Feds Expand Domain Seizures to Mobile-App Pirate Sites

The U.S. government for the first time has seized internet domains of online sites accused of selling pirated mobile applications, in this instance, Android apps.

Seizing domains is nothing new under the President Barack Obama administration. Usually, however, sites are shuttered for offering gambling, hawking counterfeit goods, or providing links to or streaming unauthorized movies and sporting events, or selling unauthorized copies of software. The government has seized more than 750 domains in the past two years under a program called “Operation in Our Sites.” (.pdf)

The domains seized, announced late Tuesday, include applanet.net, appbucket.net and snappzmarket.com. The servers of the targeted were largely hosted overseas, the authorities said. No arrests were announced.

The U.S. government has been seizing .com, .org. and .net domains with court approval, under the same civil seizure law the government invokes to seize brick-and-mortar drug houses, bank accounts and other property tied to illegal activity.

Most importantly, the United States has the legal right, it says, to seize any .com, .net and .org domain name because the companies that have the contracts to administer them are based on United States soil.

The seizures are not without controversy. For instance, the feds seized the domain of a hip-hop blog at the behest of the Recording Industry Association of America, only to quietly return the Dajaz1 site more than a year later after having found no way to press charges against the New York site for allegedly distributing pre-release music.

When a domain name has been seized, the authorities leave behind messages to visitors informing them that the pirate site has been commandeered by the authorities.

“Cracking down on piracy of copyrighted works — including popular apps — is a top priority of the criminal division,” said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s criminal division. “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.”

The government said agents downloaded thousands of apps from the sites, which were distributing the wares without permission of the app developers.