Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has asked users of the social media website Reddit to help crowdsource a bill regarding domain name seizures for copyright infringement.
Noting that the online community has been a vocal opponent of legislation such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Lofgren has asked Reddit how to “build due process requirements into domain name seizures for copyright infringement.”
The goal of the legislation would be to require “the government to provide notice and an opportunity for website operators to defend themselves prior to seizing or redirecting their domain names,” the congresswoman explained.
In an ongoing campaign against online copyright infringement, the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have seized the domain names of hundreds of websites since 2010 over alleged criminal copyright violations. Those who visit the websites now only see a banner that states the domain name has been seized by U.S. law enforcement. The banner links to an anti-piracy video on YouTube.
Some websites that have been shut down by federal law enforcement did not themselves host any copyrighted content, but were targeted because they allowed visitors to browse through links to third-party websites that hosted pirated videos. The U.S. government voluntarily dismissed the case against one of those websites, Rojadirecta, in August.
“Seizures such as these amount to prior restraint of free expression,” Lofgren said in a statement. “They impair legitimate businesses that are unfairly targeted and discourage online entrepreneurship. I believe the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires greater due process protection for website owners.”
Lofgren has previously said the practice of unilaterally seizing domain names without any prior notice could violate the Constitution’s guarantee of due process of law. The domains are seized solely on the basis of an affidavit alleging probable cause, allowing the owners of the website to defend their innocence only after they’ve already been shut down.
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