Who needs SOPA and PIPA when the government can take down a music website for a whole year with no charge and no copyright infringement?
The popular hip-hop music site, Dajaz1.com was taken down by the Feds for almost 13 months. No charge was ever filed as they were "waiting for proof of infringement".
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) took down the website stating that it linked to external pages that hosted unauthorized recordings of copyright material that could be downloaded for free.
The website was unavailable for just over a year as its administrator was embroiled in a legal debate over the alleged infringement charges.
Now a federal court in Los Angeles has released documents relating to the case against Dajaz1.com and has unsealed the "evidence" against the website, which clearly shows that they never actually had a case.
However, the government did have a cooperative relationship with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) which, by coincidence, is also one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington.
It seems that the U.S. justice system simply bowed to the RIAA's orders to suppress the website without ever being able to charge the owner with a crime.
After requests from Wired, the First Amendment Coalition and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a federal judge has finally released the facts of the case that prosecutors were never quite able to get off the ground.
EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn, speaking to Wired, insists that the government's attempts to ground the music blog was "merely bought by the RIAA". For 13 months the judge time and time again granted government agents extensions to attempt to build a case against the blog. However, despite having over a year to find this evidence, neither federal agents nor the RIAA could ever prove any infringement.
In the meantime, for 13 months, the website's owner was essentially stripped of his First Amendment rights.
Cohn said in the interview, “Here you have ICE making a seizure, based on the say-so of the record company guys, and getting secret extensions as they wait for their masters, the record companies, for evidence to prosecute. This is the RIAA controlling a government investigation and holding it up for a year.”
Over the 13 month period, an agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, one Andrew Reynolds asked U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow for 3 separate extensions to give time to build the case against Djaz1. In the last incidence, Reynolds wrote that authorities required more time to bring the case to trial because “a sampling of content obtained from the Dajaz1.com website and its purported affiliate websites was submitted for rights holder evaluation and has yet to be returned.”
Reynolds had apparently initially claimed that he had downloaded 4 unauthorized and copyrighted songs from the blog. However, apparently it was the RIAA that actually directed him to the website in the hopes of getting it shut down and setting an example to other websites.
Although the site did end up going offline, it seems that all the government was able to prove was that they were willing to work their best to appease the Hollywood Industry bigwigs that "line their pockets".
The EFF says in a statement, “The records confirm what was already suggested by the initial affidavit used to obtain the seizure order: that ICE, and its attorneys, are effectively acting as the hired gun of the content industry at taxpayers’ expense.”
“Instead of relying on rightsholders to determine whether a seizure was appropriate, the government should have been conducting its own thorough investigation. If it had acted in anything like good faith, it could have determined that the site wasn’t a proper target even before the seizure, or at least could have discovered and rectified the mistake before a year had passed.”
However, one battle was won by web surfers this week when Judge Gary Brown of the Eastern District of New York ruled that copyright holders cannot accuse people of infringement of copyright based on their IP addresses alone. This essentially makes the torrenting of music and other files safe from the broad lawsuits launched by the RIAA and others in recent years.