‘Operation In Our Sites’

Michael John Long is an LLM candidate advancing to the PhD at Osgoode Hall Law School

On the morning of July 1st a common thread rippled throughout my email inbox; the topic related to movie streaming sites, or perhaps better said, a lack thereof.  After a few key strokes I learned that this streaming website deficit was the result of ‘the largest takedown of illegal movie and television websites in a single action by the federal government,’ according to Kevin Suh, executive for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).  Suh, I was learning, was speaking on the joint federal operation aimed to combat movie piracy.

Operation In Our Sites’ launched early this month as authorities targeted nine web domains which have allegedly offered users first run movies without consent of the copyright holders.  The seized domains are; tvshack.net, movies-links.tv, filespump.com, now-movies.com, planetmoviez.com, thepiratecity.org, zml.com, and two under the ninjavideo umbrella.  In addition, authorities seized assets from fifteen bank, PayPal, investment, and advertising e-commerce accounts.  Along with these seizures, four residential search warrants were also executed.

The two domains under the popular ninjavideo streaming service (ninjavideo.net and ninjathis.net) were both subjected to a lengthy operation in advance of the seizures.  What the operation revealed was that these sorts of sites attracted a combined 6.7 million users monthly, and served to allow users to watch movies, some of which were in theatres only days before offered on the sites.  While tvshack.net offered ‘Toy Story 3,’ other sites offered links to ‘Jonah Hex,’ ‘Knight and Day,’ and ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,’ among others.

An attempt to visit the sites now reveals them to either not resolve, or display a banner announcing that law enforcement agencies have shut the sites down due to trafficking in illegal downloads.  The operation comes as a joint effort between numerous bodies, including the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), whose Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents seized the 15 bank accounts and other assets, as well as the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), who seized a majority of the domains.  ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton, who was joined in a press conference by ranking members of major movie studios, entertainment unions and the MPAA, stated that the theft of this kind of intellectual property is a crime that the US government has made a priority to combat.

Morton further stated that the ‘ICE and our partners at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Centre are targeting pirate web sites run by people who have no respect for creativity and innovation.’  He continued, ‘we are dedicated to protecting the jobs, the income and the tax revenue that disappears when organized criminals traffic in stolen movies for their own profit.’

The seizures come on the heel of the Obama administration’s Joint Strategic Plan to combat intellectual property theft, which was announced by Vice President Joe Biden this past June.  In his speech, Biden stated that the US was going to ‘lead by example’ in cracking down on sites which offer the public the ability to share and download copyrighted materials.  In addition to declaring war on domestic pirate sites, the VP noted that foreign governments would be urged to do the same in their countries.  ‘Piracy hurts, it hurts our economy,’ Biden stated, arguing that a global crackdown was needed to save businesses from going bankrupt.  And while the recent seizure of the domains serves to support the Joint Strategic Plan, it is likely that the focus will extend past pirate websites.  According to the VP, other digital goods and counterfeit products will be targeted as they are seen by the US government as a threat to public health and national security.

  1. Does the U.S. government expect these shutdowns to actually work? If anything, sites like these will just be set up in countries that do not have as strict pirating laws. In the meantime, people will just download their favourite movies and television programs, which is more akin to actual pirating as the downloader now actually has the movie or show in his/her possession on his/her hard drive. What’s next raiding my home to impound my crummy old Dell computer?

  2. Actually Christian, Ninjavideo was not in the USA, so it would appear the operation has the teeth to operate internationally. I guess the FBI is trying to make good on their implied threat in conjunction with Interpol based on the warning present on all movies prior to the credits rolling.

  3. As far as I know Fly Intheointment, ninjavideo had servers in the U.S. and in the Netherlands, a country which has relatively strict pirating laws. However, you make a valid point as the ICE seems to be able to operate outside of U.S. borders.
    I stand by my belief that this will only lead to more ‘true pirating’ as people will be forced to visit a torrent site and download their favourite movie or television show. I guess the next question that must be answered is whether or not agencies like the ICE have the clout to shut down or monitor torrent sites. This would seem to be a Sisyphean task at best as these sites do not require the same amount of upkeep as streaming sites and are fed by the people who frequent them.

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