Just a few days short of Super Bowl Sunday, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced today it had seized 307 Web sites that either live-streamed sports or sold fake NFL paraphernalia.
The federal agents also arrested a Michigan man on criminal copyright infringement charges who allegedly operated nine of the streaming sites.
"While most people are focusing on whether the Patriots or Giants will win on Sunday, we at ICE have our sights on a different type of victory: defeating the international counterfeiting rings that illegally profit off of this event, the NFL, its players and sports fans," ICE Director John Morton said in a statement.
The initiative, dubbed "Operation Fake Sweep," was a partnership between ICE, NFL, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and the Indiana State Police.
One component of the sweep was to target Web sites allegedly dealing in counterfeiting and online piracy. The other part was going after manufacturers of fake "hard goods." Over the course of a few months, police and federal agents seized 65,262 phony Super Bowl-related memorabilia items in the "hard goods" sweep, which totaled $6.4 million.
"The NFL is committed to protecting fans and local businesses from being victimized by counterfeiters who are looking to profit illegally off of the public's enthusiasm for the NFL," NFL Vice President Anastasia Danias said in a statement.
According to ICE, 16 of the Web sites seized in the operation reportedly streamed live sport telecasts illegally, including Firstrowsports.tv, Firstrowsports.com, and Soccertvlive.net. The other 291 domain names were allegedly selling and distributing counterfeit merchandise. Now, when users visit these sites they are redirected to an ICE seizure notice.
The man arrested in "Operation Fake Sweep," Yonjo Quiroa, 28, of Comstock Park, Mich., is being charged with one count of criminal infringement. ICE says that he illegally operated nine Web sites that streamed live sporting and pay-per-view events from his home in Michigan.
"In sports, players must abide by rules of the game, and in life, individuals must follow the laws of the land," said Morton. "Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it's the law."
Cracking down on Web sites that live-stream copyrighted material has been happening for years, but it seems the government is becoming increasingly more serious about it. Last March, the Obama administration proposed sweeping revisions to U.S. copyright law that would make "illegal streaming" a federal felony and in June the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill with the same proposal.
Operation Fake Sweep is part of a larger law enforcement initiative called "Operation In Our Sites," which has seized a total of 669 domain names since it launched in June 2010. According to ICE, Operation Fake Sweep will continue this weekend at Super Bowl events and venues throughout Indianapolis and the U.S.