US government agencies including the Department of Justice and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have seized the domain names of 150 websites accused of selling counterfeit products, including sports jerseys, handbags and shoes.
The targeted websites, based outside the US, are engaged in "outright theft," said Lanny Breuer, assistant attorney general for the DOJ's criminal division. "This is people being duped into buying a counterfeit."
The two agencies have now seized the domain names of 350 websites since June 2010 in an effort to crack down on online piracy and counterfeit sales. Monday's announcement, of 150 seizures happening in recent days, comes on Cyber Monday, one of the biggest online shopping days of the year. The websites seized were on domains controlled by US domain-name registrars, including .com and .net.
The seized websites sold millions of dollars worth of products, said John Morton, ICE's director.
"Moms and dads and kids, Americans from all walks of life, need to recognise that this is theft, it's stealing and it's got to stop," Breuer said. "We're doing everything we can to prevent it."
A year ago, the two agencies seized 82 domain names leading up to Cyber Monday.
The domains displayed messages saying they had been seized by one of the agencies. "Willful copyright infringement is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine forfeiture and restitution," the seizure notice said.
Among the domains seized were Cheapjerseysite.org, Discount-uggboots-sale.com, NFLjerseysupply.org, Pumaoutlets.net and MLBjerseys.us, ICE said. Other sites sold golf clubs, exercise equipment and sunglasses, officials said.
The two agencies purchased products from the sites to determine whether they sold counterfeit goods, Morton said. The agencies then worked with copyright holders to check the authenticity of the products, he said.
Website owners will have 60 days to challenge the seizures in US courts. In "nearly all" of the past 200 seizures, site owners have not challenged the action, Breuer said.
Of the 350 domain names seized since mid-2010, 116 have been forfeited to the US government, the DOJ said. If domain name owners file petitions to challenge the seizures, they have additional time to contest the action, the agency said.
The agencies will continue to seize sites accused of copyright infringement, Morton said.
The seizures announced Monday come as the US Congress considers two controversial bills targeting websites allegedly selling counterfeit and pirated goods. Backers of the Protect IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act say the agencies need additional tools to target foreign websites engaged in copyright infringement.