We've been covering the ridiculous domain name seizures
by Homeland Security's Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) group over the last few weeks, and it seems that nearly every day we come across more info that makes the seizures look like a bigger and bigger mistake. We already noted how strange it was that a group of the seized domains were hiphop blogs and forums that were regularly supported
by some of the leading stars in hiphop. Furthermore, we discussed how the specific affidavit that was used to show "probable cause" to get the warrant to seize these domains was full of technical and legal errors
, was written by a guy who just graduated college, Agent Andrew Reynolds, and seemed to rely heavily
on MPAA and RIAA claims.
With one specific site, dajaz1.com, we noted that the songs used by Agent Reynolds to support his claims, had actually been sent
by the artists or record label representatives themselves. Dajaz1 is a blog, not a forum. Agent Reynolds called it a "linking site" which downplays and/or ignores the fact that there is a lot more on the site than just links.
I've now seen the specific email and other evidence as well, and it certainly looks like dajaz1 was asked to promote all four songs that Agent Reynolds listed by the artists or representatives of the artists. There were four songs listed in Agent Reynolds' affidavit, and in each case it appears that the songs were sent by official representatives for the specific purpose of promoting them.
- Deuces, by Chris Brown
This song was released for free by Chris Brown, as a part of a mixtape entitled Fan of a Fan -- apparently released as part of the effort to rehabilitate Brown's reputation, following the incident with Rihanna. It was only after the song was released free, and a bunch of (you guessed it) hiphop blogs and forums started promoting it, that his label, a subsidiary of Sony Music decided to release it commercially. That song was sent directly to dajaz1 from someone at Brown's record label, using an email from the record label, and it's clear from the email that the sender is urging the recipient to spread the songs.
- Long Gone, by Nelly
This song was sent directly by a VP at the record label, who was thanked in the blog post on the website, which linked to where the song could be downloaded. A simple search by Agent Reynolds of the person thanked on the blog posting (which I did) would quickly uncover the fact that the person was a VP at the record label.
- Fall For Your Type, by Jamie Foxx
This song was sent directly by a known promoter of music, who has worked with the major record labels. The email clearly suggests that it is promoting the song for the rightsholder, and directly encourages the recipients of the email to download and share the song.
- Mechanics, by Reek Da Villian
This one's interesting, since Reek Da Villian is not signed to a major record label, but is an artist whom Busta Rhymes has taken under his wing, and has been supporting and promoting for a while now. That song was apparently sent directly by Busta Rhymes -- though I did not see that email. However, considering that his work is not represented through an RIAA affiliated label, it seems odd that Reynolds would rely on an RIAA representative to later claim that this file was infringing. There's even a sort of odd admission of this in Agent Reynold's affidavit, where he notes:
"Based on my review of public record listings, as well as conversations with RIAA representatives, I know that as of October 26th, 2010, all of the above referenced songs were determined to be "Pre-release" or not yet released for purchase to the general public, three were copyrighted, and the copyright holders did not authorize their third party distribution over the Internet by DAJAZ1.COM or any other website."
Note that he says all were pre-release, but only three were copyrighted. Of course, this is another example of where Agent Reynolds shows his confusion about the law. All new and original creative works in the US when set in fixed format are automatically covered by copyright (technically "copyrighted" is not a verb, also). What Agent Reynolds probably meant, but got wrong, was that the Reek Da Villian song was not registered (which is not required to be covered by copyright). Still, if we assume that he believes what he wrote, how is it copyright infringement when Agent Reynolds himself admits that one of the songs is supposedly not covered by copyright? And why would the magistrate judge allow that?
So that's that. The four songs used by Agent Reynolds to support the domain name seizure of dajaz1.com, all appear to have been sent for the purpose of promoting in this manner. The Dajaz1 site was quite popular with DJs, and was regularly used by labels, artists and promoters as a way to get their music out to those DJs. It does not appear that Reynolds checked into any of this. Instead, he simply asked Carlos Linares, the VP of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the RIAA, who claimed that all four songs represented "pirated songs" that were "unauthorized copies of rights holder's works," even though there are questions about whether or not he actually knew that for a fact, or even had the right to speak for some of the artists/songs in question.
On top of that, if you dig into the dajaz1 website, you quickly see that it is not at all focused on just offering up as much as possible to download. In multiple cases, the blogger notes that he will not post links to too many tracks from an album, suggesting that the site is not at all focused on getting as much infringing material up as possible, as implied in the affidavit. If that was the goal, why would it specifically refuse to post links to more than just a few songs?
Separately, the person I spoke with from dajaz1 claims that, contrary to Agent Reynolds' assertion that the site had signed up for a Valueclick advertising account, no such account was actually set up. He claims he's willing to state that under oath. Agent Reynolds' claims that the account was set up using an email address that was associated with the site. I'm not sure who's right in this instance, but the whole thing does seem questionable.
The further you dig into this, the deeper you get into just how ridiculous
the music industry works these days -- with various subsidiaries and independent promoters and DJs and mixtapes, and all sorts of stuff that the labels very specifically support with one hand, while pretending to be above all that with the other. There are more details that I'm still researching, but some of it suggests that the last thing
the major record labels want is for this to go to court, because it'll expose all sorts of things that the labels are doing that they probably don't want exposed.
Either way, even if we go with Occam's Razor and assume that these four cases are examples of the left hand (lawyers) not knowing what the right hand (promotions/marketing) was doing, it highlights why it's a total mistake (and probably a violation of the law) for Homeland Security to have simply seized these domains without an adversarial hearing -- or any
contact with the sites in question themselves. Some of our commenters have insisted that all of these sites were "obviously criminally infringing," but the evidence suggests an extremely different story. And it's that sort of thing which is why we're supposed to have due process in the US before we shut stuff down or seize things.
Contrary to what some believe, copyright infringement is rarely a "black and white" case -- which is why we have trials to determine whether or not something is actually infringing. This is even more true in cases of criminal
copyright infringement, which has a much higher bar to prove. So it's beyond baffling that Homeland Security and the magistrate judge who approved these seizures felt that it was simply okay to seize them prior to any adversarial hearing, where much of these details might have come out.