FAC, EFF and Wired win unsealing of documents in hip-hop website seizure case

BY DEBORAH FRUIN–A federal district court in Los Angeles has unsealed records related to a government shutdown of a music blog/website, Dajaz1.com, for suspicion of copyright piracy. The unsealing had been requested by FAC, Wired, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Using a forfeiture authority usually invoked to seize cars and houses in drug cases, federal authorities had seized the hip hop website, then avoided a hearing in the matter and refused to give an explanation for over a year while the website was shutdown. After 13 months, the government dropped the case, returning the website to its owners.

The records, unsealed on May 2, provide access to details on why, after seizing the hip-hop website, no charges were ever filed despite the judge granting the government repeated time extensions to build a civil or criminal case.

Dajaz1 often posted promotional tracks at the request of artists and producers. It was swept up in “Operation in Our Sites,” a broad crackdown in which the government seized 750 domains, invoking criminal forfeiture law based on allegations of copyright infringement.

FAC was represented by attorney Josh Koltun; Wired by its corporate counsel Richard Bernstein of Sabin Bermant; and EFF by attorney Kelli Sager of Davis Wright Tremaine and EFF’s own Cindy Cohn, the organizations Legal Director.

This case illustrates what can go wrong when the government is given the power to shut down a website on its own say-so, without advance approval from a court,” said Peter Scheer, FAC’s executive director. “The government unplugged this website’s First Amendment rights, censoring the website without exlanation, and apparently also without cause, for over a year,” said Scheer.

Cindy Cohn told Wired the site’s 13-month seizure by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau highlights the RIAA’s [Recording Industry Association of America] influence over the government. President Barack Obama has tapped at least five former RIAA attorneys for senior positions in the Justice Department.

“Here you have ICE making a seizure, based on the say-so of the record company guys, and getting secret extensions as they wait for their masters, the record companies, for evidence to prosecute,” Cohn told Wired in a telephone interview. “This is the RIAA controlling a government investigation and holding it up for a year.”

Read more at: “Feds Seized Hip-Hop Site for a Year, Waiting for Proof of Infringement” on Wired‘s “Threat Level”  blog.