U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and European officials seized 132 websites on Monday for allegedly selling counterfeit merchandise in a coordinated crackdown timed to coincide with the holiday shopping season.
It is the third straight year that the government has seized websites on "Cyber Monday" — the marketing term for the Monday after Thanksgiving, when many online retailers offer steep discounts and promotions.
"This operation is a great example of the tremendous cooperation between ICE and our international partners at the [Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center]," ICE Director John Morton said in a statement. "Our partnerships enable us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world. This is not an American problem, it is a global one and it is a fight we must win."
As part of the operation, federal law enforcement officers made undercover purchases of products such as sports jerseys, DVD players, clothing and jewelry from websites suspected of selling counterfeit products.
If the copyright holders confirmed that the products were unauthorized, ICE obtained a court order to shut down the sites.
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Visitors to the websites will now see only a banner informing them of the seizure and warning them that copyright infringement is a federal crime. ICE did not name the targeted sites.
The crackdown, named "Cyber Monday 3," is part of ICE's Operation In Our Sites, a program that has now seized a total of 1,630 alleged pirate sites.
Some lawmakers have expressed concern that Operation In Our Sites violates the due process rights of website owners.
Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) wrote a letter in August to the administration questioning whether overzealous enforcement has stifled legitimate speech.
Under the current system, the authorities confiscate the websites as asset forfeiture, much like police might seize a drug dealer's car after arresting him. But some advocates argue the website owners should have a chance to defend themselves before the site is shut down.