New York man faces five years in jail for ‘linking’ to online videos
You may want to think twice the next time you share a link to your favorite video.
In a case against a New York website owner, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is claiming that merely linking to copyrighted material is a crime.
DHS, along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), seized Brian McCarthy’s domain, channelsurfing.net, in late January. The site has now been replaced with a government warning: “This domain has been seized by ICE – Homeland Security Investigations, Special Agent in Charge, New York Office.”
“It is unlawful to reproduce copyrighted material, such as movies, music, software or games, without authorization… First-time offenders convicted of a criminal felony copyright law will face up to five years in federal prison, restitution, forfeiture and fine.”
The advocacy group Demand Progress has claimed that McCarthy never reproduced copyrighted material, and that his website simply linked to other sites.
A criminal complaint obtained by the group seems to acknowledge that agents knew that McCarthy was running a “linking website.”
“Based on my participation in the investigation leading to the February 2011 Seizure, I know that Channelsurfing.net was a ‘linking’ website,” special agent Daniel Brazier wrote in the complaint.
“Based on my training and experience, I know that ‘linking’ websites generally collect and catalog links to files on third party websites that contain illegal copies of copyrighted content, including sporting events and Pay-Per-View events,” he added.
The special agent detailed 17 copyrighted sports programs he was able to watch when he “clicked on links” at channelsurfing.net.
While the criminal complaint alleges that McCarthy did engage in the “reproduction and distribution” of copyrighted material, it is never clear that he actually reproduced any of the specified broadcasts.
“Under that sort of thinking, everyone who’s sent around a link to a copyrighted YouTube video is a criminal,” Demand Progress warned, calling the prosecution a “radical shift” in the way the government polices the Internet.
The Phoenix Independent Examiner’s Chris Greenwood expressed concern about what the case meant for freedom of expression on the Internet.
“You see, when you shut down the last truly free medium that absolutely anyone can use to call for justice, freedom, or democracy where they don’t exist, you leave the communication to the wealthy, who can afford the ad space in print media and air time on television and radio,” he wrote.
“Bryan McCarthy is being used as an example,” Greenwood added. “Someone who possesses no copyright material, broadcasts no copyrighted material and duplicates no copyrighted material is being held by authorities because he has a site that indicates to people that there are people who are possessing, duplicating and reproducing potentially copyrighted material for others to watch.”
A copy of the criminal complaint follows.