U.S. government now seizes domains for Android app piracy

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The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week that it has begun seizing websites for allowing visitors to illegally download Android apps. So far, the FBI, in coordination with international law enforcement partners, has taken control of three websites as part of the federal government’s latest anti-piracy efforts.

The seized websites are: applanet.net, appbucket.net, and snappzmarket.com. Anyone who tries to visit these sites will be met with a “seizure banner,” which indicates that a site has been taken into custody by federal authorities. The DoJ says that preventing mobile app piracy is a “top priority” for the U.S. government.

“Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works – including popular apps – is a top priority of the Criminal Division,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer, in a statement. “Software apps have become an increasingly essential part of our nation’s economy and creative culture, and the Criminal Division is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to protect the creators of these apps and other forms of intellectual property from those who seek to steal it.”

U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of Georgia added that copyright laws protect mobile apps to help “encourage the hard work and ingenuity of software developers entering this growing and important part of our economy.” Yates added that the federal government “will continue to seize and shut down websites that market pirated apps, and to pursue those responsible for criminal charges if appropriate.”

The FBI claims to have downloaded “thousands of  popular copyrighted mobile device apps” from these websites. Many of these apps were stored on servers based in countries outside the United States. Because of this, the FBI worked with law enforcement agencies from various other nations, including the Netherlands and France. U.S. authorities also issued nine search warrants in six domestic districts located in Mississippi, Michigan, Indiana, Rhode Island, Florida, and Texas.

The FBI is one of 19 federal agencies that make up the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), which orchestrates the U.S. government’s anti-piracy efforts. In mid-July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, seized 70 domains over copyright infringement of physical goods, like Beats headphones and Tiffany’s jewelry. Since 2010, nearly 850 websites have been seized by the U.S. government over copyright infringement allegations.

As mandated by the 2008 PRO-IP Act, law enforcement may seize a website after presenting sufficient evidence of copyright infringement to a judge. The seized website’s owner may then counter the authorities claims. But even if the site has been seized without having broken the law, it can take many months for control of the domain to be handed back to its rightful owner. In at least one case, that of hip hop site DaJaz1, the feds took an entire year before admitting that the website had not violated any laws and handing back control of the website.