Seized Hip-Hop Site Lashes Out At Feds, RIAA

For more than a year, and without explanation, the government redirected hip-hop site to this landing page.

The hip-hop music site the authorities shuttered for more than a year without explanation has lashed out at the recording industry and the federal government, likening the taking of the site to a “digital Guantanamo.”

“Seizing a blog for linking to four songs, even allegedly infringing ones, is equivalent to seizing the printing press of The New York Times because the newspaper, in its concert calendar, refers readers to four concerts where the promoters of those concerts have failed to pay ASCAP for the performance licenses,” Andre Nasib, the site’s owner, wrote in a blog post Monday on the popular site.

Nasib had originally declined comment when Wired disclosed the backstory of the seizure on Thursday.

According to court records obtained by Wired, federal authorities seized the site based on assertions from the Recording Industry Association of America that it was linking to four “pre-release” music tracks in November, 2010. The authorities gave it back nearly 13 months later without filing civil or criminal charges because of apparent recording industry delays in confirming infringement, according to the court records, which were unsealed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the First Amendment Coalition and Wired.

The records illustrated a secret government process in which a judge granted the government repeated time extensions to build a civil or criminal case against, one of about 750 domains the government has seized in the last two years in a program known as Operation in Our Sites.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, has the power to seize web domains engaged in infringing activity under the same forfeiture laws used to seize property like houses, cars and boats allegedly tied to illegal activity such as drug running or gambling.

The authorities seized the site in November 2010 on the word of the RIAA that four songs linked to on the site were unauthorized, the records show. Yet nearly a year later, in September 2011, the government was secretly seeking its third time extension to build its case, largely because it was still waiting for the recording industry to produce evidence, the records show.

All the while, the site’s owner and his attorney were left out of the loop, as the court record was sealed from them and the public. The Dajaz1 site was redirected to a government landing page saying it was seized by customs officials.

The site claims the four songs by Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown, Nelly and Reek Da Villian at the center of the dispute were provided to it by the recording industry.

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles where the case was handled have declined comment. The Recording Industry Association of America initially declined comment. In an e-mail to Wired late Sunday, however, the RIAA said it “made every attempt” to to assist the investigation “in a complete and prompt manner.”

The RIAA has repeatedly attacked the site for allegedly facilitating wanton copyright infringement of pre-release music, saying has released “thousands” of unauthorized songs.

Dajaz1 blasted back Monday, saying the “RIAA’s grand and sweeping attacks on suggest that the RIAA’s powers of demonization far exceed its ability to substantiate its malicious statements with specific, credible facts.”