The federal government has expanded its domain seizure campaign to include websites that allegedly participate in Android app piracy. The Department of Justice says that the sites in question—applanet.net, appbucket.net, and snappzmarket.com—are guilty of “illegal distribution of copies of copyrighted Android cell phone apps.” As with past seizures, the government replaced the content on the sites with its own notices.
Many previous piracy-related domain seizures have been carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of “Operation in Our Sites.” In contrast, this operation was led by the FBI.
“Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works—including popular apps—is a top priority of the Criminal Division,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer in the government’s press release. “Software apps have become an increasingly essential part of our nation’s economy and creative culture.”
The FBI says its agents downloaded “thousands of copies of popular copyrighted mobile device apps” to verify the charges against the sites.
The government says Dutch and French law enforcement officials also participated in the operation, which included going after the servers. “The servers storing the apps sold by these alternative online markets were being hosted in other countries, and our international law enforcement partners assisted in obtaining or seizing evidence stored on these servers,” said the Department of Justice. The FBI also executed nine search warrants across the US, apparently looking for the site owners.
These sites may well be infringing, but the process behind the seizures remains troubling. Under the terms of the 2008 PRO-IP Act, the government has to convince a judge, in a one-sided hearing, that the domain is “used, or intended to be used” for copyright infringement. If the judge agrees, the domain name can be seized. Once a domain is seized, the site owner can object, but it can take months or even years to get meaningful judicial review. In one case, the government stonewalled for a year before admitting it had erred in seizing the domain of a hip hop blog. In another case, the owner of a Spanish link site is still fighting in court 18 months after its domain was seized by the feds.