The US government has today seized a selection of domains belonging to sites associated with peer-to-peer file sharing and counterfeit goods - apparently without notifying their owners nor going through the court systems.
The seizures, first noted by Enigmax over on TorrentFreak, have apparently been carried out suddenly and without warning by a branch of Homeland Security known as ICE - and provide a sneak preview of what could happen here in the UK if plans to force Nominet to hand domains over to the police are approved.
While many of the seized domains - including 2009jerseys.com, nfljerseysupply.com, lifetimereplicas.com, and handbag9.com - were web stores offering counterfeit branded goods, at least one search engine has been caught up in the seizure.
Torrent-Finder.com is, or was, a meta-search engine: rather than holding a list of BitTorrent links itself, it offered an interface that loaded a selection of other BitTorrent search engines in iframes on the page - meaning that it neither held copyright material nor links to copyright material, but rather held links to links to copyright material.
Despite this level of remove from the act of copyright infringement, it looks like ICE Homeland Security Investigations took umbrage with the site - and has seized the domain, replacing its content with a warning: "Willful copyright infringement is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution."
The owner of the site claims that the seizure occurred suddenly and without warning: "My domain has been seized without any previous complaint or notice from any court! I firstly had DNS downtime. While I was contacting GoDaddy I noticed the DNS had changed. Godaddy had no idea what was going on and until now they do not understand the situation and they say it was totally from ICANN."
The Torrent-Finder.com domain joins music sharing domains RapGodFathers.com, OnSmash.com, and DaJaz1.com as the property of Homeland Security - and there's no indication that their original owners will ever be able to get them back.
With plans afoot to provide UK police with the same domain seizure powers as ICE Homeland Security Investigations in the US, this is something which should be watched very closely indeed.