Oops! Copyright Cops Return Seized RojaDirecta Domain Names – 19 Months Later

One of Spain’s most popular websites, whose American domains were seized in January 2011 as part of a crackdown on internet piracy, is getting its domains returned 19 months later, as the U.S. government voluntarily dropped its claim Wednesday.

The Rojadirecta .com and .org domains were seized more than a year and a half ago, along with eight others connected to broadcasting pirated streams of professional sports, as part of the government’s “Operation in Our Sites.”

The federal court order mandating return of the domain names marks the second court “victory” for seized sites. Earlier this year, the government reluctantly, and without apology, returned a music blog’s domain name after seizing it at the behest of the RIAA, holding onto it for more than a year, and then failing to even file charges against the site.

The government, which seized the domain names for simply including links to copyrighted content, dropped the Rojadirecta claim, seemingly due to a recent ruling by Judge Richard Posner. Posner, one of the nation’s most respected judges, knocked down charges that a video bookmarking site was infringing copyright law, just because its users linked to copyrighted videos.

In a letter accompanying the motion to dismiss, the government told the New York federal court that it had changed its mind:

The Government respectfully submits this letter to advise the Court that as a result of certain recent judicial authority involving issues germane to the above-captioned action, and in light of the particular circumstances of this litigation, the Government now seeks to dismiss its amended forfeiture complaint. The decision to seek dismissal ofthis case will best promote judicial economy and serve the interests of justice.

Puerto 80, which claims the Rojadirecta site sports 865,000 registered users, has long maintained it has committed no copyright infringement. The site is a discussion board where members can talks sports, politics and other topics, and it additionally links to sports streams — some of which are pirated.

“The government has not shown and cannot show that the site ever was used to commit a criminal act, much less that it will be in the future. By hosting discussion forums and linking to existing material on the internet, Puerto 80 is not committing copyright infringement, let alone criminal copyright infringement,” (.pdf) according to the site’s legal filing last year.

The site says it also tried to negotiate with the government to get the site back, but were told they would only get it back if the site prohibited its users from linking to any U.S. content anywhere on its sites.

The lawsuit added that “the government effectively shut down an entire website, suppressing all of the speech hosted on it, based on an assertion that there was probable cause to believe that some of the material linked to the website (though not found on the website itself) might be infringing.”

The U.S. government is taking .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.