NEW YORK - Seizure warrants have been executed against 10 websites that illegally streamed live sporting telecasts and pay-per-view events over the Internet, as part of an ongoing investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The websites, which were seized Tuesday pursuant to a federal court order in the Southern District of New York, were among the most popular on the Internet for illegally distributing copyrighted sporting events. The websites are ATDHE.NET, CHANNELSURFING.NET, HQ-STREAMS.COM, HQSTREAMS.NET, FIRSTROW.NET, ILEMI.COM, IILEMI.COM, IILEMII.COM, ROJADIRECTA.ORG and ROJADIRECTA.COM.
The sites provided access to illegal, pirated telecasts of the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, World Wrestling Entertainment, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Each of these organizations holds the copyrights to the televised broadcasts of their respective sporting events. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York is asking that the domain names for these websites be forfeited.
"This swift action by our HSI New York special agents and analysts sends a clear message to website operators who mistakenly believe it's worth the risk to take copyrighted programming and portray it as their own," said ICE Director John Morton. "Protecting legitimate business interests is a priority for HSI and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and we will continue to aggressively investigate this type of crime with our law enforcement partners."
"The illegal streaming of professional sporting events over the Internet deals a financial body blow to the leagues and broadcasters who are forced to pass their losses off to the fans in the form of higher priced tickets and pay-per-view events," said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara. "With the Super Bowl just days away, the seizures of these infringing websites reaffirm our commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to protect copyrighted material and put the people who steal it out of business."
According to the affidavit unsealed Wednesday, it is estimated that each year, sports leagues and broadcasters lose millions of dollars from the illegal distribution of copyrighted, live sporting events over the Internet. Such piracy threatens the investment that broadcasters and digital media companies are willing to make to distribute live content.
In addition, this illegal activity impedes the leagues' ability to sell game tickets and secure local television and radio carriage, and the value of advertising revenue generated by broadcast, radio, and new media partners. Sports fans are also victims, as the costs expended by sports leagues in an effort to address on-line piracy are passed on to fans when they purchase tickets or subscribe to sports networks.
The websites seized yesterday were popular "linking" sites - a type of website that provides access, or "links," to other websites where pirated sporting and pay-per-view events are hosted. Users simply click on a link to begin the process of downloading or streaming to their own computer an illegal broadcast of a sporting event from the third party website that is hosting the stream.
Linking websites are popular because they allow users to quickly browse content and locate illegal streams that would otherwise be more difficult to find. Visitors to these websites are being redirected to a banner that advises them that the domain name has been seized by the New York office of ICE HSI because of criminal copyright violations.
This is the third phase of Operation in Our Sites, an ongoing investigation into websites that illegally offer copyrighted and counterfeited goods. In June 2010, authorities executed seizure warrants against nine domain names of websites offering pirated copies of first-run movies. In November 2010, 82 domain names of commercial websites engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of counterfeit goods and copyrighted works were seized.
The Intellectual Property Rights Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The IPR Center is led by ICE HSI and includes partners from U.S. Customs and Border Protection; the FBI; the Department of Commerce; the Food and Drug Administration; the Postal Inspection Service; the General Services Administration, Office of the Inspector General; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; the Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Army Criminal Investigative Division's Major Procurement Fraud Unit; the Consumer Product Safety Commission, INTERPOL; and the Government of Mexico Tax Administrative Service.
The IPR Center allows law enforcement and the private sector jointly to address the growing transnational problem of counterfeit products. The IPR Center coordinates outreach to U.S. rights holders and conducts domestic and international law enforcement as well as coordinates and directs anti-counterfeiting investigations.