London Police Order Registrars To Shut Down A Bunch Of Websites Without Any Legal Basis; Threaten Registrars If They Don't Comply

from the due-process-matters dept

Just a few months ago, the City of London Police announced that it had set up a special ” Intellectual Property Crime Unit” — which was immediately, and gleefully, welcomed by the legacy record labels. The whole thing seemed fairly bizarre, given that copyright should generally be a civil issue, and even when it’s a criminal issue, at best it should be a federal issue, not a local police issue — especially when you have local police who almost certainly don’t understand the basic nuances of copyright issues. However, in what appears to be an effort to justify their existence, the City of London IP Crimes Unit has jumped into the deep end without looking. Beyond quickly arresting some folks, this week they demanded that EasyDNS take down a website for a BitTorrent search engine, claiming copyright infringement, based on their claims alone.

They did not present a court order. They did not present a conviction. They just told EasyDNS to do it — and (worse) threatened EasyDNS with punishment for not obeying, claiming (falsely) that it could lose its accreditation as a domain registrar. EasyDNS’s Mark Jeftovic, who is incredibly well-versed in these issues (having spoken out previously on bogus domain name seizures) posted a fantastic response, which we’re going to post at length. There’s more than this, but it’s worth reading the whole thing.

Who decides what is illegal? What makes somebody a criminal?  Given that the subtext of the request contains a threat to refer the matter to ICANN if we don’t play along, this is a non-trivial question. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I always thought it was something that gets decided in a court of law, as opposed to “some guy on the internet” sending emails. While that’s plenty reason enough for some registrars to take down domain names, it doesn’t fly here.

We have an obligation to our customers and we are bound by our Registrar Accreditation Agreements not to make arbitrary changes to our customers settings without a valid FOA (Form of Authorization). To supersede that we need a legal basis. To get a legal basis something has to happen in court.

The request also suggests we look at the whois contact information for the domain (which looks perfectly valid) and go ahead and suspend the domain based on invalid whois data. Again, there’s a process for that, you have to go through the ICANN Whois Inaccuracy Complaint process and most of the time that doesn’t result in a takedown anyway.

What gets me about all of this is that the largest, most egregious perpetrators of online criminal activity right now are our own governments, spying on their own citizens, illegally wiretapping our own private communications and nobody cares, nobody will answer for it, it’s just an out-of-scope conversation that is expected to blend into the overall background malaise of our ever increasing serfdom.

If I can’t make various governments and law enforcement agencies get warrants or court orders before they crack my private communications then I can at least  require a court order before I takedown my own customer.

Furthermore, Jeftovic notes that the police ordered him to redirect all of the traffic to a different site that promotes some content services that the entertainment industry likes, and noted that this was a fairly obscene form of intimidation for the sake of local protectionism of favored industry players:

In other words, they are ordering us to take down competing websites, with no legal basis, hijacking the traffic, and redirecting it to competing commercial services, all of which are based out of (guess where?) London, UK.

This whole thing is fairly stunning, and Jeftovic even suggests he wasn’t sure it was real at first, though the headers from the email suggest that it’s legit. Furthermore, it appears that this was not a one-off situation. TorrentFreak is reporting that the City of London Police sent out a bunch of these letters to various registrars, targeting a variety of sites — with no evidence that there’s a court order, or indeed any court case at all, with all of them. And while EasyDNS isn’t complying, it appears that many other registrars did get intimidated into shutting down these sites.

The thuggish behavior and lack of due process isn’t that surprising. Combine a “respect my authority” law enforcement mentality, with people who don’t have much (or any) experience with the nuances (or history or purpose) of intellectual property issues, and you’re going to get this kind of overreaction. Add to that the likelihood that the legacy industry helped provide the extreme (and wrong and misleading) version of copyright law, and is it any wonder that the police seemed to just start demanding websites be pulled down willy nilly just because the police think they’re illegal?

If you only were to hear the legacy movie studios’ and record labels’ version of things, copyright is about establishing their very important business model, and anything that threatens that must be illegal. If you see a service that enables some form of infringement, well, that must be illegal, too, right? Of course, they won’t realize that copyright is not about establishing a business model for those gatekeepers, that blaming tools & services for the actions of their users is a recipe for killing innovation, and (most importantly) that these things are rarely black and white. And that’s why you have due process.

The City of London IP Crime Unit has only been around for a little over three months. One hopes that they’ll actually learn something before pulling these kinds of censorious, abusive and thuggish stunts in the future. And, while we’re at it, it seems reasonable to call for shutting down the whole unit in the first place. IP crimes are not an issue for an ignorant metropolitan police force. The unit never should have been set up in the first place, and this little cowboy censorship action highlights why the unit deserves to be quickly retired.

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Comments on “London Police Order Registrars To Shut Down A Bunch Of Websites Without Any Legal Basis; Threaten Registrars If They Don't Comply”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Before certain people come in and vomit their usual idiocy, be aware of these facts.

This is a police body issuing orders to parties to shut down and censor other parties all WITHOUT A COURT ORDER. Not only that, but in the case of EasyDNS, it’s a BRITISH police body demanding action from a CANADIAN domain registrar to redirect a website based in SINGAPORE (I did a WHOIS search) to competing websites based in LONDON, or the police would complain to ICANN, a body based in the USA.
Again, no courts involved.

out_of_the_blue says:

WHICH "City of London" is this?

The private corporation that owns and controls the financial district besides activities in it, or the governing body of the city of London, England?

Since “City” is capitalized, I’ll assume it’s the corporation. — And if so the assumptions of others about who’s doing the evil are simply wrong: it’s a corporation, directly.

Mike, disambiguate so we all know who to revile.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: WHICH "City of London" is this?

“Mike, I was confused and I can’t do my own research even though I know the City Of London Police aren’t the same as the Metropolitan force, you show their logo clearly and you referred to them correctly throughout the article! Please let me pretend you were somehow misleading people, lest I have to defend yet another extra-judiciary abuse of peoples’ rights based on accusations alone and admit that you’re right about a subject!”

Does that sum it up?

Sheriff Fatman says:

Re: WHICH "City of London" is this?

It’s not a private corporation, it’s a local council.

It is one of the last of English local councils, possibly the last, to keep the old style of corporation (which in its broadest sense means any association of individuals with a legal identity distinct from its members, and in England used to refer to local government bodies more often than it did to private companies).

It is thus a public body, though one with interesting quirks (like the fact that businesses get to vote in its elections, with a number of votes proportional
to their number of employees).

And City of London != London; think, loosely, New York County (=~ Borough of Manhattan) vs New York City.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not only that – but if you read the full pdf from the City of London Police – you find that the purpose of the document is listed as “Website Disruption” and the owner of the document is “PIPCU Prevention and Disruption” and it is identified as part of Operation Creative.

Since when has it been the role of any police force to disrupt the activities of people that they merely suspect are about to take part in criminal activity in order to prevent that activity?

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Since when has it been the role of any police force to disrupt the activities of people that they merely suspect are about to take part in criminal activity in order to prevent that activity?

Presumably shortly before, in that same parallel universe, they decided it was their job to enforce civil liability on behalf of corporations too.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No need for those accused of a crime to have their day in court? No need for those accused of a crime to be tried by courts within their own country? No need for the City of London Police to even check whether or not domain registrars not based in the United Kingdom fall under their jurisdiction?
You heard it first here folks. The courts are no completely unnecessary. Stand up and take a bow, you completely foolish ignoramus whose fantasy while masturbating is of him/herself licking the boots of someone from the copyright cartels.

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

Fucking Weasels


While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of any information or other material contained in or associated with this document, it is provided on the basis that PIPCU and its staff, either individually or collectively, accept no responsibility for any loss, damage, cost or expense of whatever kind arising directly or indirectly from or in connection with the use by any person, whomsoever, of any such information or material.

In other words, we’re the law, do what we say or we’ll file complaints with your licensing authority. Oh, and if we’re wrong, you’re on your own.

The only proper response to this letter is “Piss off.”

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Fucking Weasels

Not only that either. There’s this legalese disclamer at the very end:

This document uses the United Kingdom’s Government Protective Marking System (GPMS) and has been graded as NOT PROTECTIVELY MARKED. There are no specific requirements for storage or disposal and it can be considered as safe for wide distribution within your organisation. This can extend to its use for training or awareness programmes for staff. However, unless otherwise specified, this information is not intended for general public dissemination and should not be included on public facing websites, external mailing lists, social media or other outlets routinely used by you to deliver information to the public. We therefore request that you risk manage any onward dissemination in a considered way.
(C) 2013 Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit

Emphasis mine.

Mike might not want to risk any trips to London anytime soon.

Scote (profile) says:

"PIPCU and its staff...accept no responsibility"

Got to love the London Police Legal Disclaimer. All that hemming and hawing about what EasyDNS has to do under pain of prosecution by a city PD and at the end they deny any and all responsibility for their orderrequest:

“While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of any information or other material contained in or associated with this document, it is provided on the basis that PIPCU and its staff, either individually or collectively, accept no responsibility for any loss, damage, cost or expense of whatever kind arising directly or indirectly from or in connection with the use by any person, whomsoever, of any such information or material. Any use by you or by any third party of information or other material contained in or associated with this document signifies agreement by you or them to these conditions.”


Anonymous Coward says:

Unfortunately the only surprising thing about this is that it wasn’t from Britain’s serious organised crime agency, which was what forced the redirects on rnbxclusive a few years ago now, claiming that not only copyright infringement had occurred but actual criminal activity in obtaining some of the copyright infringing materials. No case has been made to support that, nobody has been taken to court, nobody is serving jail time – at least not that the public is aware of.

So, it was successful when it was the serious organised crime agency, maybe the city of london police just didn’t have the same non legal balls to pull it off.

splenitive (profile) says:

This is not the police force you think it is

I just thought I should point out an interesting fact about The City of London, and the City of London Police: They don’t represent the whole of London.

The City of London is a tiny little piece of land at the center of the larger London.

So the people coming after him have even less status than the Metropolitan London police.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: This is not the police force you think it is

I don’t think it really matters exactly where this police body are located. They’re recognised as an official police body by their national government (but with some differences according the wikipedia article if I’m reading it correctly), but are still basically cops, and still basically vastly exceeding their authority, not to mention jurisdiction, with all these “requests”.

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

Re: This is not the police force you think it is

I’m trying to understand this distinction…this is something like the Chicago Transit Authority forming an IP Enforcement Unit? Or the Bumfuck, Kansas Police Department asserting extraordinary rendition powers over copyright pirates in Hong Kong? A joke, in other words…really, couldn’t the MAFIAAs afford a scarier police force?

Anonymous Coward says:

Just to clarify, this is the City of London police, not the London Metropolitan police. They are completely separate. The City of London police are basically a private police force for the financial district of London paid for by the British taxpayer.

Oh, fun fact: only about 10,000 people actually live in the area policed by the City of London police but they employ over 1,100 people. A police force with over 10% the population of the people they are supposedly there to protect and serve.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The City of London has a small resident population, but a huge working population, being our equivalent to Wall Street (and the predecessor of). So the police force is just as validly looking after all the employees and corporations contained in the Square Mile. Still doesn’t justify them doing stuff with the same legality as enforcing NYC jaywalking tickets.

Anonymous Coward says:

this another case of certain industries paying for something to be done in another country. the main reasons seem to be that the original country is giving up on the ridiculousness of what they have been doing. it’s troubling that the UK has just taken the baton and is doing whatever it can against it’s own citizens, all on the bias words of a self-interested industry, while all the while ignoring all facts from independent sources that dispute what the industries put out. the UK is also going down the same road that has been debunked so often now over the surveillance that has been going on. there is absolutely no excuse for what governments have been doing. the excuse of ‘stopping terrorism’ is known to all as complete bollocks and just a way to turn the country into a police state. if Cameron manages to get this into play before the next General Election in the UK, added with the way they are trying to stop payments to political funds (other than from businesses, where 99% of Tory donations come from and the new ‘Gagging Law’ that is about to be voted on for becoming law, then no other political Party will stand a chance. Miliband and other leaders, including Clegg and Farage need to take note of what is going on and think about how they are going to fair if this isn’t stopped!!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Gotta love double standards

IP ‘enforcement’: ‘The law is good and to be upheld when it favors us, but bad and to be ignored when it doesn’t.’

What is it about ‘IP protection/enforcement’ people that causes them to avoid the courts as much as possible? Is it an allergy, a lack of knowledge, or simply that they know 99% of their actions won’t stand up in court with even against the most basic defense on behalf of the accused?

Given how desperate they are to avoid ever having both sides in a court almost every time, it’s got to be one of those.

Jake says:

Just as a small point of clarification, this would almost certainly be a federal police matter rather than a local one if the UK actually had any federal police, but we don’t. We usually tack the national-security stuff onto the London Metropolitan Police’s budget and organisational structure because they’re the guys who do security for most government buildings (or at least the bits the Army don’t handle), and City of London Police get handed a lot of financial and electronic law-enforcement stuff because nearly all the big financial traders in this country are headquartered within their jurisdiction.

name says:

nasty government

What incredible arrogance. It is another symptom of the rapidly approaching police state of course and needs to be treated with the contempt it deserves – lob it in the bin. The police are not the only obnes who are swinging the lead. I came across another department – passports agency or whatever the idiots call themselves – which say that if you don’t turn up for your “interview” and do not give at least 24hrs notice they will rip up your application and eat your application fee. They cannot be sensible and hang on to your application for a few months – like you might have been unavoidably directed elsewhere, a mission of mercy or an accident – no, the silly ph*ckers have to be punitive and whip your ass. Governments today have become NASTY. There is no other descriptor for it/them. It’s clear to see. There’s not much fun in life anymore – not unless you are one of the millionaire elite that is.

David says:

The City of London Police Force is not just some little local cop shop. It is the UK’s designated ‘lead authority’ on economic crime in general, and has recently been given a specific national role on IP crime. It is highly unlikely that they would have taken this action without getting top-level legal advice.

As to all the synthetic outrage about ‘due process’ and ‘court orders’, domain registrars, search engines, email providers, and other key internet actors routinely take action against spammers and malware distributors without a court order, either on their own initiative or in response to complaints. I don’t recall Techdirt ever objecting to that. So why the double standard? Could it be that nobody likes spam or malware, but a lot of people like getting stuff for free?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Doesn’t matter how good they are at cracking economic crime, the three major problems are
1) Jurisdiction – A London Police force CANNOT give orders to anyone outside their area of operation. EasyDNS is based in Canada, and the site the police wanted taken down was based in and registered in Singapore, so you’ve got a police body who are nominally responsible for literally a square mile of turf (anything outside the City of London is under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Service) demanding that someone on the OTHER SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC follow their orders, to take down a site based half-way across the planet.
2) Economic collusion – The orders to EasyDNS were not just to shut down the site in question, but to re-route its IP address to “legal” commercial sites. The site in question is a Bittorent search engine, as in, functionally the same as Google (as long as you type in “.torrent” along with whatever you’re searching for into Google). Imagine if the City of London Police had demanded from Google’s DNS operator (and yes I know, they have their own DNS service) to shut down Google and re-route Google’s IP address to a search engine based in the UK.
3) Due Process. What do you mean synthetic outrage? The outrage here is real. If you take the time to read the email EasyDNS got, it has wonderful language like
“We have identified the following domain(s) that we say are facilitating online crime.”
That is a police body unilaterally declaring that a site is guilty of a crime. Police ARE NOT supposed to say things like that. They are supposed to investigate and if necessary arrest yes, but no police force (at least in a nation that is supposed to be democratic) has the power to say you are actually committing a crime. They are supposed to say things like “You are under arrest for suspicion of committing XYZ”. It is the courts, judges and juries, who are supposed to look at evidence gathered and then pronounce guilt.

Lastly, it doesn’t matter whether EasyDNS does things like this on their own, that has absolutely nothing to do with this. This is about a police body vastly exceeding its authority and jurisdiction, to threaten sites and businesses located half-way across the planet to help their buddies (the City of London police have long been known to be little more than private police for the businesses in that square mile).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“synthetic outrage”

…and here we see one of the major issues with this debate. Some people can’t understand genuine concern, so they reject it out of hand.

Let me tell you – any concern I note about all this crap is totally genuine.

“I don’t recall Techdirt ever objecting to that.”

Just because you don’t recall it, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. A quick surface level search provides a few related stories about spammers straight off, there’s probably a lot more if I had time to do your research for you: (overbearing filters removing spams without notice) (difficulty categorising spam vs. legit emails) (criticism of the CAN-SPAM law and how it won’t be effective for its intended purpose)

You might also notice that these articles are from 2006 and before. If you don’t see many such articles since, it means that the problems have been addressed or are no longer relevant. The same will happen with the discussions on fair use rights, overbearing enforcement and removal of due process, if these stop happening.

“So why the double standard? Could it be that nobody likes spam or malware, but a lot of people like getting stuff for free?”

…and here with have the same old lie – people are objecting so they must be pirates? No wonder this never gets anywhere, the strawman has been constructed and the windmills tilted at before the objections are even formed.

My opinion is the same for any of these subjects – the law must be upheld, but not at the expense of the rights and freedoms of either legitimate businesses or innocent individuals. Stop making up lies about those of us who object and start addressing the real concerns.

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