Business News Digital Legal Top Stories

New IP Crime Unit targeting domain registrars of file-sharing sites

By | Published on Thursday 10 October 2013

City Of London Police

The recently launched IP Crime Unit of the City Of London Police has already got busy targeting file-sharing services that enable rampant copyright infringement, sending letters to said services’ domain registrars urging them to suspend domains used by the allegedly offending sites. According to Torrentfreak, key domains used by services like SumoTorrent, MisterTorrent and ExtraTorrent have already been affected.

Although now being led by the IP Crime Unit, the new batch of letters follows work already undertaken by the City Of London Police earlier this year, in which stern letters were sent to the operators of UK-based file-sharing services threatening them with legal action, and possibly prosecution, if they did not contact the authorities to discuss their activities. Some complied with that order, though many ignored it.

This time the police are targeting the domain registrars of the services, which manage the domain names the file-sharing operations use. One domain registrar, easyDNS, has revealed some of the content of the letter, which warns the domain name firms that their clients are likely breaching both copyright law and the UK’s Serious Crime Act, and could be the subject of future action. The letter also cites each domain company’s own T+Cs regarding illegal sites, and the rules of global domain names body ICANN.

While some registrars have complied with the wishes of the police letter and diverted domains formally used by file-sharing services to an official police notice (endorsed by various entertainment industry trade bodies), easyDNS has so far refused to act, noting that the police letter does not constitute a court order and – while it’s pretty clear that most of the services being targeted are almost certainly liable for at least authorising infringement – surely a judge rather than the police should order domain blocks.

easyDNS CEO Mark Jeftovic has blogged about the police letter, asking: “Who decides what is illegal? What makes somebody a criminal? Given that the subtext of the request contains a threat to refer the matter to ICANN if we don’t play along, this is a non-trivial question. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always thought it was something that gets decided in a court of law, as opposed to ‘some guy on the internet’ sending emails. While that’s plenty reason enough for some registrars to take down domain names, it doesn’t fly here”.

The IP Crime Unit is yet to respond to the concerns of Jeftovic and others. Where domain firms do not immediately comply, court action may well follow that will ultimately result in the websites being blocked anyway (or, as actually happens, having to shift to a new domain likely managed by a registrar outside the UK). And part of the purpose of having a specialist police unit for IP crime was to speed up what can take years when pursued through the civil courts.

Though websites getting blocked without an actual court order is always going to be controversial, and could damage the credibility of the IP Crime Unit and the entertainment industry trade bodies it is allied to.