US claims all .com and .net websites are in its jurisdiction

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THE US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) wants to take down web sites that use the .com and .net top level domains (TLD) regardless of whether their servers are based in the US.

Erik Barnett, assistant deputy director of ICE said told the Guardian that the agency will actively target web sites that are breaking US copyright laws even if their servers are not based in the US. According to Barnett, all web sites that use the .com and .net TLDs are fair game and that, since the Domain Name Service (DNS) indexes for those web sites are routed through the US-based registry Versign, ICE believes it has enough to "seek a US prosecution".

According to the Guardian, ICE is not focusing its efforts just on web sites that stream dodgy content but those that link to them, something the newspaper claims has "considerable doubt as to whether this is even illegal in Britain". It points out that the only such case to have been heard by a judge in the UK was dismissed.

Barnett said, "By definition, almost all copyright infringement and trademark violation is transnational. There's very little purely domestic intellectual property theft."

However Barnett's claim that because Verisign is the registry for .com and .net TLDs that gives ICE jurisdiction over servers based in foreign countries seems tenuous at best. Nevertheless he said, "Without wishing to get into the particulars of any case, the general goal of law enforcement is to arrest and prosecute individuals who are committing crimes. That is our goal, our mission. The idea is to try to prosecute."

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group told the Guardian, "This seems absurd [...] if you don't have some idea that there's a single jurisdiction in which you can be prosecuted for copyright infringement that means you're potentially opening an individual to dozens of prosecutions."

ICE is most probably banking on expectations that those it accuses of sharing copyrighted content won't be able to afford a legal team to question its claim that its jurisdiction extends beyond US borders.

UPDATE - 7 July 2011
Verisign has issued a statement to The INQUIRER regarding ICE's claims that it has jurisdiction over all .com and .net domain names based on the fact that Verisign, the internet registry in charge of .com and .net TLDs, is a US-based firm.In it the firm states that it cooperates with law enforcement authorities when presented with a court order.

Verisign's full statement and reader reactions to ICE's claim that it can order the takedown of web sites that might have servers located outside the US can be read here. µ

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