As they say, actions speak louder than words. The U.S. government took this phrase to heart last Wednesday when it shut down nine websites that were engaging in the practice of providing access to pirated movie content to visitors.
In the past, authorities seemed to focus more on the sale of pirated goods such as bootleg DVDs. The focus has shifted now from the sale of pirated goods to online providers of pirated content. The number of file sharing networks, torrent sites, and sites that stream newly released movies is at an all-time high, and that has caught the attention of the White House.
Just a couple weeks ago, the White House released a strategic plan to combat intellectual property theft and illegal downloads. It promised to crack down on violators within the United States and abroad in an aim to help save the entertainment industry from continued financial losses, which negatively affects the national economy. The plan vowed to monitor illegal sites more carefully and prosecute their owners criminally.
Many viewed the announced plan as more rhetoric and veiled threats. As last Wednesday's crackdown proved, however, it was the real deal, and just the beginning of what could be a major war over the transmission of pirated content.
The nine websites that were terminated include: NinjaVideo.net, NinjaThis.net, ThePirateCity.org, ZML.com, Now-Movies.com, PlanetMoviez.com, TVshack.net, Movies-Links.tv, and FilesPump.com. The first two, NinjaVideo.net and NinjaThis.net, were shut down in a separate operation, while the others were hit with warrants from New York's Manhattan federal court. All of the sites combined drew millions of visitors each month. Many provided viewing access to movies that had just been released in theaters, such as Toy Story 3, Jonah Hex, Iron Man 2, and many more.
Rather than being given a selection of new releases to stream or download, visitors to each website were greeted with an official banner stating that the domain had been seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) via a seizure warrant. The banners also explain that those involved can face criminal prosecution for the felony violation of copyright laws. The penalties are stiff, even for first-time offenders, and include forfeiture of assets, restitution, a fine, and up to five years in a federal prison.
Authorities remained true to the penalties listed in the warning banners, and executed residential search warrants in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington. They also seized several of the operators' assets in the form of 15 bank accounts, online accounts from Paypal, advertising accounts, and investment accounts. Most of the sites offer free access to content and earn revenue from donations or advertising. The names of the operators in question have not been released as of yet.
Although the crackdown was executed on many of the top sites in the entertainment pirating arena, there are plenty more that are still standing, and many will see this as an opening to take the place of the seized domains as well. That might not be a wise move though, as it seems as if the authorities are not bluffing this time around. They are also seeking the help of international governments in the war on piracy to prevent violators from seeking safe havens abroad. One question undoubtedly popped into the heads of many of the shut down websites' visitors when they viewed the warning banners: “Am I next?”
For more on this crackdown, visit: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65T6OR20100630
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