Post

U.S. Government Seizes Websites, Treats File-Sharing As Criminal Matter

In a sign that the Obama Administration is taking a harder line on intellectual-property crimes, the government has seized dozens of web-domain names over the past week, including some peer-to-peer file-sharing sites.

While most of the sites have URL titles that would appeal to those hawking knockoff goods, such as and, a few were music-sharing sites, including

Today, the government accused those sites of selling counterfit items and “steal[ing] the creative work of others.” The actions are part of “Operation in Our Sites,” a program begun by ICE earlier this year, which seized nine domain names of file-sharing services in June.

One site that was shut down,, was a BitTorrent search engine. (BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer format that allows files to be downloaded rapidly by sharing the task of moving data among many users.) The site operator, Waleed GadElKareem of Egypt, told The New York Times that he was “sure something is wrong” because his site was shut down by ICE without notice, even though he “does not even host any torrents or direct-link to them.”  

While several popular file-sharing services, from Napster to Grokster and now perhaps Limewire, have been shuttered by entertainment industry lawsuits, the services have changed their technology and grown. Peer-to-peer traffic comprised the majority of internet traffic for about a decade, but was overtaken this year by the growth of streaming video content.

Since the Obama administration has taken power, it has treated more intellectual-property violations as criminal rather than civil matters. In addition to the recent ICE seizures, government prosecutors have filed criminal copyright charges against Matthew Crippen, a resident of Orange County, California, who is accused of modding Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Xboxes. Crippen, 28, will face up to three years in prison if found guilty. His trial is scheduled to start this week.

The new actions come as a controversial new bill, known as the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act,” or COICA, is under consideration by Congress. Part of the bill would allow for expanded use of seizures by creating a “blacklist” of web sites that are believed to be aiding copyright infringement. Some critics have called that bill an “Internet censorship bill” that would allow the government to essentially shut off websites without a court trial. In 2009, the administration appointed Victoria Espinel to be an “IP Czar” who will report to Congress and the President on the enforcement of intellectual-property laws. 

All the sites shut down in this latest round now bear a notice from ICE, which states only that the site has been seized “pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court.”