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Federal court signs off on domain-name seizures

Judge denies request by operators of Rojadirecta sites for their Web domains to be returned. They're accused of publishing links that led to illegal Web broadcasts of sporting events. But the case isn't over yet.

A federal court has sanctioned the efforts of U.S. law enforcement to seize domain names belonging to suspected pirate sites.

John Morton, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has a green light from the courts to continue seizing Web domains. Greg Sandoval

In February, U.S. customs agents seized the domain names and In June, Puerto 80, the owners of the domain names, filed a lawsuit and asked that the names be returned.

Yesterday, however, a U.S. district court in Manhattan denied Puerto 80's request. According to court documents, Rojadirecta was being used to publish links that led users to illegal Web broadcasts of live sporting events and other pay-per-view shows, which is a copyright violation.

Managers at Puerto 80 said that the seizing of the domain names would cause a financial hardship and violate First Amendment rights of readers and viewers since many posted comments to the site's forum. Critics of domain-name seizures say that the practice could be used as a form of censorship. Anytime that the government wants to silence dissension on a Web site, all it need do is claim that the site is guilty of copyright violations.

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But the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), in its response to the company's complaint, said Puerto 80 is already back in business after acquiring new domain names obtained from other countries so there was no hardship. Also the government said that returning the domain names would enable Puerto 80 to continue violating copyright law.

Judge Paul Crotty, from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, agreed that Puerto 80 did not sufficiently prove that the seizure would cause an undue hardship. As for the government's assertion that returning the domain names would enable Puerto 80 to continue to violate copyright law, Crotty said he would wait to make a ruling on that until next month, when Puerto 80 is scheduled to make oral arguments that the case against it should be dismissed.

Judging from court documents, it was plain that Crotty had concluded that Rojadirecta was used to pirate live broadcasts.

"The main purpose of the Rojadirecta Web to catalog links to the copyrighted athletic events," Crotty wrote. "Any argument to the contrary is clearly disingenuous."