Move Over Egypt: Homeland Security Shuts Down Sports Websites

(POLITICO)   The federal government has seized the Web addresses of 10 websites that allegedly live stream sporting and pay-per-view events online, shutting them down just days before one of the biggest televised sporting events of the year: the Super Bowl.

The U. S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, working in conjunction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, seized the Web addresses Tuesday. The seizure affidavit was unsealed Wednesday.

The websites, which include channelsurfing.net and Spain-based rojadirecta.org, were said to illegally provide access to content from the major professional sports organizations, namely the National Football League, National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. The sites do not host the pirated sporting content themselves, but instead provide links to other websites where people can access it illegally.

Government officials argue that the sites are not only distributing pirated content illegally, but in the process, are also denting the revenues of the professional sports leagues and broadcasters as well as negatively impacting viewers.

“The illegal streaming of professional sporting events over the Internet deals a financial body blow to the leagues and broadcasters, who are forced to pass their losses off to fans by raising prices for tickets and pay-per-view events,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. “With the Super Bowl just days away, the seizures of these infringing websites reaffirm our commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to protect copyrighted material and put the people who steal it out of business.”

Fans have increasingly abandoned watching sports games on their television sets, opting instead to watch them on their computers via the Web instead. The shift has jolted professional sports organizations, which are grappling with how to control the growing problem of the illegal streaming of sports games online in real time. The organizations copyright the content of their sports games — from the audio, video, text and images — and restrict others from distributing it without prior written approval.

But the government’s action didn’t provide a permanent solution to the problem. One of the sites that was shut down on Wednesday, ATDHE.net, has already reappeared at a new Web address, ATDHE.me.

The federal government launched a similar campaign last November that shut down 82 websites offering counterfeit goods and digital music and movie content. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and ICE Director John Morton had warned that the two agencies were committed to going after more websites that offer copyrighted content illegally.

Morton repeated that message during Wednesday’s operation.

“This swift action by our Homeland Security Investigations New York special agents and analysts sends a clear message to website operators who mistakenly believe it’s worth the risk to take copyrighted programming and portray it as their own,” Morton said. “We will continue to aggressively investigate this type of crime with our law enforcement partners.”

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