6 Ways to Get Your Domain Name Seized by ICE*
Immigration and Customs Enforcement. I.C.E. The coolest acronym in the U.S. government. Pun intended. The following is a sure fire guide to getting a shiny seizure notice or PSA for your infringing website’s domain name. The keynote address during the May Intellectual Property Breakfast at Clyde’s in Chinatown was given by Erik Barnett from ICE. His presentation focused on the procedure and due process of Operation In Our Sites, the operation that seized over 100 domain names, and this list is based on his discussion.
6 Ways to Get Your Domain Name Seized by ICE*
1. Make your counterfeit goods site look like a “real” site.
A traditional role of U.S. Customs is to seize counterfeit goods, so a counterfeiter attempting to trick consumers into buying counterfeit products online is a quick way to get noticed by ICE. Erik Barnett mentioned in his keynote that one domain name seized by ICE was realtimberland.com that sold counterfeit timberland-style shoes. Surprisingly, these products are not the $20 “Gucci” purses sold in a back alley, these items are priced closer to the real products, making the confusion and harm to consumers even worse. Consumers could honestly think they are getting a deal, instead of knowingly participating in buying counterfeit goods.
2. Be a popular site.
ICE has about 300 agents. They don’t have time to waste on small-time pirates. ICE goes after the big players, usually using the Lexis ranking system for websites. Barnett mentioned that MovieLinks.com, a website dedicated to sharing links to camcorder movies or screener DVDs, was in the top 300 websites in the U.S., roughly the same exposure as WhiteHouse.gov. Popularity is rough in the online piracy business and a necessary part of getting a domain name seized.
3. Make your site available to Americans (and make sure you own a .com or .net)
Now this standard is pretty nebulous, but ICE only goes after websites that are in some way targeted towards Americans. According to Erik Barnett, putting the prices of products in USD is a “clue” that law enforcement can use to determine whether it was substantially targeting toward consumers in the United States. Additionally, ICE only goes after websites whose Top-level domain (TLD) is located within the U.S., such as .com or .net. This makes sense for more than just jurisdiction – .com and .net are established and often more trusted TLDs, and the risk of consumers confusing the counterfeit site with a legitimate storefront would probably be higher.
4. Don’t just be a message board or forum.
ICE does not go after forums, discussions boards, or chat rooms. Erik Barnett seemed to make this very clear. However, in today’s connected world, most websites are often a blend of these platforms. That might mean that chat protocols like IRC and user-based forums like 4Chan are off the table as far as ICE seizures go (but, of course, infringing websites can always be the subject of civil liability.) A message board or chat room that shares links to illegal websites among its users would be some serious gray area, but it’s likely that if you are (see #2) an extremely popular site, (see # 3) your site is available to Americans, and you follow the next rule, ICE might still come digitally knocking down your domain name’s door.
5. Make some money.
Here’s the big one – in order to get attention from ICE, you need to be making money from linking. Most sites use advertising as a means of revenue for their website, and this practice can be lucrative, especially when driving in millions of hits for illegal downloads. Sports and movie streaming sites often surround the feed with advertising, allowing the site owner to make money with every click.
6. Be a sports streaming site during the Super Bowl, a counterfeit jeweler during Valentine’s Day, or a counterfeit electronics sites during Cyber Monday.
ICE’s operations often coincide with major economic days of the year, such as the Super Bowl, when they targeted sports streaming and counterfeit team jerseys, Cyber Monday, where they went after electronics counterfeiters, and Valentine’s Day, where they went after counterfeit jewelers and other gifts. As a side note, ICE has a talent for naming things (see THE NAME ICE). The overall operation that is currently targeting infringing sites’ domain names is called “Operation in Our Sites.” Their Valentine’s Day operation? No, not the “The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre,” or “Operation: </3” but something equally as good, “Operation Broken Hearted.” Expect ICE to continue this trend of targeting a particular sector of counterfeiting and piracy websites.
*Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. It is a lighted hearted overview of the criteria ICE uses to seize domain names. Just wanted to be clear. Cheers.