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US authorities take content linking sites offline

By | Published on Monday 29 November 2010

Three websites in the US that provided links to music content on the web, in the main unlicensed music files, have been shut down by various federal organisations, including the Department Of Justice, the Department Of Homeland Security and the IP Rights Coordination Centre.

Most attention has been given to the closure of RapGodFathers, which had 150,000 members and provided links to rap and hip hop content, some legit but mostly unlicensed, though a chunk of the illegal stuff was mixtapes commonly used in the hip hop community – at both the grass root and mainstream ends of the market – to promote new producers and MCs. The other websites hit by the action were OnSmash and Dajaz1.

According to reports, servers used by all three services were seized on Friday, and their domain names were transferred to federal government ownership and pointed to copyright infringement notices. According to TorrentFreak, the raids were undertaken under a warrant issued by a US court on 23 Nov.

Owners of the RapGodFathers website insist that the vast majority of the content their site linked to was of the promotional mixtape variety, and argue that they had always removed links to content when they received takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. If that’s true, they were arguably operating within US copyright laws.

It’s not entirely clear under what laws these actions have been taken, given the seeming lack of civil proceedings from the record industry, though TorrentFreak claim this is not the first time sites that provide links to copyright infringing content have been targeted in this way. In many territories laws do already exist – sometimes under copyright regulations, sometimes via conspiracy to defraud laws – that enable authorities to take websites offline if they believe individuals are profiting from infringement.

As previously reported, moves are afoot in the US to introduce a new system that makes it easier for the Department Of Justice to force offline websites that primarily provide access or links to infringing content, even if said sites are not profit making. The new system would overcome the issue for content owners that – while the courts usually find in their favour when they target file-sharing set ups like LimeWire – under the current system it takes years of costly litigation to achieve anything, by which time most targeted services are falling out of common usage anyway. 

Those proposals were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week though will now go to US Congress where some opposition is expected to be expressed by the web community.