EFF Fights Gov. on 1st Amendment Over Domain Seizures

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is firing back at the U.S. government for domain seizures related to a Spanish sports streaming site Rojadirecta..com. In an amicus brief filed by the EFF Monday, the open-Internet advocate sided with a petition from Puerto 80, the company behind the sites.

The U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) seized the domains as a way to fight piracy on the Internet as part of its “Operation in Our Sites” campaign. The EFF joins Mozilla in fighting government domain seizures after Mozilla defied the Department of Homeland Security over Firefox extension MafiaaFire in early May.

Puerto 80 filed a brief in the Second District of New York on June 13 to petition for the return of its sites. Rojadirecta allegedly hosted pirated streams of sports content, leading to the domain seizure. In its brief, Puerto 80 denies that to be the case.

“The Rojadirecta site does not host copyrighted videos or streams of sporting events, and the government does not allege that it does. It indexes links to streams of sporting events that can already be found on the Internet,” the brief stated.

Rojadirecta.com and Rojadirecta.org were bought by Puerto 80 from GoDaddy.com and hosted by Verisign, both U.S. companies. The company is claiming hardship with an “entire halt to all traffic to the subject domain names.” Puerto 80 claims that the “seizure constitutes an unlawful prior restraint on speech, in violation of Puerto 80’s First Amendment rights, and Puerto 80 will continue to suffer deprivation of its First Amendment rights if the property is not immediately returned.”

Puerto 80: We Link and Discuss, That Does Not Make Us Criminals

Essentially, Rojadirecta claims that it was just linking to the content that the U.S. government thinks is pirated. The company does not host the streams. Puerto 80 says that its primary function as a website is to host discussion forums and link to said content, which it says does not mean it is committing copyright infringement.

“This misguided intellectual property enforcement effort is causing serious collateral damage to free speech rights,” said EFF intellectual property director Corynne McSherry in a release. “These domain seizures should cease unless and until the government can fix the First Amendment flaws inherent in the program.”

ICE has seized 125 domains since it started “Operation in Our Sites,” according to the EFF. Some of those sites are undoubtedly destinations that pirate content. The EFF protests that government actions of “unilateral seizure of domain names without a court ruling.” If this were in the physical world, as opposed to the digital world, it would be the equivalent of the government shutting down a retail store without a court order because it believed the store was a location for drug trafficking.

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