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Websites Seized For Linking To Infringing Content

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Yes, you read that headline correctly.  A federal judge in New York yesterday unsealed warrants that authorized the confiscation of several websites (TVShack.net, Movies-Links.tv, FilesPump.com, Now-Movies.com, PlanetMoviez.com, ThePirateCity.org, and ZML.com).  One of the websites stored copies of illicit content (e.g. infringing entertainment content like movies), but the others apparently only linked to the content stored on other sites.  The government will seek to have these sites and their domain names forfeited.

Newbies in the world of intellectual property and social media often don’t realize that acts of copyright infringement are not only subject to civil penalties (e.g., some content owner can sue you), but can also result in criminal liability.  The folks behind these sites may have more to worry about than just losing their domain names.

 While we await more detail on what exactly happened here (it appears that these were video streaming sites, so they may have been actively engaged in the infringing activity) this case study presents social media users with yet another warning: do not assume that you are free to host, link to or otherwise use content without permission from the copyright holder. 

To be sure, there are many instances where it is legitimate (for example, in discussing this issue I can link to the article cited above without worry that I am engaged in some kind of infringing behavior).  There are other situations where the activity lies in a grey area, but is potentially okay for reasons of fair use (e.g. were I to enable my site to embed infringing material hosted on another site for the purpose of analysis or criticism).  Finally, there are areas where you are asking for trouble (e.g. setting up a site to permit folks to watch copyrighted content without paying for it).  But as the recent Google decision demonstrated, even that requires some analysis. 

Thus, your best advice is not to assume anything, but rather to consider what you’re doing, and recognize the risks.  Including someone else’s content on your website may get you more traffic, but it may attract other kinds of attention as well.  And you could lose more than your domain name if you aren’t careful.